Before I met Olivia, here’s what I knew: She was a self-proclaimed mean person, she was The Daily Californian arts department’s columnist, and she liked the song “Les Champs-Élysées.”
I knew this last fact because she had, out of the blue, texted me: “Hey! I found this song today and I really like it,” followed by the link to the song, as a way of introducing herself to me.
I was walking to class, head down so that Sproulers would know I was not to be bothered, when I received the text. I clicked the link, and suddenly, the piano-heavy jaunt of the song was trailing buoyantly through my headphones. The ‘60s tune of a summer stroll under a canopy of blossoming Parisian trees, accompanied by the trill of the trumpet in response to the song’s chorus, scored my trudge up the steps to Dwinelle Hall.
There was something so subtly comforting about the effortless tune, a French ballad I couldn’t even understand. The simple beat and cheerful vocals were warm, like a delicate hand on my shoulder. I had recently made a playlist to help me cope with the fact that I was feeling out of place in my new Berkeley home. Right there, I pulled up that playlist and added this song to it.
When we finally met at Yogurt Park one Thursday night, the feeling I was left with was the same one that I got from that song.
We sat on a bench on Sproul Plaza, a little cold from the wind and the frozen yogurt, and chatted warmly about everything from freshman year to the Daily Cal to “New Girl.”
Anyone who knows Olivia knows that she is the kind of person who will offer to get out of bed at midnight, go buy you soup and bring it to you if you’re feeling the slightest bit sick (something she has actually tried to do for me). So it follows that she would be the ideal person to talk to about feeling like I didn’t belong in this new place. She listened to me complain about being lonely, smiled coolly, pushed a few blonde strands of hair away from her eyes and told me that college was going to feel totally average in due time.
After this meeting, Olivia took me under her wing. She went out of her way to get coffee or boba with me almost every week, introduce me to her friends and fangirl over mediocre blurbs and articles I was writing.
When I jotted down a rough column about Tom Petty after he died, the first person I shared it with was Olivia. Nervously, I texted her: “I think I wrote a column. Could you take a look at it?”
I thought I had maybe written a column, but Olivia was the person who convinced me I actually had. She helped me see that what I had written wasn’t just a scrappy collection of silly memories, but something personal and cohesive.
As my behind-the-scenes editor, Olivia cleaned up my piece, catching grammar mishaps here and there. As my mentor, she gave me confidence in my voice as a journalist, making me feel like the stories I had to tell were worth telling. I don’t think she knew what her small quips and reassurances meant to me. While she was simply telling me what she thought of my piece, what I took from it was that it was OK to be vulnerable in my writing –– and it was OK to be vulnerable with new people, too.
On that first night, eating Yogurt Park on a Sproul bench, Olivia told me that everything about college was going to feel completely average in time. She was wrong.
My first year of college has been phenomenally transformative. Like a grainy film montage — foggy, vibrant color seeping out of a projector — all the milestone moments I have enjoyed this year play through my memory.
In the time I have been at Berkeley, nothing has been average. I went from being the saddest I have ever been to feeling like I had truly found where I belonged. I went from not wanting to make any new friends to having a wonderful group of people, from my roommates to my Daily Cal pals, to spend my days with. I went from having never written an article to being a weekly columnist.
The majority of this is thanks to Olivia — a girl who claims she is mean, never gets my movie references and can’t keep plants alive. I was paired with a mentor, someone to show me the ropes at the newspaper. Instead, I got a weekly coffee date, an editor to my assistant editor, a future roommate and a partner in crime.
Instead, I got a friendship as melodious, reliable and comforting as the song “Les Champs-Élysées.”
Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].