Who’s that girl?

Off the Beat

Photo of Lauren Harvey

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I’ve always felt a strange connection to Jessica Day, but it has become especially pronounced over the past year. Maybe it’s my hair; maybe it’s the fact that I moved in with four strangers I met on the internet.

I was in Big Sur when I first made the decision to move out of my childhood home. I like to think that I was overcome by that Kerouacian spirit that leads “bums” down Shattuck Avenue and into the heart of some mysterious life force. More realistically, I was driven by my ever-increasing frustration with Bay Area real estate, and my future housemate (let’s call her Schmidt) seemed to have everything figured out.

Two weeks later, I packed all my belongings into my mom’s white SUV and made my way up the Pacific coast. Fires forced us to turn around and drive an hour and a half back the way we came. Needless to say, the drive took much longer than expected, but I wasn’t complaining. The queasy feeling in my stomach was more from nervousness than from motion sickness.

When I first glanced at the oversized wooden gate in front of my new home, I could hear laughter trailing across the street. I knocked on the door with hesitation. What if they hate me? What if the laughter stops? I thought to myself.

But I was welcomed with open arms, and the people I had only met through an iPhone screen were even better in real life.

Schmidt took it upon herself to build my nightstand with half the necessary screws and a roll of duct tape. Winston told me I gave off elementary school art teacher vibes. Coach led me through her workout routine and laughed when I could only carry the 5-pound weights. Nick regularly spoke to me about her love of dinosaurs.

School began and I experienced the usual: the excitement, the stress, the seemingly inevitable impostor syndrome. But my journey through the academic and social labyrinths of UC Berkeley was inextricably linked with my coming into adulthood. I found that a human could not live on tofu alone. I learned to share a tiny bedroom with someone I barely knew. I made a LinkedIn account. (Shocking, I know!)

I even let Schmidt cut my bangs and dye my blond locks a caramel brown. That hour spent in the perpetually dirty bathroom was my final conversion — my chemical transformation into Jess Day.

My first year of college was filled with exciting new experiences, from making new friends to reading Karl Marx’s “Capital.” But at the end of the day, I would find myself returning to Jess Day, wondering how her romantic escapades with Nick Miller or awkward encounters with sexist car salesmen could somehow (loosely) align with my life.

The fact of the matter is, when you spend your 18th year in quarantine, you learn to love the Netflix screen, and the stories of pre-pandemic life become inexplicably real. Connecting with a fictional character is all the more appealing, because in many ways, you can live out the parts of your life that have been indefinitely put on pause.

Jess Day has always been so incredible to me because she embraces her awkward quirks, but she also takes charge of her own life and achieves what she puts her mind to. I’ve always wanted to become like her, and in many ways, I see that dream materializing.

But my journey into adulthood has also left me with a startling conclusion: My life is not one giant pop culture reference. There’s much more to personal growth than that.

If my first year of college has taught me anything, it is that, for the first time, my life is in my hands. I have the freedom to choose my friends, my major, even my future career. Life is not a scripted art; there is no mold that can tell me what to do or who to be. As much as I love to embrace the “New Girl” parallels, I have also learned to accept that the life I lead is one that is entirely my own. And there’s a certain beauty in that.

The wooden gate outside of my Berkeley home is now overgrown with weeds and the dying remains of what used to be delicate yellow flowers. There’s a hole that has slowly formed on the shower floor, and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. The house has aged, and in a sense, so have I. My first year of college has passed, and I find myself looking in the mirror wondering, “Who’s that girl?” (And it takes everything in me to not respond, “It’s Jess!”)

To be completely honest, I’m still not sure who that girl is, and I don’t think I will for a while. But I’m beyond excited to see where she goes, and I can’t wait to meet who she becomes.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.