Can We Talk?
by Penelope Trunk '90
Freshman year I developed my own shorthand and I found that, if I took transcripts of class lectures, I never had to look up at the teacher. I copied the notes with a fountain pen after class. They were like a Torah scroll — one small mistake and I threw out the whole page and started over. I got straight A’s. I didn’t understand why other people were not getting straight A’s as well.
My dorm room was right next to the Stein. There were parties there every night. I had no idea what people did in the dark, but the chatter in my dorm made me nervous and the flow of people in and out of the Stein made me nervous. I learned early on how to hide in the bathroom of the science library while the janitor locked the doors. Then I could spend the night there. In peace.
Sophomore year was the first time I heard about bulimia. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to throw up. And I couldn’t believe how good I felt afterward. I could time things perfectly, so I ate early and went to the library during mealtime rush; then I could throw up in the bathroom and have a great post-vomit serotonin high to get through five more hours of studying.
I was on the volleyball team. Sometimes. I had to take a year off because my psychiatric meds for anxiety made me incontinent and I didn’t realize that I could tell my therapist the meds weren’t working.
I was on the crew team. Sometimes. I really liked the workouts, but rowing together, in the boat, was too much social interaction for me.
I worked out with the track team when the crew team was not in season. I was fascinated by the boys’ ability to run dunes so hard that they threw up at the top.
Senior year I lived in a suite of five people put together because we each had no one to live with. I got off the meal plan with a doctor’s note saying I had an eating disorder. I got out of going to classes by doing independent studies in everything. It was my favorite year of school. I never left my dorm room.
At night, boys came to my room. I was always there. I would always let them in. I would always ask them why they came so late. I never got out of bed when they arrived. They always got in my bed. I thought they wanted to talk. I talked. One boy said, “You sleep in your clothes?” Another asked, “What are you dreaming about?”
I said, “I think I’m a lesbian. I keep dreaming about sex with girls from high school.”
He began touching me, fingers crawling a little faster than I could track.
I was stuck. What was he doing? Why was he in my dorm room? What did he want? I pretended to fall asleep, and then I did. I don’t know when he left.
Twenty years later, I can tell you that I was actually a very typical student — for a girl with Asperger’s. I didn’t know it at the time. It took me, my dad, my ex-husband and my son all getting diagnosed with Asperger’s before I started to understand that my severe inability to understand social situations drove almost everything I did at Brandeis.
Today I am Internet-famous. Google “my miscarriage CNN.” That’s me. I have a blog with a larger readership than most daily newspapers. I’ve changed my name a lot since Brandeis. Google “Adrienne Roston” and “Penelope Trunk.” Both those names are me.
So this is my turning point. Right here. Now. I never looked like I wanted to make friends at Brandeis. But I did. I am telling you now.
I have a slippery identity and a slim list of friends. But I would like to know you. I would like to be part of the Brandeis community. I don’t think that it’s too late.
Penelope Trunk, aka Adrienne Roston ’90, is the founder of three startups — most recently Brazen Careerist, a career management tool for next-generation professionals. Her career advice appears in more than 200 newspapers. She lives on a farm in Wisconsin with her husband and two children.