I walked down the center aisle of the bus, looking for a place to sit. It was rainy outside, so the bus would fill up quickly, although one nice thing about living a mile and a half beyond the edge of campus was that my bus stop was one of the first ones on the route in the morning.
At the next stop after mine, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a girl wearing an Urbana ’96 T-shirt boarding the bus. I wondered who this was, which campus Christian group she belonged to, which church she went to, and if we ever crossed paths at the convention in Urbana during the break. I looked up, about to ask her about her shirt and point out that I was at Urbana too, when her eyes lit up and she smiled. “Hey!” she said. “How are you?”
Apparently we had crossed paths before. Where? What was her name? “I’m good,” I replied. “How are you?”
“Good! I really like my schedule this quarter. What about you? What classes are you taking?”
“Advanced calculus, Euclidean geometry, Nutrition 10, and RST 141.”
“Two math classes? That’s your major, right?”
“Yeah. What are you taking?”
“English, history, psych, and bio. It’s a lot of work already. How is the Religious Studies class so far? Which one is 141?”
I realized at this point that I was going to have to see this through and act like I knew who this girl was. She was Asian, with dark wavy hair down to her shoulders and chubby cheeks. I felt terrible for not remembering who she was. “John,” I said. “The Gospel and Epistles of John.”
“Nice! Is that with Dr. Hurt?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I had him for RST 40 last quarter.”
“I took that last year,” the girl said. “It was a really good class. But I haven’t been able to take anything else he’s taught. I always have other classes I need to take at the same time.”
“I know what that’s like,” I said. “I had to choose between Hurt’s class and chorus this quarter.”
“I didn’t know you were in chorus! How often do you guys sing?”
“We have a performance at the end of each quarter. We spend the whole quarter rehearsing, pretty much.”
“That sounds fun!”
“Last quarter was the first time I did it. I’m hoping I can still make it to the performance this quarter, to support the people I sang with last quarter.”
“That’ll be nice,” the girl said.
Since I was fully committed to pretending to know this girl at this point, I continued the conversation. “How was the rest of your break?” I asked.
“Good,” she replied. “Pretty boring. I was just with my family, in Willow Grove. What about you?”
“Where are you from again?”
“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
“Oh, okay. Not too far from Willow Grove.”
“Right. About an hour.” At this point, the bus was pulling off to the side of the road at the bus terminal on campus across the street from the Memorial Union, so as I stood, I said, “Hey, it was good running into you.”
“You too! I’ll see you tomorrow at JCF?”
“Yeah,” I replied. That definitely helped; now I knew she was someone from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. But why did I not recognize her? And now that I had spent an entire bus ride pretending to know her, it would be more awkward to admit that I did not recognize her. Hopefully I would figure this out soon.
Today was Thursday, which was my lightest day of class, as was usually the case. All I had on Thursdays this quarter was the discussion for Religious Studies. I worked 10 hours per week for the Learning Skills Center on campus, so for the rest of the quarter I would probably have tutoring groups to run on Thursdays. For this particular Thursday, though, I just stayed on campus for a few hours, buying a few things I needed at the campus store and doing math homework in a quiet corner of the library.
Early in the afternoon, when it came time to go home, I left the library and walked toward the bus stop. The rain had stopped by then, but since the ground was still wet, I stayed on the sidewalks, instead of cutting diagonally across the grass of the Quad like I would have otherwise. I looked up at one point and saw Haley Channing approaching. The sidewalk was narrow enough, and the ground wet enough, that there was no way to avoid coming face to face with her. This was the first time I had seen Haley since our serious conversation at the beginning of finals week.
I looked up again to see Haley now about ten feet away, making eye contact with me. I halfheartedly smiled and waved.
“Hey, Greg,” Haley said. “What’s up? How was Urbana?”
“It was good,” I said. “I learned a lot, although I’m still trying to process exactly what it means for my life.”
“Yeah. Discerning God’s will can be like that.”
“How have you been?” I asked in the most neutral possible way, knowing that this must have been a hard Christmas for the Channings.
“Okay,” Haley replied. “It was good to be together, but, well, you know.”
I had never experienced that kind of loss so close to the holidays, but I imagined it was not easy. “Yeah,” I said, nodding.
“Are you heading to class?”
“I’m done for the day. Heading to the bus.”
“Nice. I still have a class and a discussion this afternoon. I’ll be here until 5.”
“Wow,” I replied. “Good luck. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Have a good afternoon.”
That did not go too badly, I thought as I continued walking toward the bus stop. Haley and I still seemed to be on good terms, and I managed not to say anything awkward about her mother’s passing. Although Haley had done nothing wrong by not reciprocating my feelings for her, the situation still made me feel like a failure. This couple sitting across from me on the bus held hands and kissed for the entire ride; seeing them certainly did not help my mood. I would probably never get that opportunity.
None of my roommates appeared to be home when I got home. I went to my room and turned on the computer, clicking the icon for the program that made the dial-up modem click and whir so that I could check my email. I had three messages: one from Mom; one from the TA for Religious Studies, who was starting an email list for our class; and the one I was hoping for, from a new Internet friend named Amy. I skipped the other two messages and went straight to Amy’s.
From: “Amy D.” <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 09 Jan 1997 15:48 -0500
Subject: Re: hi!
Hi! I hope you’re having a wonderful day! Yes I would love to read some of your poetry! It’s so cool that you like to do that. I’m not a very good writer.
To answer your question, yes I am married… my husband and I got married two years ago. We don’t have kids yet. We wanted to wait a few years. What about you? I’m sure a nice guy like you probably has a girlfriend, right? She’s a lucky woman!
How have your classes been so far this semester? You guys start early! I could never handle taking two math classes… you must be a genius! I hope you have a great day!
Amy (your big sis)
I first met Amy through an email I got while I was in Plumdale the week before Christmas. I had made a personal Web page last year, and I updated it occasionally with the things that were going on in my life. Apparently Amy randomly found my page and liked the Bible verses I had quoted. After the first few emails we exchanged, she started jokingly calling me her little brother, because she was a few years older than me, she never had a brother, and I reminded her of what she had pictured a hypothetical brother to be like. That was sweet.
Of course she would be married. I could never realistically expect a nice girl to just fall in my lap out of nowhere and actually be interested in me back. Girls just never liked me like that. It probably would not have worked out anyway, because she was almost three thousand miles away, in Massachusetts.
I opened the folder on the computer where I had saved my creative writing. Last summer, I was on a bike ride on the other side of Jeromeville, and I rode past the house at 2234 Baron Court, where Haley Channing and her roommates had lived last year. On the ride home, I kept thinking about the first time I went to that house, when some friends from JCF found me having a bad day and decided to include me, and how one of these new friends, Haley, had such a sweet smile and pretty blue eyes. I wrote a poem about that night and called it “2234.” A few months later, when I was struggling with my feelings for Haley, I wrote another poem; I called it “2235,” intending for it to be a sequel to 2234.
while i was in that house that awesome night
a bomb was planted deep within my soul
when bad turned good and everything seemed right
the evil bomber came and took control
today when i am with my friends
i hear a scary ticking sound
it’s growing louder every day
do i run away and hide?
do i leave without a trace?
do i stand here at ground zero
while it blows up in my face?
do i carefully inspect the bomb
so i may then defuse?
do i set the darn thing off right now?
i’ve not a thing to lose
i know the answer will come
but how much pain must i endure
and how many friends must i lose
before it arrives?
During finals week in December, after I told Haley I liked her and she was not interested back, and after Eddie Baker found out I liked Haley, I spent several study breaks writing another poem called “2236,” since that was the next number after 2235.
On this day,
a great weight has been lifted
from my shoulders.
I wanted to run away and hide from you,
to keep from dealing with this.
But God had other plans for me.
So I turned and said hello.
When I found out
that my friend knew all along,
I knew that it was over.
So I let go.
Now there is no more bomb
waiting to go off.
The Lord is doing His will,
leaving me free
to strengthen those special friendships I made
during that cold winter night.
When I wrote 2236, I was feeling at peace regarding Haley. I was no longer feeling so peaceful, and the poem now felt somewhat inauthentic. However, the poem captured a specific feeling at a specific time, which was not necessarily what I would feel forever. I copied and pasted those poems, along with the original 2234, into my reply to Amy. I also answered no to her question about having a girlfriend and explained what had happened with Haley, to give her some context for the poems.
All four of my lectures this quarter met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as had usually been the case with my schedule. It was sunny on Friday, so I rode my bike to campus. I parked near Wellington Hall and walked inside to Advanced Calculus. I had left the house a little later than usual, and when I arrived, almost but not quite late, the room was about three-quarters full. I saw an empty seat behind Katy Hadley, a cute redhead math major who had been in several of my classes over the years. I walked toward that seat, wondering if today would be the day I would finally get to talk to Katy. I really only knew her name because I had seen her write it on papers before.
As I sat in the chair, the momentum of my heavy backpack carried me awkwardly out of control, and my left foot swung forward, hitting the leg of Katy’s chair and Katy’s ankle. “Ow!” Katy said, turning around looking annoyed.
“Sorry,” I said sheepishly.
Anton, the professor whom I had had once before, began talking about bounded variation in his thick but comprehensible Belgian accent. I hoped that a mathematics lecture would distract me from the embarrassment of having blown it with Katy, but it did not. About ten minutes into class, I quietly tore a page out of the back of my notebook and wrote on it, I’m sorry I kicked the seat. I discreetly passed the note to Katy.
About a minute later, as I was writing down theorems about functions of bounded variation, Katy turned halfway toward me and placed the paper I gave her back on my desk. That’s okay, she had written, with a smiley face. This was progress, I supposed.
Later that day, after I was done with classes, I ran into Taylor Santiago and Pete Green, friends from the freshman dorm two years ago who I now went to church with. They were walking in the same direction I was, so I walked with them, and we shared stories about our first week of classes.
“I ran into Schuyler Jenkins this morning,” Pete said.
“Schuyler Jenkins!” Taylor replied. “I haven’t seen her since freshman year!” Schuyler was a girl who had lived across the hall a few doors down from Taylor freshman year, upstairs from me. She was short, barely over five feet, and she could be both short-tempered and whiny at various times. She did not speak to me for several weeks that year, after I played a prank which hurt her much more than I thought it would.
I unlocked my bike and began riding. “Where are you guys headed?” I asked.
“Bus,” Pete replied, pointing to the northeast.
“I’ll follow you,” I said, riding my bike very slowly alongside Taylor and Pete toward the bus terminal.
“Greg?” Taylor asked. “Has anyone else told you that your bike might be a little too small for you?”
“Actually, yes. A few other people told me that. I just got something cheap when I first came to Jeromeville; I didn’t get it properly sized or anything”
“It seems like you might be comfortable on a bigger bike.”
“This one is starting to fall apart,” I said. “I’ll keep that in mind someday when I get a new bike.” I know now that I did not keep that bicycle regularly maintained. The chain needed to be cleaned and lubricated, and a few spokes in the back were broken, making the back wheel wobble. “Not only is this bike too small, but it makes weird squeaking noises, and it wobbles in the back,” I explained.
“Sounds like Schuyler Jenkins!” Pete said.
“Haha!” I laughed, loudly.
“Wow!” Taylor said. “Greg, you should name your bike Schuyler.”
“That’s hilarious!” I replied I had never made the connection before between my bike and Schuyler. But from that day on, I called my bike Schuyler, and I loved telling that funny story so much that I named my next bike Schuyler II.
I took Schuyler out for a ride in the Greenbelts after I got back from class. The weather was colder than I would have wanted it, but after having rained for a couple days, it felt nice to see the sun again. I showered when I got home, then went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that night. I saw the girl I had spoken with on the bus the day before, wearing a name tag that said “Anna.” When I got home, I found my phone and email list for JCF; there was one Anna on the list, a sophomore named Anna Lam. That was most likely her, but her name did not register in my memory at all.
Haley was at JCF that night, but we did not get to talk beyond saying hello. I was okay with that. Haley and I were on good terms, but sometimes I was still going to feel weird about our past. That was normal. So what if Haley did not like me as more than a friend. So what if I had an awkward conversation on the bus with Anna Lam, and my new Internet friend Amy D. was married and not interested in me, and I accidentally kicked Katy Hadley in class. I still had friends who cared about me, and the right people would stay in my life. Hopefully something would work out for me eventually.
Author’s note: Do any of you name your vehicles, and if so, what’s an interesting story behind the name of your vehicle?
Also, yes I did really just painstakingly edit every episode to include the episode number in the title. Maybe if someone who just happens upon this blog sees that it is episode number 114, this person will actually be motivated to go back and read episodes 1 through 113… yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking.