I missed class exactly six times during my years at the University of Jeromeville. One time, I stayed home from class because I was really sick. Four times, my appointment for the automated phone system to register for classes for the next term fell at a time when I had class. If I was planning on signing up for a high demand class, I wanted to register as soon as possible.
The sixth time I missed class was on the last day of classes before winter quarter finals my junior year. I went to my classes in the morning, but I left campus early, before the New Testament Writings of John class, and the reason I missed class was the most important reason in the world, at least it was if your roommate was Brian Burr.
We all met at the house where Eddie Baker and John Harvey lived, since their house was the farthest east and closest to Capital City. The sixteen of us took four cars east on Highway 100, across the river and through downtown Capital City, to the movie theater just past Capital East Mall.
“Why are we going to Cap City to see this movie?” a guy in my car named Clint asked at one point. “Isn’t it showing in Jeromeville too?”
“Bigger theater, easier to get tickets,” I explained. “That’s what Brian said, at least.”
A few minutes later, the sixteen of us who had carpooled from Jeromeville entered the theater, tickets for the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi in hand. Lucasfilm, the company behind the Star Wars movies, had recently rereleased the first two movies, with new scenes to match the original vision for the movies, and today, the final movie in the series was being rereleased. I saw Star Wars with Barefoot James a couple weeks after it had been rereleased, and I saw The Empire Strikes Back last Saturday with Brian and some of the same people I was with today.
Brian had seen all of these movies hundreds of times over his lifetime, and The Empire Strikes Back last week was Brian’s second time seeing the rerelease. I, on the other hand, had only seen bits and pieces of the first two movies a few times, not enough to remember all the details of the story. The surprising revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, was common knowledge by 1997, even among those who were not huge Star Wars fans. But the movie still alluded to secrets that were beyond my knowledge, since I had never seen Return of the Jedi. On the way home from the theater last week, I asked Brian, “The part where Luke flies away from Dagobah, when Obi-Wan says that Luke is the last hope, and Yoda says, ‘No, there is another’… was that referring to something in Return of the Jedi?”
“Yes!” Brian said. “And if you don’t know, I’m not telling you. You’ll find out. I’m not giving it away.”
I could feel the anticipation building as the movie started, with the backstory scrolling up the screen. I read about Luke Skywalker trying to rescue Han Solo, whom Jabba the Hutt had frozen in carbonite at the end of the last movie, and the Empire rebuilding the Death Star, which the Rebels had destroyed in the first movie. After the battle with Jabba the Hutt, in which Princess Leia wore the famous steel bikini which I was not aware of before that day, Luke left the Rebels temporarily to finish training with Yoda. When Luke arrived, Yoda was dying, presumably of natural causes since he was nine hundred years old. And after giving Luke some final words about confronting Vader, Yoda said, “There is another Skywalker,” as he died. I moved up to the edge of my seat, knowing that the answer to the biggest question that the previous movie had left for me was coming.
In the next scene, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to Luke, and at one point,. Luke asked Obi-Wan about Yoda’s final words. Obi-Wan explained that Yoda meant Luke’s twin sister; Luke did not know of her existence. I gasped… it had to be Leia; she was by far the biggest female role in the Star Wars movies. Luke figured out the same thing a few lines later.
The Rebels blew up the second Death Star, as I suspected they would, with the help of the primitive teddy-bear-like Ewoks. I always assumed that the Ewoks only existed to be cute and cuddly, and sell Star Wars toys to girls. Throughout the movie, Luke kept saying that there was still good in his father, and Darth Vader redeemed himself in the end.
“What’d you think?” Brian asked me as soon as we got out of the theater.
“That was so good!” I replied.
“I saw you react when they said Leia was Luke’s sister. That was a genuine reaction.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“By the way, I’m curious… what was the next thing you thought of after that scene?”
I did not want to be put on the spot. I did not know what Brian was getting at. But I did remember something. “I thought, didn’t Luke and Leia kiss in the last movie?” I said.
“Yes!” Brian exclaimed, laughing. “That’s what’s so funny about it.”
“Wait,” Clint said. “Greg? You’ve never seen this movie before?”
“No. First time.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know how it was going to end or anything. I didn’t know Darth Vader was going to turn good.”
“Weird,” Clint replied. “That’s kind of mind-blowing. To me, it’s just one of those things everyone knows. Grass is green. The sky is blue. Darth Vader turns good.”
It must have been nice having a normal childhood, I thought, but I just kept my mouth shut at that. I knew Clint did not mean to be hurtful, so I did my best not to let his comment get to me.
Had this trip to see Return of the Jedi happened in the evening, I would have gone to bed happy, feeling like this was one of the best days ever. However, it was a Friday afternoon, so my day was not over. I had Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that night, normally a source of inspiration and fellowship, but also a source of tension at times, because of the cliques within the group. I was still on a high from seeing Return of the Jedi, being included in that clique, and I responded with an enthusiastic yes when Eddie and John, who had also both been at Return of the Jedi, invited me to go bowling afterward.
The University of Jeromeville had a bowling alley on campus, the only bowling alley in Jeromeville, underneath the campus bookstore. The school has a bowling team, and the physical education department offers a bowling class for half a unit, which I took in the fall of sophomore year. I walked to the bowling alley under a sky lit by a half moon, along with Eddie and John, Kristina Kasparian, Lorraine Mathews, Tabitha Sasaki, Jason Costello, Ramon Quintero, Clint who could not believe that I had never seen Return of the Jedi, and Haley Channing. It had been three months since Haley told me that my feelings for her were not reciprocated, and I was trying to stay friends, but it felt like we did not talk much anymore. She was ahead of me as the ten of us walked toward the bowling alley, so all I could see was her back, but I could picture her beautiful blue eyes and sweet smile as she and Kristina talked.
“Ready for finals, Greg?” Eddie asked, snapping me back to reality.
“I think so,” I replied. “At least as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Are you going to Spring Breakthrough?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Brian said it’s gonna be really good.”
“Good! I’m glad you’re coming. Are you doing anything else for Spring Break? Going to Plumdale?”
“Yeah. Just hanging out with my family for a while. What about you?”
“Same. I’m going to speak at my church back home about the mission trip to China this summer.”
“That’s cool. How many people from Jeromeville are going to China?”
“Wow. That’s so cool.”
When we arrived, we were assigned lanes 5 and 6. I put on the rental bowling shoes and went to find a ball, and when I got back, the others had already divided into two groups. Haley, Ramon, Kristina, Lorraine, and Clint were on lane 5, and I was on lane 6 with Eddie, Tabitha, John, and Jason. I bowled a strike on my first frame and high-fived the others in my lane. I then returned to my seat, but that strong opening did not carry through to the rest of the game. I finished with a score of 111, very average for me.
I looked behind me at some point early in the second game, as I waited my turn. Ramon and Haley sat at a table behind the bowling area; Ramon was talking about something, inaudible from my vantage point, as Haley listened intently, smiling, laughing occasionally. Ramon and Haley took their turns in consecutive order on their lane, and after they finished, they returned to their more secluded table to look intently in each other’s eyes.
Being rejected was bad enough, but seeing Haley interested in someone else made the situation so much worse. Haley’s actions were actively communicating that someone else was better than me. Furthermore, I was not used to thinking of Ramon as a threat. Ramon was in my dorm freshman year, and he and Liz Williams started dating just a couple weeks into the school year. Ramon and Liz were the kind of couple who seemed destined to be the college sweethearts who stayed together forever, but they broke up at the beginning of this school year, after around two years together. Ramon and Haley seemed to have grown close lately. Ramon was the cool guy who spoke six languages and played all sorts of musical instruments, and his work had even been on the campus radio station recently. But for most of the time I knew him, he had a girlfriend, and was not looking to meet girls like I was, so he and I were not in competition.
I was not mad at Haley. She had done nothing wrong; she had been honest about not being interested in me. And as much as I was envious of Ramon, he had done nothing wrong either. I was mostly mad at myself, for not being good enough. Obviously I had failed somewhere that Ramon had succeeded. God had not allowed me to be Haley’s boyfriend, and Ramon seemed to have gotten farther than I ever did. The Lord gave him the one he took from me, I thought.
Something clicked in my mind as that sentence formed. The sentence was perfect iambic pentameter, like much of the work of William Shakespeare. Every once in a while, when I am overthinking something or have too much on my mind, I will formulate a sentence that sounds particularly poetic, and the words will just keep coming. Tonight, my mind was full of thoughts about Haley and Ramon: hearing Ramon’s music on the radio last week, growing apart from Haley, jealousy, anger, and following God’s will for my life even when it was not my own will. I had been friends with Ramon for two and a half years, but I really did not think I could stay friends with him if he and Haley were together. I did not want to talk to either of them right now. I did not want to look at them right now. As I stepped to the lane to take my turn bowling, the words continued coming to mind, words in iambic pentameter, forming a Shakespearean sonnet. I was distracted, knocking down five pins on my first roll and a gutter ball for the second.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said as I walked away from the bowling lanes. After I used the toilet and washed and dried my hands, I pulled an extra paper towel out of the dispenser and brought it back to the lanes. I sat a table behind the ball return machine, about six feet from the table where Ramon and Haley were still making googly eyes at each other, and began writing some of the words that had been filling my head.
I heard you on the radio and said,
This talented musician is my friend;
But this is just a lie; our friendship’s dead,
I’ve brought it quite abruptly to an end.
This poem had to be written addressed to Ramon. The words were not working any other way. The line I had thought of earlier had to be reworded, since it was in the third person; I almost wrote it next, for line 5, but decided it would come later, at line 7. Another turn bowling interrupted my thoughts, but I returned to my table a few minutes later and continued writing.
Your life, your friends, your things, these things I see,
And anger builds within my jealous heart;
The Lord gave you the one he took from me,
And made our paths diverge so far apart.
I did not like “things” twice in line 5; I crossed out the first one and wrote “stuff.” That did not sound very poetic either, but I never came up with a better word to go there.
“What’cha doin’, Greg?” Kristina asked, noticing me sitting alone. “Writing poems on napkins?”
“Yeah,” I said, turning my paper towel over to hide what I had written from Kristina.
“My friends in high school, we used to do that all the time. We wrote some pretty weird stuff. I wonder if those napkins are still there, in my room back home?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I really did not want to share this poem with anyone here. Kristina walked to the lane to take her turn, not asking anything more about my poem.
Gradually, through the rest of the second game, I finished my poem:
I pray now for forgiveness; I repent,
I lift my sin to Jesus Christ above;
I’d like our path to go where it once went,
And happiness I wish you and your love.
God’s plan for me is not His plan for you,
So I will be myself, and your friend too.
Now all it needed was a title. The poem was clearly written to Ramon, but I could not use his name, or Haley’s name, anywhere within. After my next bowling turn, I moved back down to the seats by the ball return machine, with the poem in my pocket.
“Greg?” Eddie asked. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. Eddie knew about my feelings for Haley, so I hoped that he would not ask any more about this. He did not.
Toward the end of the bowling game, the title came to me: “Dear Mr. Q.” Ramon literally was Mr. Q, his last name was Quintero, but also the name Mr. Q sounded mysterious. I pulled the poem back out of my pocket and wrote the title at the top.
Because I was so distracted, I only bowled 101 that game, just barely keeping alive my streak of triple-digit bowling scores. Although I did not bowl particularly often, I had not bowled below 100 since November of 1995, when I was taking the bowling class.
I studied for finals all weekend, feeling discouragement and self-loathing hanging over me. The two math finals were straightforward, and I had no trouble with them. Nutrition and Writings of John were a bit more challenging, since they consisted of memorizing facts and writing essay questions. Professor Hurt had at least given us the topics of the essay questions in advance so that we could take time to prepare, but I had missed the last class to see Return of the Jedi. I did the best I could in Nutrition, and only one question on the Writings of John final related to the class I missed.
I had a retreat coming up with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship the weekend after finals, Spring Breakthrough. This was different from past retreats I had been on with JCF; instead of going somewhere up in the mountains, we were just spending a few days at a church in Stockdale, about an hour drive south down the Valley from Jeromeville. I looked forward to it, though. Brian, my roommate who loved Star Wars, was on staff with JCF, and I had seen him copying clips from his Star Wars VHS tapes to use as illustrations. He had explained that the topic of this retreat would be discipleship. I had experienced the beginnings of discipleship, when my Christian friends from freshman year had prayed for me on rough days and invited me to JCF, and when Eddie had repeatedly reached out to me sophomore year. But now that I was more involved with the group and had made a decision to follow Jesus, I felt less important to these people, and I felt that I would never have a girlfriend as long as I was on the outside of these cliques, or at best on the periphery.
When I talked to Haley three months ago and let her reject me, I was hoping that her definitive answer would close the door and help me get over her. The events of that night at the bowling alley showed clearly that this had not happened. Maybe I would never be over Haley until I got interested in someone else to that extent. I knew of a lot of cute girls, but I was currently not close enough with anyone not already in a relationship to develop into the kind of crush I had on Haley. Of course, when I did find someone, the new girl would probably just reject me as well, or meet someone else first, and the cycle would begin all over again. Something needed to change.
Author’s note: Tell me in the comments about a time you skipped class.
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