“Greg?” Brian said, poking his head into my bedroom. “Your friend is here.”
I walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs, smiling as I saw her standing in the entryway at the bottom. “Hey!” I said. “Good to see you!”
“Hi, Greg!” Rachel Copeland replied, pulling me in for a hug. She looked a little different from how she did the last time I had seen her, over a year ago. Her light brown hair had grown even longer, most of the way down her back. Last year, Rachel’s freshman year at St. Elizabeth’s College, she seemed to have put on the proverbial fifteen pounds that many say inevitably appears during everyone’s freshman year.
“Rachel, this is my roommate Brian,” I said, gesturing toward Brian sitting on the couch watching television. “And Shawn,” I added, pointing toward the kitchen where Shawn was making something on the stove. “This is Rachel, my friend from high school.” Brian and Shawn both said hello to Rachel. “So what’s the plan? I’m going to show you around, then we’ll find something to eat?”
“Yeah!” she said. “Can I get a drink of water and use your bathroom first? I’ve been in the car for an hour.”
After Rachel finished, we walked to the car. “I like these apartments,” she said. “They’re nice and spread out, with landscaping. Do you like living off campus better than on campus? You lived in a dorm when you were a freshman, right?”
“Did you like it? Did you want to move off campus?”
“It wasn’t my choice, really,” I explained. “Everyone is guaranteed a spot on campus their first year, but UJ has so little dorm space right now, they only have a small number of rooms left for returning students. This year, the freshman class was bigger than expected, so there’s absolutely no room on campus for returning students, and they even have people in rooms that are supposed to be study rooms.”
“What?” Rachel asked as we got into my car. I started the car and headed out of the parking lot, south on Maple Drive.
“Yeah. We were filling out a new phone list this year for the church choir, and this one girl, Margaret, she’s a freshman, and she put her address as Room 101 Building M. Those letter buildings, remember I was in Building C my freshman year, they’re all the same, and there is no room 101, they start at 112. She said they put two beds and two cots in the study room.”
“Yeah. The housing market in Jeromeville is all kinds of messed up. The university keeps growing, but they haven’t built any new dorms in over a decade, and they even tore some down a couple years before I started here, because they weren’t up to code. And the city wants to stay small and not become a sprawling suburb.”
“That doesn’t seem right. Are they going to replace the buildings they tore down?”
“I think so, eventually, but it’s still just an empty field right now.” At that point, we were passing by the Forest Drive Housing Area; I said, “At some point in the past, the University bought some apartment buildings in this neighborhood over here and turned them into dorms. We’re not far from campus now. But even if they do more of that, that also takes away from the total housing in the city and campus combined.”
“It’s been frustrating for me, because I’ve always had a hard time finding roommates. You have to make plans early in the spring for the next fall. This year worked out perfectly, though. At Bible study, we were doing prayer requests, and I mentioned needing a roommate, and one of the group leaders said that he needed a place to live. That was Shawn, who you just met.”
“Oh, wow. That did work out.”
I turned left on Fifth Street and right on Andrews Road, entering campus by the North Residential Area. I pointed out the basketball arena and the pool, with its landscaped berm popular with sunbathers which my dad had once nicknamed Thong Bikini Hill. I turned left on Davis Drive and right into the South Residential Area, where we drove past Building C. “This is where I lived freshman year,” I said. Pointing at my window, I said, “That was my room.”
“Cool! These buildings are smaller than the other ones we just drove by.”
“Yeah. It was nice. And, remember, I was in that program where everyone else in the program lived in the same building, so we all knew each other.”
“That’s cool. I’ve just been paired with a random roommate both years. Last year my roommate and I got along, but this year we aren’t very close. It’s not that we don’t like each other, we’re just different. You know.”
“Yeah. There are definitely some people from Building C that I didn’t stay friends with.”
“Were those cows back there?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah. The dairy was right across the street. People in the dorms always made fun of the smell, but you get used to it after a while.”
“I guess that would make sense that Jeromeville would have a dairy, if it’s known for its agricultural programs.”
As I drove around the outer edge of campus, I pointed out other highlights: the Arboretum; Marks Hall, where the administrative offices were located; Krueger Hall, home of the offices for my part-time job as a math tutor; the odd-looking building nicknamed the Death Star, where I got lost playing Sardines; and the football stadium, which looked like a high school stadium, but a little bit bigger. I pointed out that many of the academic buildings were to the west of us, in the part of campus closed to vehicular traffic. I turned right on Fifth Street and pointed out the Newman Center.
“That’s a cute building,” she said.
“It was the original building for the main Catholic Church in Jeromeville. But they moved into a bigger building eventually.”
“Are you ready to eat?” Rachel asked.
“Yes. Do you know what you want?”
“I’m terrible at picking food,” I said. “I mostly just know fast food, and I haven’t found any local restaurants yet, except for another burger place.”
“What about if you just drive around and I’ll look for something that looks good?”
“That sounds perfect,” I said. “We’re downtown, so there’s a ton of restaurants nearby.”
I began driving up and down the downtown grid on the streets named for low numbers and letters at the beginning of the alphabet. As I passed the corner of G and Third Streets, Rachel pointed at the Jade Dragon Restaurant and asked, “Do you like Chinese food?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I’ve never been there. Let’s try it.”
A public parking lot ran the entire length of the block between F and G Streets. I pulled into a parking place and walked with Rachel back to the restaurant. After we sat down, I looked over the menu and said, “So it looks like if we get this dinner for two, we can each pick an entree to go with all of those sides?”
“That’s what I see.”
“Back home, the summer after I graduated, I went to that Chinese place on Valencia Road by McDonalds with Catherine and Melissa and Renee and Anthony and Kevin. I was confused about how to order, and I got a little frustrated.”
“We can go somewhere else if you don’t like Chinese food.”
“No, I do,” I said. “We just never went out to eat and sat down when I was a kid. My brother and I always acted squirrelly whenever we went out to eat, you know, like little boys do, and as we grew up, Mom just assumed we were always going to misbehave in restaurants. So we always got take-out. As far as I knew, Chinese food came in little white boxes.”
“That’s kind of funny.”
After we ordered, I asked, “So who is it that you’re on your way to visit tonight? Is it someone I knew back home?”
“No,” Rachel explained. “She was one of my friends at St. Elizabeth’s last year, but it wasn’t working out for her there, so she moved back home and transferred to Capital State.”
“It must be nice not having classes tomorrow. That way you can do three-day weekend trips like this whenever you want.”
“It is nice. This is the first time it’s worked out that way.”
“It seems like every math class at UJ is Monday-Wednesday-Friday. So I’ll probably never have Fridays off. And now that I’m doing University Chorus, their rehearsals are Monday-Wednesday-Friday too.”
“How is chorus going? What kind of music are you doing?”
“I don’t know classical music well enough to describe it,” I said, chuckling. “But we’re doing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and some Christmas thing by Vaughan Williams.”
“I don’t know either of those.”
“I didn’t either until last week.” Our food arrived, and we began eating. “This is good,” I said. “Good suggestion.”
“It is,” Rachel agreed after taking a bite. “And thanks for the campus tour. Jeromeville is so much bigger than St. Elizabeth’s.”
“I’ve never been to St. Elizabeth’s, but I would imagine it is.”
“Do you have a favorite part of the campus?”
“Hmm,” I replied, thinking. “Maybe the Arboretum. It’s peaceful, like you’re out in nature with all the trees nearby. Or some of the roads on the rural side of campus, where they do agricultural research. I ride my bike out there sometimes.”
“That sounds nice,” Rachel said. “My favorite part of St. Elizabeth’s is this big cross. Sometimes I just walk out there at night and watch the stars. I’m not very religious, but it feels spiritual being out there.”
“Is it weird going to a Catholic school when you’re not Catholic?”
“Not really. There are a lot of students who aren’t Catholic.”
“That’s true. I’ve never been to Catholic school at any level, so I don’t know what it’s like.”
“What are you doing this weekend?” Rachel asked.
“Tomorrow is Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. Then Saturday I’m going to the football game, against Capital State. It’s our big rivalry game, the Drawbridge Classic. The rest of the weekend I’ll just be doing homework.”
“That should be fun. Do you go to a lot of games?”
“Some. Not as many as I did freshman year when I lived right on campus.”
“I haven’t really followed sports at St. Elizabeth’s,” Rachel said. “Apparently football and basketball are pretty big there.”
“I think they’re Division I,” I replied. “That’s considered the top level of college sports. Jeromeville is Division II.”
“Really. It’s kind of funny that Jeromeville is so much bigger but St. Elizabeth’s is in a higher sports division.”
“I know. I’m not really sure how all that works. But there’s this local band that I’ve seen three times, called Lawsuit. They’re playing at the pre-game show, so I definitely wanted to go to this one.”
“I think you’ve told me about Lawsuit before. Were they the ones who were, like really different from anything you’d heard before?”
“Yeah. Like rock with horns.”
“That should be fun! I wonder if they ever play out my way?”
“I think so. They play around Bay City a lot too.”
Rachel and I spent about another hour, long after we had finished our fortune cookies, talking about classes, college friends, campus activities, mutual friends, and what we had done over the summer. Eventually, Rachel said, “I should go. It’s getting dark, and I still have to drive to Capital City.”
“You don’t have too much farther to go,” I said.
“Yeah, but I don’t know where I’m going. That makes it stressful.”
We got back in my car and drove back to my apartment. I parked and walked Rachel to her car. “Thank you so much for visiting,” I said. “It was so good to see you.”
“Yeah!” Rachel replied. “You too! It was good to see where you live, finally.”
“Drive safely, and have fun with your friend.”
“I will!” Rachel put her arms around me, and we hugged, a long lingering hug that lasted about ten seconds. “Good night, Greg.”
“Good night.” I watched as Rachel exited the parking lot, then went back into the house. Rachel may be on a three-day weekend, but it was still Thursday and I had numerical analysis homework due tomorrow.
The weather in early October in Jeromeville was basically Summer Junior, warm and sunny during the day, although not as hot as actual summer. I rode my bike to the football stadium Saturday afternoon, arriving as Lawsuit was setting up their instruments and equipment on a temporary stage that had been erected for this pregame show.
This scene differed greatly from that of the last time I saw Lawsuit, at the benefit concert for the C.J. Davis Art Center. For one thing, the show started at five o’clock, and it was not completely dark yet. People were spread out over a much larger area on a practice sports field next to the stadium, with booths set up for snacks and drinks. Not everyone was actively paying attention to the band.
Lawsuit played many of the same songs I had seen in the three other shows of theirs that I had been to. They opened with the same song as the other times I had seen them, “Thank God You’re Doing Fine,” followed by “Useless Flowers.” I had the two most recent of their five albums, so I recognized at least half the songs, but they played some that I did not know. I was unsure if these were from older albums, or if they were new songs that were not released on albums yet. Being that it was a shorter set and part of a football pregame show instead of just a Lawsuit concert, the show felt more like when they performed at Spring Picnics rather than the benefit concert at the Art Center. They did not have as much banter or inside jokes between the band members as they did at the Art Center, which did not particularly bother me, since most of the inside jokes went over my head.
I made a mental note to go to more Lawsuit concerts this coming school year. Their monthly flyers told their fans to bug radio stations to play them; maybe I should start doing that too. I did not know how all of that worked, however. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the pregame show tonight.
After Lawsuit finished, I walked into the football stadium, sitting with the Colt Crew, the free general admission section reserved for undergraduates. A group of students led the Colt Crew in silly cheers all night, with plenty of giveaways during the night. I got excited during a timeout in the third quarter, when the Colt Crew brought out one of their most random traditions, Tube Sock Madness. All of the Colt Crew leaders dressed in silly costumes, tossing rolled-up tube socks into the crowd. I caught tube socks once freshman year from a guy in a cow suit, but I came up empty at this game. I did not know if the guy in the cow suit tonight was the same guy as two years ago, but I noticed that this cow suit had a nipple ring on the udder.
By now, I had been to enough University of Jeromeville Colts football games that I recognized the tunes of all of the marching band fight songs, and I even knew the words to a few of them. I hummed along and sang quietly under my breath a few times, taking in the college football atmosphere and forgetting the stresses of studying for one night. I was already on a high from the Lawsuit show, and the excitement of a good, close game made the night even better. Unfortunately, the night ended on a disappointing note; with the score tied in the fourth quarter, Capital State marched down the field and kicked a field goal, which Jeromeville was unable to answer in their final remaining drive. The Colts lost, 27 to 24.
All things come to an end, somehow, someday. Often, one has no idea that something has just happened for the final time. That early October Thursday evening was, as of now, the last time I saw Rachel in person. Rachel’s emails would become less frequent as the year went on, and we gradually lost touch as life continued to get in the way. However, early in the social media era, when Rachel and I were in our early thirties, she found me on Facebook, and we have been sporadically in contact ever since, occasionally liking and commenting on pictures and such. She now lives in Mt. Lorenzo, a hippie beach town near where I grew up, working as a sex therapist. As an unmarried man with conservative Christian values, I have little to no need for a sex therapist and no idea what her career is like.
That football game was also the last Drawbridge Classic I would attend for a decade. The game was played in Capital City in odd-numbered years, and I did not want to watch it in front of a hostile crowd. My remaining even-numbered years in Jeromeville, I was busy with other things and not following football as closely. It was not until 2005 that I would begin attending Colt football games again, this time no longer as a resident of Jeromeville, and not until 2006 that I would see the Colts play Capital State at home
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, that night was also the last time I would ever see Lawsuit perform live. But that is another story for another time.
Note to readers: What about you guys? When was a noteworthy time in your lives when you did something or saw someone for the last time, and didn’t realize it?