January 26, 1996. Pieces falling into place.

I had been in a bad mood all week.  I woke to rain Tuesday morning, and since then clouds had covered Jeromeville the entire time.  My week had been boring and uneventful, and I was feeling particularly grumpy about not having a girlfriend.  Earlier today, I saw Sabrina Murphy from church on campus, and she introduced me to her boyfriend.  I knew she had a boyfriend, I had been through the disappointment of learning that a month ago, but meeting him felt like a reminder that I was not good enough to date a girl like Sabrina.

It was now Friday evening, and once I got home from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship tonight, I would be alone studying the entire weekend.  The National Football League championship game was coming up Sunday afternoon, but this year I would probably be watching it alone in my apartment.  Maybe that was a good thing; the team I despised the most, the Texas Toros, was heavily favored to win.

Dave McAllen of the JCF staff team spoke that night.  “‘I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel,’” Dave said, reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  “If you look back in Acts chapter 19, it tells about when Paul first visited Philippi.  The first Philippian to receive the gospel was a woman named Lydia.  It says, ‘When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.’  Paul and his companions did not just baptize her and take off.  They started a church that met at her house.”

I had been attending JCF since October.  At first, most of my thoughts during the group meetings were on learning people’s names, figuring out how the group worked, and wondering whether they would have a problem with me being Catholic.  But now that I had been part of the group for a few months, I was paying more attention to the actual content of the message.  I got a different perspective on Scripture from JCF than I got from Mass at the Newman Center.  Father Bill’s homily was usually something fairly brief and general, vaguely related to that week’s Scripture, but the messages given by Dave and the JCF staff applied specific Scriptures in relevant ways for university students in 1996.  Relationship was a big part of spreading the Gospel at a large university.  It was also, unfortunately, something deficient in my life.

After Dave’s talk and the final worship song, I stood and turned to my friends.  I had been sitting next to Pete Green, Charlie Watson, Caroline Pearson, and Jason Costello, all friends from my freshman dorm last year.  “How’s it going, Greg?” Charlie asked.

“I’m doing okay,” I said.  “Except all my classes have midterms this week.”

“Good luck,” Caroline said.  

“Where are Liz and Ramon?” Charlie asked.

“They went to go see Ramon’s parents this weekend,” Caroline replied.

“Ramon said they’ll be back Sunday morning,” Jason added.  “I need to get going.  I had a midterm today, and I didn’t sleep much last night.”

“Yeah,” Caroline said.  “I need to go too.  I need to start my paper.  It’s due Monday.”

“Good luck with that,” I said.  “Is anyone else doing anything tonight?”

“Not me,” Pete replied.  “I have to study all weekend.  I’m so behind in all my classes.”

“Pete’s my ride,” Charlie said, “and I’m behind too.”

“Good luck with your studying,” I said.  “I’ll see you guys later!”

The others said their goodbyes, and I walked around the room.  I knew that learning about the Bible should be the most important part of these meetings, but I was also enjoying the social aspect.  Dave spoke tonight about building relationships, so being social is important too, apparently.  Last week I went to a movie with those friends after JCF, and I was hoping something like that would happen tonight too.  If it did, though, it would not be with them; my opportunity had been stolen by studying, and by Liz and Ramon doing couple stuff.

A freshman named Brent Wang saw me and waved.  I approached him and the others standing next to him.  “Hey, Greg,” Brent said.  “How’s it going?”

“Not bad.  Just busy with school.  How are you guys?”

“I had a midterm today.  I don’t think I did too great.”

“I had one too,” said a tall curly-haired boy whose name I thought was Todd.  “I know I didn’t do too great.”

“That’s too bad,” I replied.  “But you never know.  What are you guys up to tonight?”

“We’re having an overnighter at our Bible study leader’s apartment,” Brent explained.  “Just something for the guys of our group to get to know each other.  We should actually get going; we told him we’d be there in just a minute.”

“Have fun!” I said.  “See you guys next week!”

Over the next twenty minutes, I had some positive small talk experiences but was ultimately unsuccessful in finding something to do.  By now, only ten people remained in the room, and most of them seemed to be helping clean up.  I sat in a seat by myself away from people and put my head down.  What was wrong with me?  Why was it so hard for me to make friends?  I hated being me sometimes.  I hated living alone and feeling out of the loop, and the only reason I lived alone was because I was out of the loop when people were making housing plans for the following year.  And would I ever know the feeling of being in love?

I looked down at the floor, fighting back tears, as I heard more and more of the few remaining students putting things away, saying goodbye, and leaving the room.  When the room was silent, as the last people were getting ready to leave, I heard footsteps approaching, probably to tell me that it was time to go, that they had to lock up.

“Are you okay?” a voice asked.  I looked up to see two guys of average height and build now sitting next to me.  The closer one had black hair and olive skin, and the one behind him had light brown hair and pointed features.

“I’m okay,” I said.  “I’m just having a rough night.  I feel like I don’t fit in around here.”

“Why’s that?  Did something happen?” the dark-haired guy asked me.  He was the same one who had spoken before, and I had seen him around JCF; I was pretty sure his name was Eddie.  I did not know the other guy.

“I haven’t been going here very long.  I don’t know a lot of people.  And the people I do know, sometimes I feel like I’m not really part of their group.”

“Your name’s Greg, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Eddie, and this is Xander.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“Who would you say you know here?”

“Pete Green, Taylor Santiago, Charlie Watson, Caroline Pearson, Liz Williams, Ramon Quintero, Jason Costello, Sarah Winters, Krista Curtis… we were all in the same dorm last year.  A lot of them weren’t here this week, though, and the ones who were went home early.”

“Sometimes people just have stuff going on,” Xander said.  “Don’t take it personally.”

“I know.”

“So you’re a sophomore?” Eddie asked.  “We are too.  Do you have roommates?”

“No.  I was in a single room in the dorm last year, and when everyone was making their plans for this year, I didn’t know what was going on until everyone had plans already.”

“Living alone can be nice,” Xander said.  “We live in a big house with eight of us total, and it gets noisy sometimes.”

“Yeah, but it gets lonely too.”

“Can we pray with you?” Eddie asked.

“Sure,” I said.  I found this to be another difference between students at JCF and students at the Newman Center, the willingness to pray for people openly in public like this.

Eddie placed his hand on my back and began speaking.  “Father God, I thank you for bringing Greg to JCF and having our lives intersect tonight.  I pray that Greg will know that he is loved.  I pray that he will experience your love in a whole new way this weekend.  I pray that you will come in and transform his life.  Wash away all the hurt and the pain and show him your blessings anew.”

“Jesus,” Xander added.  “I pray that you will help Greg find his place in our community.  I pray that he will hear from you and know your plan for his life.  I pray that you will bring him into the community you have prepared for him, and I thank you that we got to talk to him tonight.”  After a pause, he concluded, “In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Do you have any plans this weekend?” Eddie asked.

“No.  Just study and homework, but it won’t take the whole weekend.”

“Tonight we’re going to play games with some girls from JCF who live down the street from us.  And we’re going to watch the football championship on Sunday.  You want to come hang out with us?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Where do you guys live?”

“I’ll draw you a map.”  Eddie tore off a piece of paper and drew a map to a street called Baron Court, near Valdez Street and Cornell Boulevard.  He marked two locations at opposite ends of the street, labeling one of them “2212 – Eddie & Xander” and the other “2234 – Girls.”  “Do you know where that is?” he asked.  “It’s in south Jeromeville.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I can find my way there.  Are you guys going there now?”

“Yeah.  We said we’d be there a while ago.:

“Sounds good.  I’ll see you in a bit then.”



Baron Court was about two miles from campus on the other side of Highway 100.  I had explored this neighborhood on my bike a few months earlier.  On one side of Baron Court was a large apartment complex with its main entrance around the corner on Valdez Street, and a row of duplexes lined the other side, ending in a cul-de-sac opening up to one of the Greenbelts.  The girls lived in the second to last duplex.  I did not know who these girls were, and I did not know if Eddie and Xander had arrived yet.  If I knocked, and they were not expecting me, would they be comfortable letting some strange man into their home at ten o’clock at night?  After waiting in the car nervously for over five minutes, I had not seen Eddie and Xander arrive, so I assumed that they had gotten there before me.  I walked up and rang the doorbell.

A shorter than average girl with dark curly hair opened the door.  Behind her I could see Eddie and Xander sitting on a couch, looking at the door as if they were expecting me.  “Greg!” Eddie said.  “You made it!  Come on in!”

“Hi, Greg.  I’m Kristina,” said the girl who answered the door.

“Nice to meet you,” I replied.  We shook hands, and I walked to the couch and sat next to Xander.  On a second couch, placed against the front wall out of view of the doorway, sat two other girls, one small and thin with brown hair and an athletic build, and one average height, but the tallest of the three, with bright blue eyes and straight light brown hair just past her shoulders.  I could not remember ever having met any of these girls before.  Around 150 students attended JCF on an average Friday, so I had not met everyone yet.  “These are my roommates, Kelly and Haley,” Kristina said.  “Six of us live here, but the other three went home for the weekend.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“You too,” Kelly, the small athletic one, replied.

“So you go to JCF?” Haley asked.  “I don’t think I’ve met you before.”

“I’ve only been going for three months.  I don’t know a lot of people yet.”

“I didn’t have that experience.  It seems like everyone knew me the first time I went to large group,” Haley said, and the others chuckled.  I got the impression that she was referring to something specific that I did not know about, and just as I was about to ask, Eddie explained, “Haley’s brother goes to JCF too.  He’s a senior.  Do you know Christian Channing?  Glasses, goatee, about the same color hair as Haley.”

“I think I know who you’re talking about,” I said.

“Are you a freshman?” Haley asked.

“Sophomore.”

“Me too.”

“All of us are,” Kelly added, gesturing toward the six of us in the room.

“How’d you find out about JCF?” Kristina asked.

“A bunch of my friends from my dorm last year invited me.”  I told Kristina which JCF people lived in my dorm, and she and the other girls nodded.

“Are you in a Bible study?” Xander asked me.

“I’m not,” I said.  Hoping that this would not make my new friends gasp in horror, I added, “I actually don’t even have a Bible.”

“I think I have an extra Bible,” Kristina said.  “I’ll go look for it before you can leave.  You can have it.”

“Thank you,” I replied.  “That would be nice.”

“So what do you want to play?” Eddie asked.

“We can always start with Uno,” Kristina replied.  “Is everyone okay with Uno?”

“Sure,” I said.  Kristina got up and returned a minute later with Uno and a few other games.  She dealt the cards, and we began playing, taking turns trying to match the color or the number of the previously played card.  We made small talk while we were playing, about classes and other things going on around JCF.

Xander played a red 3 card.  My turn was next, but Kristina jumped in and played the other red 3 card, out of turn.  “What?” I said.  “It’s my turn.”

“I had the other red 3,” Kristina explained.

“What do you mean?  Why did you play out of turn?”

“Because I had the exact match.”

“I don’t think that’s an actual rule,” Eddie said.  “Greg, you don’t play that way?”

“No.  It’s not a rule.  I read the rules when I was a kid.”

“That’s how we always play,” Kristina argued.

“That’s fine, as long as I know about it.  Are there any other made-up rules?”

“What about adding to draw cards?” Eddie asked.  “Like if I play a Draw Two, then instead of drawing two, Xander can play another Draw Two, and you would have to draw four.  And if you play another Draw Two, Haley would have to draw six.”

“I don’t know that one either, but that sounds interesting.”

We played three long games of Uno with these house rules that were new to me; I did not win any of them, but it was fun, especially when Kristina, after a great deal of playful trash-talking, had to draw twelve when three Wild Draw Four cards were played consecutively.  After Uno, we played Scattergories.  In this game, each player was given a list of categories and a short amount of time to write things in each category beginning with a predetermined letter.  Only unique answers, different from those of all other players, counted for points.  For the first round the letter was B.  I read the categories and began writing.

Heroes: Batman, but I made a note to change it if I had time, since someone else would probably say that.  Terms of endearment: Babe.  Same thing, someone else would probably say it.  Tropical locations: Bikini Atoll.  Items in your purse/wallet: Bucks.  As in money.  That was creative.  Things that are black: Barry Bonds.  Not exactly politically correct, but good for laughs, and I would get two points for using something with two B words.  I started to panic as the timer inched closer to 0.  At the last minute, I crossed out Batman and put “Bueller, Ferris” for Heroes.  In the movie, Cameron calls him his hero, so I thought I had a good argument.

When the timer went off, we began reading our answers.  “Heroes,” Kristina said.  “Batman.”  Kelly and Xander both groaned that they had also written Batman, so I had made a good choice to change mine.  “Bueller, Ferris,” I said.  Imitating Cameron from the movie, I added, “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero,” in an exaggerated nasal deadpan.  The others laughed and agreed that my answer counted.

“Items in your purse,” Eddie said.

“Big bills!” Kristina shouted.  “Two points!”

“Isn’t that only one point?” I asked.  “Because ‘big’ isn’t really a necessary part of the answer.  It’s just ‘bills.’”

“Yeah,” Eddie said.  “I think you only get the point for ‘bills.’”

We continued reading our answers; I scored eight points that round.  We chose a new list for the next round, and Kelly rolled the alphabet die; it landed on C.  I read my new categories and tried to think of C words.  Famous females: Christina Applegate.  Things made of metal: Crowbar.  Medicine/Drugs: Cocaine.  Names in the Bible: This is where my lack of a Bible might hurt me.  I wrote Caleb; I was pretty sure there was a Caleb in the Bible.

“Famous females,” Eddie said as the timer went off.

“Christina Applegate,” I said.  No one else had that.

“Sheryl Crow!” Kristina exclaimed loudly.

“That’s only one point,” I said.  “Sheryl is spelled with an S, not a C.”

“Well, aren’t you the king of not letting me get two points!” Kristina said with mock indignation.

“And you’re the queen of answers that don’t count,” I replied.  Everyone laughed.

It was past midnight by the time we finished the third and final round of Scattergories.  “We should probably get going,” Eddie said.  “It’s getting late.  I’ll see you Sunday?”

“Probably,” Kristina replied.  “Wait.  Hang on.”  She walked out of the room, then returned a minute later holding a Bible, which she handed me.  “Here, Greg.  You said you needed this.”

“Yes!  Thank you!”

“It was nice to meet you, Greg,” Haley said, smiling.

“You too.”  I looked at her and smiled back.

“Yeah,” Kelly added.  “Nice meeting you, Greg.”

As we left, walking outside toward the sidewalk, I pointed to my left and asked, “So your house is right down there?”

“Yeah,” Eddie said.  “We’ll see you Sunday?”

“Yes.  I’ll be there.  Thanks for inviting me.”

“Drive safely,” Xander said.  “See you Sunday.”

“See you guys then,” I replied.

I got in my car and put Kristina’s Bible on the front seat.  Things really turned around tonight.  Dave spoke tonight about the ministry of the early Christians being built on relationships, and Eddie and Xander heard that message loud and clear, reaching out to me to build friendships that have lasted to this day, even though we now live far apart.  Decades later, I was given the chance to pass on this message about ministry through building relationships.  I was invited to speak at JCF’s Alumni Night in 2016, and I told the students about the night I got upset and threw a cardboard box at Sarah Winters and my friends prayed for me, as well as this night, when Eddie and Xander invited to play Uno and Scattergories.

I went to bed shortly after I got home that night.  It felt like pieces were finally falling into place.  I had many more pieces to go to solve this great puzzle of life, but I felt a little closer to figuring things out tonight than I had earlier.  As I drifted off to sleep, I felt at peace, thinking about my new friends, how Eddie and Xander had included me in their life tonight.  I was going to see them again on Sunday, and it was going to be awesome.

And I also thought quite a bit about Haley Channing and her beautiful blue eyes.  I really, really hoped that she did not have a boyfriend.

The actual bible Kristina gave me on that day, a bit more worn now.

December 24-25, 1995. I really wish Mom would ask me first before volunteering me for things.

“Time to open presents,” I said as I put my dinner plate in the sink.

“First I have to do the dishes, then I have to go upstairs and finish wrapping them,” Mom replied.  “I told you, I’d tell you when I was ready.  Go watch Jeopardy! or something.”

“Mark is watching basketball.”

“Then go watch basketball with Mark.”

“I don’t care about those two teams,” I said, climbing the stairs to my bedroom.  I turned on the computer.  My parents had no Internet service, so the only way I could use the Internet was to dial the same number I used to connect to the Internet in Jeromeville.  Mom told me that it was okay to check my email a couple of times per day, but I did not want to tie up the phone line for hours at a time with an expensive long distance call, so I was not chatting on IRC or reading Usenet newsgroups from my parents’ house.

I listened as the modem made the sounds associated with checking my email.  It began with a standard dial tone, followed by the tones of the number I had to call to connect to the University of Jeromeville network, but this time there were eleven tones, not seven, since I was calling from outside the area code.  A series of hisses, clicks, high-pitched beeps, whirs, and other unintelligible sounds followed this, until I saw a progress bar indicating that my messages were downloading.  When the messages had all downloaded, about a minute later, the computer clicked and disconnected.  I had last checked my email when I woke up this morning, and four new messages had come in since then.  Three of them were jokes that people had forwarded me from someone else, and I had seen all of them before.  The fourth message, which was sent early this afternoon, I paid more attention to.  It was from Brittany, a girl in Texas who was one of the first friends I made on the Internet, a year a half earlier when this computer was brand new.  This was the first I had heard from Brittany in about a month.


From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Sun, 24 Dec 1995 01:44 -0600
Subject: Re: hi

Greg!  I’m so sorry I haven’t been writing.  I’ve been really busy with school.  Classes this year have been so much more work than high school was.  I feel like I did ok on all my finals though.  Studying for finals pretty much took up all of the last few weeks.  But now I can catch my breath until spring semester starts.  How did your finals go?  Are you back with your family for Christmas?

–Brittany


I used to get emails from Brittany just about every day for most of the last school year, my freshman year at UJ and Brittany’s senior year of high school.  But over the last several months, I had heard from her less and less as her life got busier. I clicked Reply and began typing.


From: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
To: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
Subject: Re: hi

Hi!  It’s good to hear from you!  I’m glad you did well on finals.  What are you taking next semester?  Do you have any fun plans over break?  Do you know yet where you want to transfer after you finish community college?

I think I did well on my finals too.  I only had three this year.  I’ve been at my parents’ house for about a week.  We’re going to open presents later tonight.  We always open presents the night before Christmas, because the night before my 9th birthday, I was so excited to open presents that I couldn’t sleep, and I kept Mom awake all night.  Ever since, so that I’d be able to sleep when I was a kid, we always open birthday and Christmas presents the night before instead.  Tomorrow, we’re going to church, and then my grandma’s house in Gabilan, the next town over.  My aunt and uncle and cousins will be there, so we’ll have more presents to open.

My mom also wants to go see my grandma’s neighbors.  Their daughter is a senior in high school, she’s taking physics, and Mom volunteered me to tutor her.  I don’t particularly want to spend my break doing homework with some stranger.  I really wish Mom would ask me first before volunteering me for things.  That’s how I ended up with the summer job at the bookstore.  But at the same time, maybe it won’t be so bad, because I get to hang out with a girl.


“I can’t find bows,” Mom called from her bedroom.  “Do you care if one of your presents doesn’t have a bow?”

I minimized the window in which I was typing my message to Brittany and opened the door.  “Mom, I tell you every year, we look at the wrapping paper for like two minutes and then tear it off.  I don’t care what the wrapping looks like.”

“Well, I want it to look nice.  Gifts are supposed to have bows.”

“I really don’t care.”

“If you really don’t care, then, I’m done.  Are you ready to open presents?”

“Sure.”

I saved my unfinished message to Brittany and turned the computer off, following Mom downstairs.  I would have more to write after I was done opening presents.

“I hope this is the one you asked for,” Mom said as Mark opened a box.  Inside was a University of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball jersey.

“Yeah, this is it,” Mark said, admiring his present.  “Thank you!”  Mark lived and breathed basketball, and he had favorite players on many different teams as well as several favorite college basketball teams, none of which were anywhere near our house in Plumdale.  I preferred to be a fan of local teams, but most of the top college basketball programs were on the other side of the country; North Carolina, for example.

I grabbed a box with my name on it next; from the size and weight, I guessed that it continued clothing.  I pulled out a gray shirt with red writing and tan highlights: BAY CITY CAPTAINS, it said.  “Thank you,” I replied.  The Bay City Captains were my favorite pro football team, the only sports team that I followed closely that year.  The Captains won last year’s championship and, despite having lost the final game of the season that morning, would advance to the playoffs again this year. I made a note to myself not to mention the Captains shirt when I finished my email to Brittany, given what I knew about her football allegiances.

We continued opening presents.  I got a new pair of jeans, and some blank audio cassettes, for making copies of CDs and listening to them in the car.  My car had no CD player.  Mom handed me one final gift, a box about the size of a book, but much less heavy.  “You didn’t ask for this, but I saw it and figured I had to get it for you,” Mom explained.

“Ha!  This looks hilarious!” I shouted as I tore the wrapping paper and read the label underneath.  It was a computer game, Beavis and Butthead: Virtual Stupidity.  I read the description on the back of the box.  It was an adventure game; the player controlled Beavis and Butthead as they walked around the streets of Highland, making mischief and trying to impress Todd, the local delinquent who the boys misguidedly admired.  But then I saw something on the label that made me feel panic mixed with disappointment.  “I can’t play this,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Mom asked.

“It’s for Windows 95.”

“Oh… and that means there’s no way it’ll run on your computer?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“Can you get Windows 95 for your computer?”

“That would be expensive.  And my computer isn’t very powerful; it would probably run very slowly.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom said.  “I didn’t even think to look.”

You never do, I thought.  I considered bringing up the time Mom completely missed the “explicit lyrics” warning label when she got Aunt Jane one of Adam Sandler’s comedy albums a few Christmases ago, but I decided not to say anything.

“We’ve been meaning to get a computer for us,” Mom continued.  “So you can play it here when you come home for spring break.  Right?”

“Yeah.  That works.”

After we were finished opening presents, I went upstairs.  I was disappointed that I would not be able to play the Beavis and Butthead game, but I tried not to let my disappointment show.  Christmas was always stressful for Mom, and I already felt a little frustrated with Mom because of the way she had volunteered me to tutor Monica Sorrento in physics without asking me.  I turned on the computer and finished my email to Brittany.


We just finished opening presents.  Mom got me the Beavis and Butthead computer game, but it requires Windows 95 and I don’t have that.  I feel bad, because Mom is going to think I’m upset with her.  When I was 13, my computer was broken, and my presents that year were all computer games, and I got so upset and threw a tantrum because I couldn’t play with any of my Christmas presents.  I feel terrible, because now Mom always has to apologize over and over again if any of us asked for something for Christmas and she wasn’t able to find it, or if something she got wasn’t quite right.  I’ve told her every year I’m more mature now and she doesn’t have to worry about it, but I think I traumatized her for life.

What are you doing for Christmas?  Have a great day!

gjd


The next morning, as we drove to church, Mom was rattling off a bunch of things about people whom we might see at church this morning.  “The Lusks all went to midnight mass, so we won’t see them, but they’ll be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house this afternoon,” Mom said.

“Good,” I replied.  Jane Lusk was my mom’s younger sister, and seeing their family, particularly my cousins Rick and Miranda, was always a highlight of Christmas for me.

“And the Sorrentos usually go to Mass first thing in the morning.  But we’re still going over there this afternoon.”  I nodded silently, prompting Mom to ask, “Right?”

“Yes,” I said.  I did not want to make the situation worse, but I felt like I really needed to speak up.  “But I really do wish you would stop volunteering me for things without asking me first,” I said.

Mom paused, taken off guard by my question.  “Are you saying you don’t want to go see Monica Sorrento today?”

“No.  It wouldn’t be nice to back out now.”  Besides, I thought, it isn’t every day that I get to talk to girls, but I did not say that part out loud.

“Okay,” Mom said, sounding bothered.  “But when have I volunteered you to do things before?”

“When you told Paula McCall that I could work at the bookstore over the summer.”

“You were home, you had nothing to do, and you even said you should get a job.”

“I know, but maybe that wasn’t the job I wanted.  I mean, I probably would have said yes if you had asked me, but you still should have asked me first.”  Mom did not reply to that, so I continued.  “And remember fourth grade, when most of my class was mean to me, and you invited all four of the kids who weren’t mean to me over for play dates.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted.  I was trying to help you make friends.”

“I wanted to make friends, but I wanted them to be nicer to me at school.  I didn’t want them at our house.  And in sixth grade, when we had to babysit Jonathan Hawley once a week because you thought I might want to play with someone from my class.  He was so annoying!”

After a few seconds of silence, Mom replied, “He was annoying, wasn’t he.  I’m sorry.”

“Just ask me first next time you tell someone you think I’d like to do something.”

“Okay.  I promise I will.”

“Thank you.”

“And you’re sure you’re still okay with going to the Sorrentos today?”

“Yes.”

After church, we exchanged presents from the rest of the family at my grandparents’ house.  Grandma got me new socks, and Aunt Jane got me another Bay City Captains shirt, a little different from the one I had opened at my parents’ house.  Rick’s present from Mom was a Captains hat that looked very similar to my shirt.  I suspected that Mom and Aunt Jane had bought all of the Captains merchandise together when they went shopping together earlier in the week.

After about another hour of sitting around eating and playing games, Mom asked if it was okay to go next door to the Sorrentos’ house now.  “Okay,” I said.  I got up and followed Mom next door, waiting nervously on the porch behind Mom as she rang the doorbell.  The Sorrentos were a large family, and they lived in a large two-story house.  They had five girls; Monica was 17, the oldest, and the youngest was in elementary school.  Mom had known the Sorrentos for years; Mom and Aunt Jane and Mr. Sorrento and his sister all went to high school together.

A few seconds later, I heard footsteps and the clicking of a door being unlocked; the door opened, with Mrs. Sorrento on the other side.  “Hi, Peggy!  Hi, Greg!  Merry Christmas!” she said.  I could not remember if I had ever actually met Mrs. Sorrento, but everyone at Our Lady of Peace Church seemed to know who I was, because they knew Mom.

“Hi,” I said.

“Monica is in her room.  I’ll go tell her you’re here,” Mrs. Sorrento said, walking down the hallway.  I stood awkwardly, staring at Mom and looking around at the part of the Sorrentos’ house that I could see from the doorway, until Mrs. Sorrento returned with Monica about a minute later.

“Hi,” Monica said, smiling.  Turning to me, she said, “Nice to meet you,” and shook my hand.  I returned the handshake.  Monica was short and thin, with curly brown hair and brown eyes.

“You needed help with physics?” Mom said to Monica.  “Greg always liked physics.”

“There was something I didn’t understand,” Monica explained, “but I went in to talk to the teacher about it.  I think I get it now.”

So Mom dragged me all the way here to tutor Monica in physics, and now she says she does not need a tutor.  Now I really did not understand the point of all this.  “That’s good,” I said to Monica.  Trying to think of something to say, I added, “I had a bad physics test last year.  High school physics was easy for me, so I didn’t study very hard.  But I started going to my professor’s office hours, and I studied really hard for the next one, and that time I had the highest grade out of the whole class, about 200 people.”

“Wow,” Monica replied.  “I know that’s normal for you, but 200 people in a class sounds kind of crazy.”

“Yeah.”

“So how do you like Jeromeville?”

“I like it.  It’s a huge school, but I’ve found smaller communities to get involved with.  That’s important.”

“Yeah.  I’ve been thinking about colleges, but I’m going to stay home and go to Hartman for the first two years.  I’m probably going to apply to Jeromeville, though.  And U of the Bay, and Capital State, and Central Tech.  I know those for sure.”

“That sounds good.”

“Greg applied to Central Tech too,” Mom added.  “But not Capital State.  Right?”

“Yeah.”

We continued making small talk with Monica and Mrs. Sorrento for about another fifteen minutes.  Mom and Mrs. Sorrento talked about people from church whom I did not know, and Monica and I talked about school and classes.  Mr. Sorrento and two of Monica’s sisters also appeared to say hi.

“Are you ready to go back to Grandma’s house?” Mom asked.

“I think so,” I replied.  Turning to Monica, I added, “And you’ll let me know if you need help with physics or anything like that?”

“Sure!” Monica answered.  “Let me get your contact information.”  She went back to her room and returned with a pen and paper, on which I wrote my address, phone number, and email.

“Can I get yours too?” I asked.  “Well, I know your address.  Do you have email?”

“My dad does.  If you write me there, he’ll pass it on to me.”  Monica wrote her phone number and Mr. Sorrento’s email on the piece of paper, tore that part of the paper off, and gave it to me.  I put it in my pocket.

“Thank you,” I said.  “It was nice meeting you.”

“Nice meeting you too!” Monica said, smiling.

“Thanks for coming over,” Mrs. Sorrento added.  “It was good seeing you guys.”

“You too,” Mom said.

As soon as we were out of earshot, walking back up to Grandma’s front door, Mom said, “See?  That wasn’t so bad.”

“I know,” I said.

“And I promise in the future, I’ll ask you before I tell someone you’ll do something.”

“Thank you.  Can we just drop that now and enjoy the rest of Christmas?”

“Sure.”

I still thought it was a little strange that Mom seemed to make such a point of Monica needing help with physics, but then Monica told me she did not even need help.  I could think of two possible explanations for how this happened: either Mom misunderstood whatever Mrs. Sorrento had originally said about Monica not doing well in physics, or the physics thing was entirely made up and Mom was just trying to help me meet girls.  Either one was very possible, knowing Mom.

Monica and I kept in touch off and on for the rest of that school year, and I saw her in person occasionally on future visits to my grandmother’s house over the years.  We never did become close lifelong friends, nor did anything else happen between us, but that was just part of the cycle of people meeting each other and growing apart naturally.

Since that day, though, Mom really did get better about not telling people I would do things for them without asking me first.  When situations like that came up in the future, Mom would say things like “I’ll ask Greg” instead of “Greg would love to do that.”  And that was what I really wanted, to be treated like an adult and be allowed to make my own decisions.  Being a parent and watching children grow up is a difficult transition, but a willingness to communicate and listen helps everyone get through it.

January 28-29, 1995. Captains and Toros and resident advisors.

Growing up, I watched a lot of sports with my family.  We went to Bay City to watch professional baseball games a few times every year, and I had been to one basketball game and two hockey games as well.  I had no athletic talent myself, and my list of athletics experience included one season of tee-ball the summer after kindergarten and one day of football practice in high school before I decided I couldn’t handle it.  Mark got all the actual athletic talent in our family; he played baseball and basketball all of his life, and I worked the scoreboard and snack bar.

Surprisingly, considering that I had never been to a professional football game, football was the sport I followed the most closely during my first few years at Jeromeville.  Baseball and hockey were simultaneously on strike during my freshman year. The entire baseball playoffs were canceled, as was half of the hockey season, with hockey games having just begun a few weeks earlier instead of in October.  I liked basketball, but both of the nearby pro basketball teams were terrible, and going to basketball games wasn’t really something I was used to. But Bay City Captains football games were on TV every Sunday at home, and they had won four championships in my lifetime.

In 1995, the Captains were in the big championship game that would be watched by almost a hundred million people in the USA, and many more worldwide even though American football was not a major sport in other countries.  The Captains would be playing the Texas Toros. These two teams had both been very successful in recent years, with each team having won two championships in the last six years. This year’s game was expected to be close, with both teams evenly matched.

I walked into the stairwell to go to dinner the night before the game.  The two stairwells in Building C (and presumably the eleven other identical dorms in the South Residential Area) each had chalkboards where the RAs would write announcements, and I saw Gurpreet writing something on the chalkboard.  I read the announcement that he had written so far:

Want to be an RA next year?
Meeting Wednesday 2/1 7:00 
in t

“Hi, Greg,” he said.  “Want to be an RA next year?”

I hadn’t thought about my plans for next year at all.  Being a resident advisor could be interesting. I could continue living in a dorm and not have to make my own food, and other students could look to me, so that I could be helpful to someone else in the way that Gurpreet and Amy had been helpful to me.  “I might,” I said. “Where’s the meeting?”

“DC downstairs study room.  Seven o’clock.”

“Thanks.”  I climbed down the stairs as Gurpreet finished writing on the board and walked outside.  It was a damp Saturday night, and it was already dark, even though it was only six o’clock.  It had been raining earlier in the day, and everything was still wet although the sky seemed dry for now.

In the dining commons, I saw Megan with three girls I didn’t know at a table with empty seats.  As I was walking toward them, Megan said, “Hi, Greg! You want to sit with us?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I set my dinner tray down at the table next to Megan and realized that I recognized one of the other three girls.  She was plain looking and just a little on the heavy side, with straight light brown hair.

“Do any of you know Greg?” Megan asked the other three girls.

“You’re in Math 21C with me, aren’t you?” the one I recognized asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t know your name.  I’m Greg.”

“I’m Tiffany,” the girl said.

“Nice to meet you.”

“And this is Maria and Brandy,” Megan said, gesturing toward the other two girls.  “They’re all on my floor.”

“Hi.”

“I was just telling them that I’m going to my friend’s place tonight because we’re going to do something crazy with my hair.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“I can’t tell you.  It’s a surprise. But this,” Megan said gesturing toward her hair, “you won’t see for a while.”

“She’s been teasing us all week by not telling us,” Tiffany said.

A few minutes later, Maria said something about the upcoming meeting for prospective RAs for next year, expressing interest in going.  Megan said that she would be good at it. “Hey, Greg?” Megan asked me. “Did you see that announcement about RAs for next year?”

“I did,” I said.

“Are you interested in being one?”

“I might be.  I’m going to come to the meeting.”

“Good!”

“Are you going to be an RA again next year?”

“I’m planning on it.”

“Good.”

That night, I kept thinking about this idea of being an RA.  It seemed perfect. I wouldn’t have to find a place to live next year.  I could stay on campus and have all my meals provided. My building had become my community, and even though other buildings didn’t have the extent of community that Building C and the Interdisciplinary Honors Program had, my new building where I was in charge would become my new community.  I would make new friends. Sure, there would be work involved, but the work would involve a position of leadership among my new friends and community, and this seemed like the kind of work I could get behind. Maybe I could even follow in Amy and Gurpreet’s footsteps and be the RA for next year’s IHP, since I had experience with the IHP program already.  I knew that former IHP students were often chosen to be the RAs for the IHP building; Amy had been a student in the IHP last year. And, of course, being an RA meant I would probably be seeing Megan around a lot, especially if we ended up in the same one of the three campus residential areas.

 

The next morning, after I got up but before I showered, I checked my email.  I had one message:

From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 1995 09:31 -0600
Subject: GO TOROS

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. I just hung out at my
best friend’s house last night after swim practice. I need to go
help my dad get set up for our football party.  We have about 10
other people coming over to watch the Toros win the championship!
Your Captains are going down because the Toros are the better team,
and you know it! GO TOROS!!!!!!!

-Brittany

Swimgirl17 was Brittany, whom I had met online shortly before I left for Jeromeville.  She was a high school senior who lived in Texas, and that made her the enemy today because she was a Toros fan.  Most people in this part of the state who followed football were Captains fans, since they were the closest team geographically, and some of the Toros fans I knew around here could be real jerks about this sometimes.  I liked Brittany, she was nice, but I didn’t like the fact that she was a Toros fan. Of course, she had a reason to be a Toros fan since she actually lived in Texas. I decided to wait until the game was over before replying to that email.

Around the time the game was supposed to start, I wandered down to the common room, where there was a television with a rabbit-ear antenna.  Nowadays, with cable and Netflix and all the other options out there, many people don’t seem to understand how antennas work, or that they can still be used to get local television channels.  The way they work is that TV stations broadcast signals over radio waves that a TV can pick up and turn into moving pictures, much like how radio stations do the same thing and a radio turns them into sound.  The TV in the common room could get all of the major networks on stations out of Capital City, although some of them came in a little fuzzy. For the game today, the picture was good enough to watch.

Mike Adams, Ian, Gina, Karen and Pat, Taylor, David, Pete, Mike Potts, Keith, and a guy from the third floor whom I didn’t know well named Yu Cheng were all watching the game.  I took a seat on a couch next to Taylor. “I see you’re on the right side,” he said, noticing that I was wearing the one Captains shirt I had. “Yu and Ian are the only Toros fans.”

“It’s not my fault!” Yu said.  “I lived in Texas until I was 8!”

“And my family has always been Toros fans,” Ian explained, much more quietly.

“Chips?” Taylor asked, passing me a bag of tortilla chips.  “There’s guacamole and dip over there.”

I took a few chips, without dipping them in anything, and passed the bag to the next person, which was Pat in a chair to the left.  Television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford was singing the national anthem, which I tuned out, not out of disrespect for my country but out of dislike for Kathie Lee.

After that, the game began with the Captains kicking off to the Toros.  The Toros scored on the first drive, after which Ian applauded and Yu screamed, “YEAH!”  The Toros scored again midway through the first quarter.

“Damn,” I said

“It’s still early,” Taylor replied.  “The Captains are playing pretty well.  They just need to finish their drives. They could easily get back in this game.  Of course, throwing that interception didn’t help either.”

“I know.  It’s just that this girl I met online lives in Texas, and she was taunting me about the game in an email.”

“Who cares?  It’s just a game.  And if this girl really cares about you, that won’t matter.”

“I guess you’re right.”

The scoring slowed down in the second quarter, with both teams held to one field goal each.  The Captains were down 17-3 at halftime. “I’m not enjoying this game,” I said.

“Remember the game against Philadelphia back in September or October or whenever that was?” Taylor asked.  “The Caps lost that one so badly, but that lit a fire under them, and they haven’t lost a game since. The same thing could happen here.”

“Yeah, but that was a whole game they lost.  We only have halftime to get that momentum back.”

A few people had left the common room during halftime, but everyone else had trickled back in by the middle of the third quarter.  They got there in time to see a Captains defensive back intercept a pass and run all the way back for a touchdown. The Captains intercepted another pass late in the third quarter, leading to a field goal on that drive.  Going into the fourth quarter, the Captains were still down, but the deficit had been cut to 17-13.

“See?” Mike Adams said.  “Taylor was right! The Caps got the momentum back after halftime.  This game could still go either way.”

“I know,” I replied.  “But I’m nervous. This is for the championship.”

“I told you,” Taylor said.  “It’s just a game.”

The Toros scored a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but their quarterback had lost the sharpness that he had played with before halftime.  He threw another interception, and the Captains tied the score 20-20 with a touchdown a few minutes later.

“YES!” I shouted, along with similar reactions from the other Captains fans.  I high-fived Taylor and Mike Adams and Gina. “WOOO!” I shouted. I nervously watched the Captains score again with just under two minutes left, leading to another round of cheering and high-fiving.  Then, even more nervously, I watched the Captains’ defense trying to close out the game in the final minutes, which they did. I jumped up and shouted as the clock ticked down; the Captains had won, 27-20.

When I got back to my room, still grinning excitedly, I checked my email.  At first I wasn’t planning on gloating in response to Brittany’s email. I wouldn’t want her to have acted like that had the proverbial shoe been on the other foot.  I was going to reply and say something about the game, for sure, something to the extent that it was a good game, and that the Toros played well and made the game close and exciting.  But when my new messages came up, I again had only one, and it was from Brittany. The date and time on the message showed that she had written it during halftime.

From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 1995 18:57 -0600
Subject: Re: GO TOROS

17-3 so far… the Toros are playing great!  I told you the Toros
were the better team! Have fun watching us win the championship!

She’s totally asking for this, I thought.  I’m not being mean.  I clicked Reply and typed one sentence:

So how’d that work out for you?

I went to dinner, still feeling excited about the Captains’ big win.  Danielle from down the hall was there, sitting by herself, so I sat with her.

“Were you watching the game today?” she said.  “I saw there was a big group down in the common room.”

“I was!” I said.  “The Caps won!”

“I heard.  I didn’t watch it.  We never really followed football when I was growing up.”

“I’ve been a Captains fan as long as I can remember, but I didn’t follow football as closely as baseball growing up.  I had friends encouraging me to play football when I was in high school. I quit after the first full day of practice, I was in way over my head, but that experience of learning more about the game really has helped me enjoy watching football more.  I understand the game better than I did before.”

“That’s neat.”

I caught something out of the corner of my eye as Danielle said this.  Someone with bright green hair, cut short like boys’ hair even though the person had boobs and a feminine figure, walked through the door and swiped her ID card.  I turned to look more closely at this person with bright green hair, and realized with a shock that it was Megan. She made eye contact with me, and I waved, my mouth open in surprise.  She walked over to me.

“So, what do you think?” she asked me, grinning.

“It stands out,” I said.  “It’s unique. I like it.”

“Thanks!  I was going for unique and standing out, so I guess it worked.  I told some other RAs that I was going to sit with them, so I should go find them, but I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Yeah.  See you later.”

“Who was that?” Danielle asked as Megan was walking away.

“Megan.  She’s an RA in Building K.  She said last night that she was going to do something different with her hair.”

“It certainly is different.  How do you know her?”

“I’ve just seen her around here a lot.  I think Amy introduced us earlier in the year.”

“I see.”

“Oh… so the funniest thing happened today.  I know this girl online who lives in Texas, and she sent an email teasing me about the game, saying that Texas was going to win.  After the game, I had another message from her that she sent at halftime. She was teasing me because Texas was winning, acting like they had already won… but that didn’t work out for her so well!”

“That’s great,” Danielle said.  “You don’t ever want to count on something happening until you know it’s going to happen.  Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, they say.”

“Or don’t count your Toros before they’re… calved.  Is that a word, calved?”

“I’m not sure.”

After I finished eating, I walked back to Building C and Room 221, thinking about today.  Brittany apparently learned a valuable lesson about celebrating prematurely and counting on something uncertain.  This was a lesson that I should also keep in mind. Sometimes life throws unexpected curveballs. Some of these are minor and insignificant in the long run, like when a team that is winning falls behind, or when a friend unexpectedly dyes her hair green.  But sometimes these surprises can have major ramifications for the future.

A few weeks after this football game, I had an unexpected occurrence in my life that changed my plans for the future: I was not chosen to be an RA.  I completely bombed the interview. The current RAs and housing department staff member who interviewed me asked a lot of questions about how I would handle certain situations, and my answers seemed shaky and uncertain.  I had a very sheltered childhood, and many of the situations they asked about, such as dealing with students with substance abuse problems or gay and lesbian students being excluded by others, were not things that I had ever come across in my life.  That which I had assumed my life would revolve around next year had not happened, just as Brittany’s assumption that the Toros would go on to win did not happen. I was going to need to make new plans, eventually.

November 5, 1994.  The Drawbridge Classic and Tube Sock Madness.

In many parts of the US, college football is a huge deal.  Thousands of fans pack parking lots for elaborate tailgate parties.  At these parties, someone will set up a grill and barbecue meat as people sit around in lawn chairs and consume large amounts of meat and beer.  Then, eventually, they will head inside and watch the football game. Some college football games will draw crowds of close to 100,000 people.

Jeromeville is not in that part of the US.

Football is not as much a part of the culture here as it is in other parts of the country.  A few universities in this state have storied football programs, but UJ is a few notches down the football ladder.  They are a Division II team, two steps below the schools that most professional football players come from. They do not offer football scholarships, or at least they didn’t in the 90s.  And the media does not pay much attention to UJ football, beyond the school newspaper, the local Jeromeville newspaper, and occasionally a little blurb six pages deep in the sports section of the big newspaper from Capital City.

Despite this lack of attention, UJ had its annual rivalry game against Capital State University, another Division II school.  The UJ and CSU campi were less than 20 miles apart. Before the freeway bypass of Highway 100 was built, the old route of Highway 100 was a street called Capital Avenue, which crossed the Capital River on a beautiful lift drawbridge, built in the 1930s, with two tall towers and a clear view of the State Capitol Building as you crossed it.  The bridge (known simply as “the Drawbridge” to locals) is still there, still used as a main city street, and also as a symbol of Capital City. Since this bridge separated Capital City from Jeromeville to the west, the rivalry game between UJ and CSU was called the Drawbridge Classic, and the annual rivalry trophy was fashioned from an actual piece of steel removed from the Drawbridge during routine maintenance in the 1970s.

On the afternoon of the 1994 Drawbridge Classic, I came back in from the dining hall to see two people in the common room, Jared and Jonathan, playing Scrabble.  Jared lived on the third floor. He was a little on the short side with bushy blond hair, and his mannerisms always struck me as being a little odd.  Jonathan was taller, with curly brown hair.  He lived on the first floor; his roommate was Pete, who taught me Risk a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know Jared or Jonathan very well.

“Hey, guys,” I said, looking at the board.

“Hi, Greg,” Jared replied.

“Who’s winning?” I asked.

“Jared is,” Jonathan said.  “He usually does.”

“I won a big Scrabble competition back home,” Jared said.  “Last year I was ranked third in the state among youth Scrabble players.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” I said.  I never did know if that was actually true, but a quick glance at the board suggested that some of the words played in this game were played by an extremely skilled player who knew the game well and knew lots of obscure words with unusual letters in them.  “Are you guys going to the football game? I asked.

“Nah,” Jonathan said.  “I have reading to catch up on.”

“UJ has a football team?” Jared asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “This week is the big rivalry game against Cap State.”  I just had no concept that someone could be a student at this school and not know this, especially considering how the game had been hyped for the entire last week.

“Okay,” Jared replied.  “I’m not going.”

I walked back up to my room.  I spent the next four or five hours doing some combination of math homework, reading, taking a nap, and replying to two emails from girls I had met on IRC chat rooms, not necessarily in that order.  As I was trying to lie down for my nap, I kept thinking about the football game. I wanted to go; that was a given. But I was debating in my mind whether I should just go by myself and sit with random strangers, or go ask people in the building if they were going.  Sitting with people I knew would be fun, but finding out who was going would involve getting out of my introvert comfort zone, and possible rejection, such as the complete lack of interest I got from Jared and Jonathan when I asked them if they were going.

Fortunately, the decision was made for me.  That night, at the dining hall, I saw Mike, Keith, and David sitting at a table with empty chairs.  More specifically, I heard them before I saw them, because Mike can be kind of loud, but in a good way.  I asked if I could sit with them, and they said yes.

“Is Kim meeting us there or is she coming here first?” Keith asked.

“She’s meeting us there,” Mike said.  “Right outside the entrance. She doesn’t have her Colt Crew shirt yet, so she’ll get there early to get in line for that.”

By this point, I had figured out what they were talking about.  “The football game tonight?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Mike said.  “Are you going? Wanna come with us?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Meet in my room after you’re done eating.  We’ll all walk over together.”

“Sounds good!”

 

By the time I met everyone in Mike’s room, a few more people had joined the group.  Taylor was there, along with Charlie and Pat, who were roommates at the opposite end of the second floor from me, and a girl from upstairs named Karen.  In order to reach the football field from the South Residential Area, we had to walk diagonally across the campus. We started out going much the same way that I went to math class, although they walked around and not through the creepy cluster of portable buildings. They walked next to the tall buildings that seemed to hold labs where research on biology and agriculture and genetics happened.  They walked past Wellington Hall, where I had both math class and Rise and Fall of Empires.

“Karen is surrounded by a bunch of guys,” Mike said, laughing.  “That sounds about right.”

“And I’m the youngest one in IHP,” Karen replied.  “I’m underage, so does that mean you guys are all pedophiles?”

I was curious about that last comment.  “You’re the youngest one?” I asked Karen.  “When is your birthday?”

“May 27.”

“But my birthday is August–”

“1978,” Karen interrupted.  “I told you I was the youngest.”

“What?  But… how?  How are you in college if you’re only 16?”

“I skipped a grade in elementary school.  And I took a bunch of junior college classes during high school so I could graduate in three years.”

“Wow,” I said.  “That’s pretty impressive.”

“I guess.  I don’t really think of it that way.  I knew what I wanted to do, so I went for it.”

“Makes sense.”

By this time, we were at the edge of the Quad, walking around the Memorial Union toward the entrance to the football stadium at the northeast corner of campus, on the corner of 5th and A Streets.  The stadium was next to a large athletic field used for intramural sports and team practices, with fraternity houses facing the stadium on the off-campus sides of both 5th and A Streets..  When we got there, Mike waved to a thin girl with brown hair, who stood next to a tall blond guy who looked just like Pat. The girl walked over and kissed Mike; he introduced her as Kim, his girlfriend, and Pat introduced the other guy as his twin brother, Nate.  Kim and Nate lived in the same building in the North Residential Area.

All UJ students get into all UJ Colts sporting events for free, and the student cheering section is known as the Colt Crew.  The Colt Crew called itself the largest student cheering section west of the Mississippi River. I suspected that that claim was based on the fact that, once per year, all students could get a free Colt Crew T-shirt, making them members of the Colt Crew, but many students just showed up once to get their free shirt and then left without actually watching any part of a UJ athletic event.  College students are always looking for free stuff, after all.

I had been to two football games already this year, and I had changed into my Colt Crew T-shirt before we left.  The ten of us were able to find seats together, five in one row and five just behind, but we were sitting near the front in a section of bleachers along the end zone that had a much better view from higher up, so the seats were not all that great in terms of being able to see the game.  With this game being the major regional rivalry game, a large crowd was expected.

The Cap State Hawks took the field first, among a chorus of boos, sprinkled with cheers from the Cap State fans who had made the journey across the Drawbridge for this game.  Then the Colt marching band played as the Colts took the field.

Taylor was sitting next to me.  “Hey, Greg,” he said. “Did you get one of these?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, as I looked at the paper he was holding.  It appeared to be lyrics to the songs that the band played during football games, as well as a list of specific situations in the game when they play specific songs.  Whenever we score, the band plays the Colt Fight Song. Whenever we recover a fumble or make an interception, the band plays Sons of Jeromeville. Stuff like that. Reading through the lyrics, some of them seemed a bit strange to me, as if they probably referred to events in the school’s history or traditions that had been lost to time.  Others just seemed like nonsensical cheers. Moo moo cow cow, buzz buzz bee bee… what did that even mean?  I had heard the band and the Colt Crew student leaders doing that cheer before the game; there were hand motions and a little dance that went with it.  I had no idea what was going on.

“STAAAAATE SCHOOL! STAAAAATE SCHOOL!” the Colt Crew students began cheering.  I joined them. This cheer clearly referred to the fact that UJ was considered a more prestigious school than Cap State.  This state had two separate and independent systems of public universities. The University of the Bay was the first research-oriented university in the state, and most of its sister schools, including UJ, had their beginnings as research facilities and branch campi of U of the Bay.  These schools grew into the State Higher Education System, some of the most prestigious public schools in the USA. Cap State, on the other hand, was part of the State Colleges and Universities, a group of schools that began as teacher training colleges that still to this day do not offer doctoral degrees.

Cap State scored the first touchdown, prompting the “STAAATE SCHOOL!” chant to begin once again.  As it died down, Mike said to no one in particular, “So what do Cap State fans chant to taunt us? UNIVERRRRRRRSITY?”  Keith and David laughed. I wanted to point out that, technically, Cap State was a university also, but I didn’t bother saying anything.  It was too loud to explain anything like that right now.

During the second quarter, when the clock was stopped, one of the MCs who was leading chants for the Colt Crew got on the microphone and started speaking.  “Hey, Colt Crew!” he said. “It’s time for HAMBURGER MADNESS! Get loud for free hamburgers from Wendy’s!” I looked up and saw someone dressed in a costume as Wendy from the Wendy’s Hamburgers logo tossing rubber balls into the crowd with coupons attached to them.  Seeing the unexpected costumed Wendy approaching, I laughed, while the crowd became more loud and raucous. I didn’t catch a hamburger coupon, and neither did any of my friends who were sitting near me.

At halftime, the score was tied 10-10.  The marching band took the field to perform; someone was narrating their show, but I couldn’t hear very well with the loud crowd around me.  I noticed that Mike and Kim had gotten very cuddly, with Mike’s arms around Kim, and I also noticed that Karen had gotten cuddly with Pat. Or maybe it was Nate.  I looked a little more closely; I was pretty sure it was Pat. Although they looked very much alike, they weren’t identical, and I was pretty sure I could already tell them apart even though I had only met Nate a couple hours earlier.

Just before the third quarter started, the Colt Crew MC told us to get loud for “CANDY MADNESS!”  A group of Colt Crew leaders started throwing candy into the crowd. I got loud, but I didn’t catch any.  A few plays later, the same Colt Crew leaders started a cheer where everyone in the Colt Crew section yelled “GO!” and everyone in the sections that were not for students yelled “COLTS!”  This repeated about ten times. That was a fun one.

The game continued with each team scoring a few more times, but neither team building up a big lead.  With about five minutes left, Cap State scored to go ahead 24-20. After that score, the Colt Crew MC said, “Okay, Colt Crew, let’s get loud for TUBE SOCK MADNESS!!!”  I watched, confused, as the Colt Crew leaders, one of whom was now wearing a cow suit and another a banana suit, threw tube socks into the crowd.

I turned to Taylor.  “What is going on?” I asked.  “Why tube socks?”

“I don’t know!” Taylor said.

“It’s like they just found something random to turn into a free gift.”

“I know!”

Just as Taylor said that, I looked up to see a rolled-up pair of tube socks heading straight for me.  I reached out and caught them. “WOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed, holding up my tube socks for everyone around me to see.

“Good job!” Taylor said, patting me on the back.

“Greg caught tube socks!” Mike shouted, and everyone from IHP sitting near me, as well as a few strangers, started cheering for me.

With about two minutes left, the Colts had the ball near Cap State’s 20-yard line.  UJ’s quarterback threw a short pass to a wide-open tight end, who ran all the way into the end zone.  The crowd loudly exploded into cheers and shouts as the Colts took the lead, successfully kicking the extra point to make the score 27-24.

“All right, Colt Crew!” the MC said.  “The Colts need to make one last defensive stand!  So everyone needs to GET UP ON YOUR FEET AND MAKE! SOME!  NOOOOOOIIIIIISE!!!!!” I stood up and started screaming, as did most of the students around me.  I screamed as loud as I could. It didn’t matter what I was screaming, as long as I was making noise and making life difficult for the Cap State team.  I screamed for several minutes straight, only taking quick breaks to breathe. I kept screaming even when I felt myself get light-headed and my voice begin to strain.

And it worked.

Cap State threw an incomplete pass, ran the ball for a six-yard gain, and threw two more incomplete passes to turn over the ball on downs.  Cap State was out of timeouts by then, so Jeromeville just ran out the clock and won, 27-24. The Colt Crew section erupted in cheers and shouts and high-fives.  I high-fived everyone I came with, plus some people sitting next to me whom I didn’t know. Only at a sporting event is it appropriate in that way to high-five total strangers and feel a bond in doing so.

I don’t remember the outcome of every game I’ve ever been to.  But, by going to Colt football games during my first few months at UJ, I learned one of the most memorable aspects of university life: traditions.  Time passes. Life changes. People get older. UJ grew and reclassified its athletic programs to a higher division in 2004, attracting better talent but also playing more challenging opponents.  A new football stadium opened in 2007. But, despite these changes, the traditions remain. I stopped going to Colts games after I graduated and didn’t get in free anymore, but I started going again in 2005, and the first thing I noticed was how many of the traditions were still around.  Even today, the band plays all the same songs. The same clichéd sporting event music plays over the PA system, although of course a few new songs have entered that rotation. Colt fans still do the GO! COLTS! cheer back and forth between the two sides of the stadium. And at the beginning of the game they do the Moo Moo Cow Cow cheer, which is still just as strange as ever.  The Colt Crew still throws free gifts into the student section. Even Tube Sock Madness is still a thing.

I still have my first pair of Colt Crew tube socks, along with a few others I’ve caught over the years.  I mostly just save them as trophies and rarely wear them, since they don’t fit me all that well. I never did get my own copy of that lyric sheet, and I really wish I had one, although these days the lyrics to the traditional campus songs can be found online.  I will forever be a University of Jeromeville Colt alumnus, and no matter how far my life moves on beyond my university years, these traditions will remain with me.

September 24, 1994. Prologue IV: The day before.

Plumdale High School’s football field was not the typical high school stadium.  The bleachers were built into a hillside, sloping down from the rest of the school campus, with the field at the bottom of the hill, so when you approached the stadium, you entered from the top row, not from the bottom.  You could barely tell that there was a stadium there if you didn’t know where to look.  Also contributing to its low profile was the lack of lights.  And because there were no lights, games were played on Saturday afternoon, whereas most of the other high school teams in the area were played on Friday night.

I woke up to the ticket booth on that Saturday afternoon and bought one general-admission ticket.  Two weeks earlier, at the previous game, actually buying a ticket was a new experience for me, since that had been my first time attending a Plumdale Panthers football game and not being a student anymore.

I walked about halfway down the bleachers to my usual spot from the year before, right across the aisle from where the marching band sat.  I went to every game the year before, my senior year, and I always sat across the aisle from the band, because some of my friends were in the band.  More specifically, I sat there because Melissa was in band and she usually came and sat next to me during the third quarter, when the band took a break after doing the halftime show.

I was over Melissa by now.  She never liked me like that, she went to another school’s prom with a friend of a friend who needed a date, and that made me upset.  But she didn’t like him like that either.  And we were still friends.

“Hey, Greg,” I heard a male voice say as I approached my usual seat.  It was Mr. Peterson, my economics teacher from the year before, who was a University of Jeromeville alumnus.  “Have you left for Jeromeville yet?”

“Tomorrow morning,” I said.  “I’m going to pack as soon as I get home from this game.”

“Good luck,” he said.  “I think you’ll really like it there.”

“Thanks.”  I sat and watched the game, looking through the program during timeouts and slow parts of the game.  I still recognized a lot of names on the team, but there were only a few players on the team whom I actually knew.

Early in the second quarter, I heard a female voice behind me say, “Greg!  You’re still here!”  I looked up and saw Rachel Copeland sitting next to me.  She was a year behind me, just starting her senior year, but she had a lot of friends in my year, including her boyfriend from last year, Paul Dickinson.  I don’t think they were together anymore, though.

“I leave tomorrow,” I said.

“Are you ready?”

“Not really.  I’m going to pack tonight.  But I’m excited about it.”

“I didn’t think you’d be here today.”

“There aren’t a lot of people I know still in town.  Melissa left for San Angelo last week.  They’re on the same schedule as Jeromeville, but she’s living with relatives so she doesn’t have to wait for the dorms to open.  Renee started at Valle Luna State in August, and so did Kevin at University of the Bay.  I haven’t talked to anyone else in the last couple weeks.”

“Paul left Friday for Santa Teresa.  His family is staying in a hotel there for a few days, making a vacation of it.”

“That’s cool.”  It sounded like Rachel and Paul were at least still friends if she knew this.  Or maybe they were back together and I didn’t know it.  You never know.

“So how come Santa Teresa and San Angelo and Jeromeville and those schools all start so late?” Rachel asked.

“Because we’re on the three-quarter schedule,” I said.  “Instead of having two semesters, we have three terms during the year, so our finals breaks come a third and two thirds of the way through the year.  So we need to start late so the winter holidays come a third of the way through the year, instead of halfway through.”

Rachel thought about this.  “So your school year gets out later, then?”

“We go until the middle of June.”

“Don’t other schools get out earlier than that?”

“I’m not really sure.”  I wasn’t.  I really didn’t know that most colleges get out well before June.  High school typically lasted into June in this state in the 90s, so I figured college was the same.

Rachel went and sat with some other friends at halftime.  I got to say hi to a couple of my other former teachers that day.  I don’t remember who won that game.  I don’t even remember who the opponent was.  But I do remember one thing: Plumdale High School would always be a part of my life, but it was time to move on.  And the next morning, everything was going to change, forever.