December 27-31, 1996. You are my witnesses. (#113)

Previously on Don’t Let The Days Go By, Greg was traveling to Urbana, Illinois for a Christian student convention to learn about missions and service opportunities. Read the previous episode here.


“Hi,” Matt, the small group leader, said to the remaining guys in the group who were just entering the room.  Matt had long wavy brown hair down to his shoulders and wore a long sleeved button shirt and jeans.  “Glad you found us.  Our room smelled of smoke really bad, so Obadiah here offered to let us meet in his room.  We’re all here, so we can get started now.  My name is Matt, and I’m a senior at Michigan State, majoring in religious studies.”

“I’m Greg,” I said.  “I’m a junior, a mathematics major at the University of Jeromeville.”  Most of the others did not know where Jeromeville was, so I told them.  This small group had eight other guys in it besides me, one from Canada and seven from various parts of the United States, none of which were out west near me.  Matt, the leader, also led a small group at Michigan State’s chapter of Intervarsity.  He pointed out that I had traveled the farthest to get to Urbana.  “Did a lot of people from Jeromeville come to Urbana?” he asked.

I thought for a minute.  “Probably around thirty,” I said.  “It’s a big school with a big Intervarsity chapter, and there are churches with college groups too.”

“Wow,” said the guy named Obadiah, who was from Oklahoma.  “I’m the only one here from my school.  But I go to a small Bible college with only three hundred students, and we don’t have an Intervarsity chapter.  I found out about Urbana from my church.”

After two and a half years at the University of Jeromeville, with twenty-five thousand students, I could not picture what life at a school that small would be like.  The others introduced themselves, with half of them having come from public schools like me and the other half from private schools.

“So what did we learn about being a witness from the session tonight?” Matt asked.  Some of the others shared their thoughts.  One guy whose name was also Matt mentioned giving our lives for Jesus, and another guy, Pablo, pointed out that we are all witnesses all the time, because the rest of the world sees how we act as Christians.  I had never really thought of it that way, but he was right.  The theme for this year’s Urbana conference was “You Are My Witnesses,” taken from God’s words to the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:10, and echoed by Jesus in Acts 1:8 when he tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses, just before he is taken up to heaven.  The first general session had been earlier this evening, just before this small group, and a number of speakers had discussed this concept of witness.

After this, we spent some time praying with each other.  Matt, the leader with the long hair, asked us each in turn how we could pray for each other.  When it was my turn, I said, “Pray that I will hear what God has for my life.  I’m a fairly new Christian, and I don’t really know a lot about missions, but a lot of my friends have done mission trips, and I want to know what’s out there, and what God has for me.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” Matt said.  “I think God definitely has something to show you.”

 We each took turns praying for someone else, then we dispersed to our rooms.  Long-Haired Matt and Pablo were my roommates; I slept in the top bunk, Matt on the bottom, and Pablo on a cot that had been placed in the room specifically for this convention.  As Matt had said earlier, our room smelled horribly of smoke, and with my normal difficulty sleeping in unfamiliar places, I hoped that the smell would not keep me awake.

Intervarsity was a nondenominational Christian organization with chapters at colleges and universities throughout North America.  Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, which I had begun attending at the beginning of sophomore year, was a chapter of Intervarsity.  Every three years, during the week after Christmas, the organization held this convention, named after its location in Urbana, Illinois.  I had never traveled this far east before, nor had I ever seen this much snow.

The University of Illinois campus hosted the convention.  Attendees slept in dormitories that were normally occupied by students, who were home for winter break during the convention.  Normally these rooms held two students, but cots had been added for this convention so that three of us could share each room.  I was glad I had not been assigned to the cot.  Apparently the residents of this room were smokers.  The Illinois students did not have to move their things out during their break.  The other Matt in my small group had mentioned that his room’s walls were full of bikini model posters, so he asked for leftover Urbana posters to cover them up.  The organizers of the convention had extra posters available; apparently this was a common occurrence.

Each day of the convention began with a small group Bible study, with the same eight other guys that I had met with last night.  Following this was a two hour general session with worship music and speakers, ending at noon.  Dozens of smaller sessions filled each afternoon, with attendees free to choose which sessions to attend, and representatives from ministry and service organizations, as well as Bible colleges and seminaries, filled three exhibit halls.  Another general session met each night after dinner, with prayer time in our small groups before bed.

On the second morning, December 28, I saw Long-Haired Matt, the other Matt, and Obadiah talking in the dorm as they prepared to leave for the general session.  I asked if I could walk over with them.  The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign was a very large campus, spread out along the border of two adjacent cities.  Many of the buildings appeared older than those of UJ back home.  The buildings were arranged more densely than those of UJ, for the most part.  The general session was held in the basketball arena, and I had to walk past the football stadium to get there.  Both of them were much larger than the corresponding facilities at UJ, which did not surprise me since Illinois was a Division I school.

The general session began with a worship band playing on a stage where the basketball court normally was.  Some of the songs were familiar to me, the same songs that we sang at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and at church.  After the music, speakers came up to talk about various aspects of missions and being a witness.  The keynote speaker that morning was an older woman named Elisabeth Elliot.  She told a story about she and her husband, Jim, serving as missionaries in a remote part of South America in the 1950,  They tried to establish contact with an indigenous group so they could live with them and teach them the good news about Jesus dying for our sins.  Jim and four other members of their group were killed by the people they were trying to reach, but Elisabeth later returned to live with those people for several years.  As one new to evangelical Christian missionary culture, I had never heard anything like that; Ms. Elliot’s story was both inspiring and intense.  I overheard Long-Haired Matt and Obadiah talking after the session; apparently the Elliots’ story was well-known among those who grew up going to churches that emphasized world missions.

I spent the afternoon in a session about keeping a prayer journal.  The speaker, an Intervarsity staff leader from some other school, had a lot of good things to say, but I also came out of the session feeling a bit like a failure.  My prayer times tended to be unproductive, and I did not hear God’s voice audibly.  The speaker also cautioned against having an experience orientation, in which one’s faith and prayer life is focused on results instead of the mere presence of God.  I knew that this was something I struggled with.  That evening, I could not find either of the Matts or Obadiah or Pablo or any of the others in my group when the time for the general session came, so I sat alone.

By lunch time on December 29, I was feeling two things: discouraged and cold.  We had a good small group last night, though.  Multiple people prayed that I would get out of this rut of discouragement, but it had not happened yet.  Long-Haired Matt reminded me about the guest services booth where I could look up dorm room phone numbers for other attendees.  I made a note to look up Brian Burr, Eddie Baker, and Taylor Santiago later that day, so I could at least see them at some point during this convention.

As I left the cafeteria and headed across campus for a session about forgiveness, I realized that something looked different.  The snow was melting.  The blanket of white that had covered the campus when I arrived two days ago had receded to little patches of snow scattered across the greens and browns of nature and the grays of paved surfaces.  The air also felt noticeably warmer this afternoon.

“Greg!” I heard someone call out as I approached the building where my session was.  It was a female voice, not any of the guys in my small group.  I turned and saw a girl with light brown hair in a white sweatshirt, smiling and waving to me.

“Autumn!” I called out excitedly.  Autumn Davies was a sophomore at Jeromeville, who stayed in the same hotel as me on the night before Urbana began.  She gave me a hug.

“How are you?” Autumn asked.  “How have you been?”

“Okay, I guess.  Just trying to figure out what God is telling me through all this.”

“You’ll figure it out.  Just keep listening.”

“Yeah.  How has Urbana been for you?”

“It’s been great!  I’m learning so much!  I want to go on a mission trip this summer.”

“Awesome!  Keep me posted on that.”

“Hey, do you want to come sit with us at the session tonight?  Some of us from Jeromeville decided to sit together, and we’ve gradually been finding other people we know.”

“Yeah!  Definitely!  You’re actually the first person from Jeromeville I’ve seen since we got off the bus.”

“Wow!  We’ve been sitting in section 205.”

“I need to get to this session, but it was great to see you!  I’ll see you tonight!”

“Yeah!”


My Urbana experience seemed to change from the moment the snow melted.  A couple hours after I ran into Autumn, I saw Tabitha Sasaki and Melinda Schmidt walking toward a different session.  And when I arrived in section 205 that night, it felt like coming home, being surrounded by familiar faces.  Dave and Janet McAllen, Cheryl, and Brian, our campus staff.  Eddie, Autumn, Leah, Tabitha, Leslie, Alyssa, Scott and Amelia, Melinda, Ajeet, Mike Knepper, and many of the other friends I made at JCF last year.  Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Liz, and Ramon, friends from my freshman dorm who invited me to JCF in the first place.  I had told Long-Haired Matt at dinner earlier that I found some of my Jeromeville friends and would probably sit with them instead of my small group; he seemed to approve of this idea.

“Greg!” Taylor said when he saw me approach their section.  “Good to see you!”

“You too!” I said.  “I ran into Autumn earlier, and she told me where everyone would be.”

“So what have you thought of everything so far?  Are you ready to pack up and go on a mission trip this summer?” Taylor chuckled.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience.  I was thinking earlier today, I should probably start with something smaller.  Like maybe I could be a Bible study leader next year.”

“Oh yeah?  That’s a good thought.  If you’re interested in that, talk to Dave and Janet.  And talk to your Bible study leader this year, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Who is that?”

“Evan Lundgren.”

“He’s not at Urbana, is he?”

“No.  But I’ll talk to him when we get back.”

“Good idea.  I’m going to be taking a quarter off in the spring to do inner-city missions this spring and summer, so I’ve been looking for stuff that’ll help with that.”

“That’s cool.  Keep me posted about that.”

Although I possibly had the beginnings of a plan, I still felt a lot that was unresolved within me.  I did not have a specific plan like Taylor.  So much here seemed to be pushing the idea of going to serve God in other countries, and I just did not feel ready for that.  I knew that not everyone was called to missions overseas, but what if I was just being lazy and staying in my comfort zone instead of actually doing God’s will for my life?

For the remaining two days of Urbana, I followed the same pattern of sitting with Long-Haired Matt and my small group in the morning session and with my Jeromeville friends in the evening.  Although I enjoyed seeing my friends at the evening sessions, I was haunted by the words of the speaker from earlier in the week who reminded me not to have an experience-oriented faith.  It was difficult to find the balance of having friends to encourage me in my faith, and for me to encourage in theirs, yet also remembering that my faith is deeper than just experiences with friends.

 By the final evening, the smell of smoke from my dorm room had permeated all of my clothes and the towel I was using to dry myself after showering.  I hoped that the smell did not bother my friends, and I hoped that people I came across would not assume that I was a smoker.  That would not be a good witness to others.

According to the program, one of tonight’s topics was about “sending,” presented by one of the people in charge of Intervarsity.  I was not sure what this word meant exactly.  “You’ve probably learned a lot about Urbana about missions,” the speaker said.  “But it is just as important to know that someone back home is sending these people on missions.”  He went on to explain the importance of the teams who give financially to missionaries and pray for them, how they are a crucial part of the missions experience.  I liked that.

The final evening session was scheduled to end two and a half hours later than on the other nights.  It was December 31, and we would all take communion together at midnight to celebrate the New Year.  After the last speaker, the band came back and played an extended worship session.  They began with a song called “Good To Me,” a song that I had heard many times back home, but which was still just as true.  God really was good to me.

Around 11:45, hundreds of volunteers spread out throughout the arena to distribute crackers and grape juice for communion.  The people on stage told the story of the Last Supper and instructed us to eat the bread and drink the juice in memory of Jesus.  I sat reflecting on everything that had happened this week as the worship team played music with no vocals.  The burden I had been feeling, wanting to make sure I was doing enough to serve God, was lifting now that I had heard the talk about sending.  Suddenly it felt okay if I was not ready to cross any oceans this summer.  I could still make donations and pray for my friends who would be crossing oceans, and that was still an important part of the cause of world missions.  And I was planning to learn more about leading a small group next year.

I looked at my watch after a while; It was 12:02.  The date displayed on my watch said “1-1-97.”  January 1, 1997.  A new year, full of new opportunities and possibilities.

After the worship team dismissed us from the session, I stood up and looked around at my friends sitting nearby.  Eddie made eye contact with me; he walked over and patted me on the back.  “Happy New Year, Greg,” he said.

“You too,” I replied.  “By the way, you were wrong when you said a couple weeks ago that Urbana was so big that we probably wouldn’t see each other.”

“I know.  I guess I was.”

“No offense, but in this case I’m glad you were wrong.” I smiled.

“Me too,” Eddie replied.  “So what did you think of tonight?”  I told him of my realization about sending, that it did not make me any less of a Christian if I did not go on a mission trip right away.  “Good,” he said.  “We as Christians are saved by faith, not by our works.”

“I know.”


The next morning, as we packed and cleaned our rooms, the nine of us in my small group exchanged contact information and took a group photo.  Most of them did not stay in touch with me, though, and the ones who did I only heard from for a couple months.  Life just gets in the way, I suppose.

In one of the exhibit halls was an Urbana store, selling merchandise and books.  I bought a T-shirt, with a design identical to the poster I had received in the mail when I first signed up for Urbana.  I also bought three books, two written by speakers I had heard and one a devotional book to use in my personal prayer time.  I began reading Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot on the plane ride home.  Although I found her talk intriguing, the book came across as boring.  A couple weeks later, I gave up halfway through the book, and while I still have it all these years later, I never finished it.

Although Urbana was an amazing experience that answered some of my questions about missions, I also felt like I was leaving with new questions.  Was it God’s will for me to serve him overseas, and how do I separate the answer to this question from my flesh and its desire to stay comfortable?  How could I serve the body of Christ back home?  Would I lead a small group senior year, and how would that impact my schedule?  As I looked forward to new opportunities and experiences in 1997 while traveling thousands of feet above the ground, I prayed that God would reveal his will to me, that he would show me where.  And, unsurprisingly, God did reveal his will to me not too long after that, and it was not at all what I was expecting.

Proof that I really did see Eddie at Urbana.

Author’s note: What’s the most interesting way you’ve ever spent a New Year?

Disclaimer: Urbana is a real event (urbana.org), but it has since moved, and is not actually held in Urbana anymore. Intervarsity was not involved in the composition of this story, and this is not a sponsored post.

January 14-16, 1995. I completely failed at the Internet. (#20)

Tonight looked like it was going to be another boring Saturday alone in room 221.  After I got back from dinner, I got on the computer and dialed up to the school Internet service.  Computers weren’t connected to the Internet all the time back then. The technology to do that existed, but most people couldn’t afford the kind of connection required for that.  We normal people had dial-up modems, connected to regular old telephone lines in the wall. As I connected, the modem made the sounds of dialing the seven digit phone number to connect school accounts to the Internet, followed by the usual sound of ringing that one hears from inside the telephone headset while waiting for the other side to answer.  After the call was answered, the modem made a bunch of whirring, dinging, buzzing, and hissing sounds as it established a connection. When the terminal window showed a command prompt, I typed “irc” and entered the chat that the school computer system defaults to. Because this was the default for connecting through a UJ server, I occasionally saw other UJ students in that chat.

Today, while looking at the account info for the other people in the chat, I saw a UJ account with a name that I recognized: Schuyler Jenkins.  She lived upstairs from me on the other side of the building, in room 306. She was short, with brown hair and glasses, and although we were on friendly terms, she had a strong and fiery personality that reminded me a bit of the kind of person who feels a need to compensate for being short.

I decided to play a little prank.  To this day, I’m still not sure why I did this, but I thought it would be fun.  It was fairly easy with IRC to change both your name displayed in the chat and the actual name that people would see when they looked up your account information.  Ever since I discovered that I did not need to have my real name on there, I had used “A soul in tension,” a line from a Pink Floyd song, as my real name.

I needed to think of a fake name.  I typed “Eric Kingston.” For some reason, that was the first name that popped into my head.  The real Eric Kingston was one of my brother’s friends back home; we had numerous inside jokes about him.  I changed my screen name to “KingEric” and reentered the chat.

After a few minutes, I sent Schuyler a private message.  “hey, you go to jeromeville?” i typed. I waited to see if she would respond… and she did.

sky246: yes
KingEric: me too
sky246: i can see that, eric kingston.  so what’s your major?
KingEric: chemistry

I hoped that I knew enough about chemistry that any questions about my made-up major would stand up to scrutiny.  I really liked chemistry in high school, and so far I seemed to be understanding chemistry just fine this quarter.

sky246: you’d fit in well in my dorm.  lots of science and engineering people here.
KingEric: which one?
sky246: building c in the south area.  the honors program.
KingEric: oh no way, i’m in building a
sky246: that’s cool. i wonder if we’ve ever run into each other at the dc?
KingEric: maybe
sky246: what do you look like?
KingEric: blond, about 5’11, blue eyes, freckles. what about you?

My made up description was based on the real Eric Kingston.  I couldn’t think of anything else to say, other than actually describing myself.

sky246: short, thin, long brown hair, i wear glasses
KingEric: nice :) what’s your major?
sky246: english
KingEric: do you know what you want to do with it?
sky246: i’m not sure. maybe go to grad school and become a professor.  or maybe teach high school.
KingEric: so what are you up to tonight?
sky246: just staying at home in my room.  this creepy guy who lives in my building has tried to ask me out twice in the last few days.  i don’t want to run into him again tonight
KingEric: uh oh.  why is this guy creepy? this sounds like a good story
sky246: his name is jared. he’s just weird. he sits in the common room playing scrabble all day.  we have a class together, and he’s only been to class once. and at the dc, he always looks for some random girl and tries to sit with her.  if you ever see a guy with shaggy blond hair at the dc trying to sit with some girl and getting rejected, that’s probably him
KingEric: i haven’t noticed him, but good to know
sky246: what’s your favorite animal?
KingEric: cat.  why?
sky246: just wondering
KingEric: what’s yours?
sky246: you have to promise not to laugh.  it’s kind of silly
KingEric: ok, i promise
sky246: platypus.  i don’t know why, i was obsessed with platypuses ever since I was young.  where are you from?

I was tempted to correct Schuyler and tell her that “platypuses” should actually be “platypi,” but irregular plurals were a Greg thing, and I didn’t want her to know that I was really Eric.  Also, I learned later in life that “platypodes” would be an even better irregular plural, since the -i ending came from Latin, but the -odes ending, like the rest of the word “platypus,” was derived from Greek.  Also, I hadn’t thought about where Eric Kingston was from. If I said Plumdale, it could again lead back to me, especially since Plumdale is pretty small, and most people in my building knew I was from Plumdale. If I chose almost any other place, she might say something that would give away my lack of familiarity with that place.  But maybe I could say something near Plumdale, so that I would be familiar enough with that place to talk about it.

KingEric: santa lucia
sky246: i like it there.  i’ve been there a few times.  i’m from santa teresa, farther down the coast
KingEric: it seems nice there.  but i’ve only seen it a few times from the freeway
sky246: it’s beautiful there, right in between the mountains and the beach
KingEric: that sounds nice
sky246: yeah.  i’m hoping to move back home someday, but if i become a professor i might have to work somewhere far away
KingEric: true.  i don’t know where i’ll be when i’m done
sky246: you’ll figure it out
KingEric: i hope so
sky246: hey, i need to go.  but we’ll talk again sometime, i hope?
KingEric: yeah! have a great day!

I signed off a few minutes after Schuyler left and played Tetris for a while.  After I got bored with that, I checked my email. Back in 1995, no one used words like “memes” and “viral” in the context of the Internet.  Email was just becoming mainstream about that time, and the 1995 equivalent of memes and viral posts was to forward something noteworthy or funny to everyone on your email list.  I had just started to receive these in the last few months. Today I had one from a girl I knew from IRC named Charlene, who lived in Texas; she often forwarded these messages to me.  I opened and read her message:

Hi, friend!  This message is full of sunshine!  Follow the directions and you will have sunshine in your life!  Just answer these 11 questions, and then forward this message to all of your friends, but give them 11 new questions to answer.

I read through Charlene’s answers to the 11 questions she was given.  She wrote about the last time she followed her gut on a big decision, whether she prefers a frugal or generous significant other, how reading fiction is different from nonfiction, and a number of other subjects.  Then I read the questions that Charlene had written for her friends:

Where do you get your news?
If your job gave you a surprise paid three days off, what would you do those three days?What is something that you resent paying for?
What is the most expensive thing you have broken?
What was cool when you were younger, but is not cool now?
What is something that no matter how evolved we become will always be popular?
Who do you go out of your way to be nice to?
Who was your craziest/most interesting teacher? What grade did they teach?
What are some red flags to watch out for in your daily life?
If you could move one character to play in a different movie/show, what character would it be, and to what movie/show?
What protagonist from a book or movie would make the worst roommate or spouse?

This could be interesting, I thought.  I clicked Forward, and copied and pasted the email addresses of everyone in the IHP into the Recipient field.  I didn’t have to type the addresses myself, because earlier in the year, someone had typed everyone’s addresses and sent the list to all of us, in case any of us ever needed to send an email to everyone.

I started typing my answers:

Where do you get your news? From the Daily Colt (the campus newspaper) and the Capital City Record (the nearby big city newspaper).

If your job gave you a surprise paid three days off, what would you do those three days?  I’m a college student. I don’t have a job. But if I had three days off school unexpectedly, I’d probably get caught up on homework and studying.  Then I’d do a lot of sleeping, reading, and playing around on the computer.

What is something that you resent paying for?  Welfare, via tax dollars. The government shouldn’t be taking my money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it.

(Of course, I didn’t have a job, but my parents earned that money and chose to give it to me.  No one forced them to give it to me. So the same principle applies. I would still feel this way if I did have a real job.)

What is the most expensive thing you have broken? One time last year, I was angry and punched a hole in my bedroom wall.  Does that count?

What was cool when you were younger, but is not cool now? Vanilla Ice. When I was 14 years and 2 months old, he was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I had outgrown him and his music by the time I was 14 years and 3 months old.

What is something that no matter how evolved we become will always be popular? Breathing. Breathing has been in style since prehistoric times. Either that or the Rolling Stones, since they’ve already been popular for over half a century.

Who do you go out of your way to be nice to?  I would hope most people. But I’m more likely to go out of your way to be nice if you’re nice to me.

(In retrospect, given what would happen over the next few days, this answer was interestingly ironic.)

Who was your craziest/ most interesting teacher? What grade did they teach? I’ve had a lot of crazy and interesting teachers, as well as a lot of favorite teachers for reasons that “crazy” and “interesting” don’t describe.  The first one who comes to mind is Mr. Pereira, my PE teacher from 9th grade. He would give silly nicknames to some students (for example, there was a kid who always wore a blue hoodie, not sure if it was gang related or not, but this teacher always called him “Little Blue Riding Hood”).  He also made up funny names for some of the activities we would play; the flag football class championship was called the Toilet Bowl, and when we had to run two miles on the day before Thanksgiving, he called it the Turkey Trot. And one time I told him my stomach hurt, and he told me to go take a shit.

What are some red flags to watch out for in your daily life?  People who don’t think the rules apply to them.

If you could move one character to play in a different movie, what character would it been and to what movie/show? Bud Bundy on Beavis and Butthead. The three of them could all fail at picking up chicks together.

What protagonist from book or movie would make the worst roommate or spouse?  Any of the boys from Lord of the Flies. They would probably turn into savages and try to kill me if I took up too much space in the refrigerator.

I then thought of eleven questions to ask others, typing them as I thought of them.

What place would you most like to visit right now, if neither time nor money were a factor?
What is the farthest away from home you’ve ever been?
What is the longest you’ve ever waited in line, and what was it for?
What is the weirdest or most noteworthy story you have about how you met one of your friends?
What is something you liked to eat as a kid, but you don’t like anymore?
If you could bring back one discontinued product, what would it be?
What was your least favorite thing about school?
If you could change one law/rule/etc. that applies to you, what would it be?
Who is your celebrity crush?
If you could change your name, what would you change it to? And if you like your name the way it is, why?
What’s that band/singer/musician that you’re a fan of, but you’re kind of embarrassed to admit it? Come on, everyone has one.

I clicked Send, and my email went to everyone in the IHP, waiting to read other people’s answers to my questions.

 

The next day was Sunday.  I went to church, and then to the dining commons to eat.  When I got back, I noticed that a small group of people sat in the common room talking.  Karen Francis saw me walk in. “Greg!” she said. I looked at her, and she looked kind of upset.

“Yes?” I replied, stopping to look at her.

“Don’t ever send me those chain emails again.”

“Umm… ok.”

“Seriously.  Those things are obnoxious and a waste of time.”

“I’m sorry.  I just thought it would be fun.”

“It’s not fun.”

“What about when other people have sent stuff like that to the whole building?  Why are you mad at me and not them?”

“I’ve also asked other people not to send me stuff.  It’s not just you.”

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I walked back to my room, and the first thing I did was turn on the computer and take Karen off of my email list.  I felt a little put off by her reaction. I had no idea that people got so angry at this kind of thing, and I was just trying to have fun.  This wasn’t the first time I had made people mad through my lack of Internet skills; shortly after I started following the Pink Floyd Usenet group, I was scolded for asking dumb questions that had been answered already.  And this would definitely not be the last time I made people mad with the Internet.

 

Classes did not meet that Monday, because of the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  I woke up fairly early, as I usually do, but I stayed in bed until almost 10:00, mostly reading. When I finally dragged my butt out of bed, I looked outside.  It was sunny, but cold. I put on a hoodie and got on my bike, riding south toward the creek.

A dry creek bed ran through the UJ campus.  At some point in the University’s history, the creek had been blocked at both ends, and storm drains from the campus were directed into the creek, effectively making it a very long, narrow lake.  From one end, where the creek bed once intersected Highway 117, to the other end in downtown Jeromeville, the lake was almost two miles long. An arboretum had been planted along both banks of the creek, featuring trees and plants from all over the world.  A path ran along both banks of the creek, so that it was possible to make a long loop around both sides of the arboretum. The arboretum provided a refuge of sorts from the busy atmosphere of the rest of the campus, giving one the impression of being deep in a forest somewhere.  I rode my bike two complete laps around the arboretum, then returned to Building C and showered.

The rest of the day was fairly lazy.  Around five in the afternoon, I was on my usual IRC chat, and I noticed Schuyler signed on a while after I did.  It was time to be Eric Kingston again. I had been talking to a girl from New Zealand; I told her I would be back later, and asked her to email me.  I signed off and came back a few minutes later as Eric, and I messaged Schuyler.

KingEric: hi!
sky246: hi
KingEric: how are you? did you do anything over the long weekend?
sky246: just sleep in and catch up on studying.  what about you?
KingEric: same
sky246: have you eaten yet tonight?
KingEric: no.  you?
sky246: no.  it’s funny, someday we might be sitting right next to each other at the dc and not even realize it.
KingEric: that would be funny.  or maybe i’ll figure out which one you are, and i’ll just sit next to you and say something like hello platypus… just to see your reaction
sky246: haha.  how will you know who i am?
KingEric: well… actually… i already know.
sky246: WHAT
KingEric: earlier this weekend i was at the dc talking to this guy named greg from your building, and i asked him if you were there, and he pointed you out.
sky246: brb

I had a feeling I knew what was coming next.  Time to see the reaction. About a minute later, I heard footsteps and a knock on my door.  I hid the window on my computer screen. “Come in,” I said.

Schuyler opened the door with an unhappy look on her face.  “Please don’t tell strangers personal information about me,” she said.  She turned around to leave.

“Hello, platypus,” I replied, grinning.

Schuyler stopped and turned to look at me.  “What?” she said. “It was you this whole time?  I hate you. You’re evil and a horrible person.” She slammed the door and stormed off.

Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting.  I was just playing a harmless prank, I thought, but her reaction certainly didn’t make my prank seem harmless.  I felt terrible now. And messing with someone’s head like this really wasn’t like me. I closed the IRC window on my computer and just stared at the screen for several minutes.  Maybe I should just stop using the Internet. All I’ve done so far this weekend is make people mad at me. I felt like hiding from the world forever and never trying to make friends with anyone again.

I ate alone at the dining commons that night.  I saw a few people I knew, but I decided I wanted to sit alone.  When I got back to Building C, some of the guys who lived on the first floor were sitting in the common room watching a movie.

“Greg,” Spencer said when he saw me.  “What did you do? Schuyler was down here earlier saying you were a horrible person.”

“I was chatting with her on IRC pretending to be someone else.”

“No way!”

“Wow” Jonathan said.  “That’s pretty impressive that you pulled it off. But still.”

“I feel really bad now.  I was just playing a harmless prank, trying to see her reaction.”

“She sure did react,” Spencer said.

“Are you going to apologize?” Jonathan asked.  “You might want to. She’s really upset. I think she’s in her room now”

“You’re right,” I said.

I walked up to the third floor and knocked on the door of room 306.  Schuyler answered, and when she saw it was me, she tried to close the door in my face.  I stuck my foot in the door so that it would not close all the way. In hindsight, this was a bad idea, because it kind of hurt having the door slammed on my foot.

“Schuyler,” I said.  “I wanted to apologize.”  She opened the door about halfway, but still just glared at me, saying nothing.  “I just wanted to play a prank and see your reaction. I didn’t think about how your feelings would be hurt, and it really isn’t like me to do something like that.”

Schuyler sighed.  “Come in,” she said.  She sat on her bed, and I sat on her chair.  I noticed that Schuyler’s roommate was on the other bed, studying, so I tried to stay out of her way as much as possible.

“I know you’re mad at me.  But I’m not good with people.  I’m still learning how the world works.  And I’m also not good at using the Internet in general.  It seems like all I do is make people mad at me without realizing it.”

“I believe you,” Schuyler said after a pause of a few seconds.  “Apology accepted. But I’m still hurt. It might be a while before I feel like talking to you again.”

“I understand.”

“You’re right when you said it wasn’t like you to do that.  You’re not mean. And that’s part of the reason I was so hurt.”

“Yeah.”

“I need to get to work.  But I appreciate you saying something.”

I got up to leave.  “Bye,” I said. “I’ll see you around.”

I left without saying anything else, but I had something else to say while I was in the mood for apologizing.  I walked to the other end of the third floor and knocked on Karen’s door. “Hi, Greg,” she said, opening the door just a crack, just enough to see her face.

“Hey.  I’m sorry about the email the other day.  It seems like my Internet habits are just making people upset these days, and I really didn’t mean to be annoying.”

“I know,” Karen answered.  “And I’m sorry I snapped like that.  I’ve just been in a bad mood the last few days.  And I’ve had friends and relatives emailing me this crap for years, and I’m just tired of it.”

Well, look at you, with your rich techie background and all of your friends and relatives who aren’t new to the world of email, I thought silently.  But what I said out loud was, “I took you off my mailing list already.”

“Thank you.  And don’t worry about it.  It’s really not a big deal.”

“Thanks.  I’ll see you later.”

“Bye,” she said, closing the door as if in a hurry to get back to what she was doing..

I walked back to my room and lay on the bed for a while, just thinking.  This whole weekend felt like I completely failed at the Internet. And even though I had apologized, I still felt like hiding from everyone.  No matter what I did, I would never be able to have a group of friends like a normal person. All I do is make people mad and say things that they don’t understand.  And in hindsight, I don’t even know why I tried to make Schuyler think I was someone else. Nor did I know why I decided to answer Charlene’s questions. It wasn’t like me to be mean for no reason, nor was it like me to actually take the time to reply to emails like Charlene’s.

I closed my eyes and let my mind wander.  Maybe I wasn’t as hopeless as I felt when it came to making friends.  I did have friends. So what if I kept to myself a lot. There were people in Building C, and a few outside of Building C, who cared about me and wanted to talk to me.  So what if I made some reckless decisions. People do stupid things sometimes. Everything feels like culture shock to me right. Living with seventy other students my age is a new experience for me.  I didn’t have a lot of interaction with peers at all growing up, and I was still learning. Making mistakes, making people mad, getting into arguments, these are all part of the process. Real friends apologize when they make mistakes.  They are honest about their feelings, and they stick together through it all.

Schuyler and I did end up on good terms eventually, although she didn’t talk to me much for the next couple weeks.  And Karen was fine once I took her off the email list. She wasn’t really hurt, just mildly annoyed. I should also point out that I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the reason why Karen had only opened the door a crack and had seemed in a hurry to get rid of me: Pat was in Karen’s bed with his shirt off, and possibly other clothing missing as well.


AUTHOR’S NOTE from 2019: The email from Charlene (curiosityconfession.wordpress.com) was actually her nomination of this blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award.  The rules are to thank the blogger who nominated you, answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you, nominate new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions, list the rules, display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post/or on your blog, and notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.  Thank you, Charlene!  I don’t normally nominate people for stuff like this, so as not to annoy the Karen Francises of the world, but if any of you reading this want to do it on your blog, go for it.  And post a link to your blog below so other people can go take a look at it.

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