October 3-5, 1996. Often, one has no idea that something has just happened for the final time.

“Greg?” Brian said, poking his head into my bedroom.  “Your friend is here.”

I walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs, smiling as I saw her standing in the entryway at the bottom.  “Hey!” I said.  “Good to see you!”

“Hi, Greg!” Rachel Copeland replied, pulling me in for a hug.  She looked a little different from how she did the last time I had seen her, over a year ago.  Her light brown hair had grown even longer, most of the way down her back.  Last year, Rachel’s freshman year at St. Elizabeth’s College, she seemed to have put on the proverbial fifteen pounds that many say inevitably appears during everyone’s freshman year.

“Rachel, this is my roommate Brian,” I said, gesturing toward Brian sitting on the couch watching television.  “And Shawn,” I added, pointing toward the kitchen where Shawn was making something on the stove.  “This is Rachel, my friend from high school.”  Brian and Shawn both said hello to Rachel.  “So what’s the plan?  I’m going to show you around, then we’ll find something to eat?”

“Yeah!” she said.  “Can I get a drink of water and use your bathroom first?  I’ve been in the car for an hour.”

After Rachel finished, we walked to the car.  “I like these apartments,” she said.  “They’re nice and spread out, with landscaping.  Do you like living off campus better than on campus?  You lived in a dorm when you were a freshman, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you like it?  Did you want to move off campus?”

“It wasn’t my choice, really,” I explained.  “Everyone is guaranteed a spot on campus their first year, but UJ has so little dorm space right now, they only have a small number of rooms left for returning students.  This year, the freshman class was bigger than expected, so there’s absolutely no room on campus for returning students, and they even have people in rooms that are supposed to be study rooms.”

“What?” Rachel asked as we got into my car.  I started the car and headed out of the parking lot, south on Maple Drive.

“Yeah.  We were filling out a new phone list this year for the church choir, and this one girl, Margaret, she’s a freshman, and she put her address as Room 101 Building M.  Those letter buildings, remember I was in Building C my freshman year, they’re all the same, and there is no room 101, they start at 112.  She said they put two beds and two cots in the study room.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.  The housing market in Jeromeville is all kinds of messed up.  The university keeps growing, but they haven’t built any new dorms in over a decade, and they even tore some down a couple years before I started here, because they weren’t up to code.  And the city wants to stay small and not become a sprawling suburb.”

“That doesn’t seem right.  Are they going to replace the buildings they tore down?”

“I think so, eventually, but it’s still just an empty field right now.”  At that point, we were passing by the Forest Drive Housing Area; I said, “At some point in the past, the University bought some apartment buildings in this neighborhood over here and turned them into dorms.  We’re not far from campus now.  But even if they do more of that, that also takes away from the total housing in the city and campus combined.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s been frustrating for me, because I’ve always had a hard time finding roommates.  You have to make plans early in the spring for the next fall.  This year worked out perfectly, though.  At Bible study, we were doing prayer requests, and I mentioned needing a roommate, and one of the group leaders said that he needed a place to live.  That was Shawn, who you just met.”

“Oh, wow.  That did work out.”

I turned left on Fifth Street and right on Andrews Road, entering campus by the North Residential Area.  I pointed out the basketball arena and the pool, with its landscaped berm popular with sunbathers which my dad had once nicknamed Thong Bikini Hill.  I turned left on Davis Drive and right into the South Residential Area, where we drove past Building C.  “This is where I lived freshman year,” I said.  Pointing at my window, I said, “That was my room.”

“Cool!  These buildings are smaller than the other ones we just drove by.”

“Yeah.  It was nice.  And, remember, I was in that program where everyone else in the program lived in the same building, so we all knew each other.”

“That’s cool.  I’ve just been paired with a random roommate both years.  Last year my roommate and I got along, but this year we aren’t very close.  It’s not that we don’t like each other, we’re just different.  You know.”

“Yeah.  There are definitely some people from Building C that I didn’t stay friends with.”

“Were those cows back there?” Rachel asked.

“Yeah.  The dairy was right across the street.  People in the dorms always made fun of the smell, but you get used to it after a while.”

“I guess that would make sense that Jeromeville would have a dairy, if it’s known for its agricultural programs.”

As I drove around the outer edge of campus, I pointed out other highlights: the Arboretum; Marks Hall, where the administrative offices were located; Krueger Hall, home of the offices for my part-time job as a math tutor; the odd-looking building nicknamed the Death Star, where I got lost playing Sardines; and the football stadium, which looked like a high school stadium, but a little bit bigger.  I pointed out that many of the academic buildings were to the west of us, in the part of campus closed to vehicular traffic.  I turned right on Fifth Street and pointed out the Newman Center.

“That’s a cute building,” she said.

“It was the original building for the main Catholic Church in Jeromeville.  But they moved into a bigger building eventually.”

“Are you ready to eat?” Rachel asked.

“Yes.  Do you know what you want?”

“Not really.”

“I’m terrible at picking food,” I said.  “I mostly just know fast food, and I haven’t found any local restaurants yet, except for another burger place.”

“What about if you just drive around and I’ll look for something that looks good?”

“That sounds perfect,” I said.  “We’re downtown, so there’s a ton of restaurants nearby.”

I began driving up and down the downtown grid on the streets named for low numbers and letters at the beginning of the alphabet.  As I passed the corner of G and Third Streets, Rachel pointed at the Jade Dragon Restaurant and asked, “Do you like Chinese food?”

“Sure,” I replied.  “I’ve never been there.  Let’s try it.”

A public parking lot ran the entire length of the block between F and G Streets.  I pulled into a parking place and walked with Rachel back to the restaurant.  After we sat down, I looked over the menu and said, “So it looks like if we get this dinner for two, we can each pick an entree to go with all of those sides?”

“That’s what I see.”

“Back home, the summer after I graduated, I went to that Chinese place on Valencia Road by McDonalds with Catherine and Melissa and Renee and Anthony and Kevin.  I was confused about how to order, and I got a little frustrated.”

“We can go somewhere else if you don’t like Chinese food.”

“No, I do,” I said.  “We just never went out to eat and sat down when I was a kid.  My brother and I always acted squirrelly whenever we went out to eat, you know, like little boys do, and as we grew up, Mom just assumed we were always going to misbehave in restaurants.  So we always got take-out.  As far as I knew, Chinese food came in little white boxes.”

“That’s kind of funny.”

After we ordered, I asked, “So who is it that you’re on your way to visit tonight? Is it someone I knew back home?”

“No,” Rachel explained.  “She was one of my friends at St. Elizabeth’s last year, but it wasn’t working out for her there, so she moved back home and transferred to Capital State.”

“It must be nice not having classes tomorrow.  That way you can do three-day weekend trips like this whenever you want.”

“It is nice.  This is the first time it’s worked out that way.”

“It seems like every math class at UJ is Monday-Wednesday-Friday.  So I’ll probably never have Fridays off.  And now that I’m doing University Chorus, their rehearsals are Monday-Wednesday-Friday too.”

“How is chorus going?  What kind of music are you doing?”

“I don’t know classical music well enough to describe it,” I said, chuckling.  “But we’re doing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and some Christmas thing by Vaughan Williams.”

“I don’t know either of those.”

“I didn’t either until last week.”  Our food arrived, and we began eating.  “This is good,” I said.  “Good suggestion.”

“It is,” Rachel agreed after taking a bite.  “And thanks for the campus tour.  Jeromeville is so much bigger than St. Elizabeth’s.”

“I’ve never been to St. Elizabeth’s, but I would imagine it is.”

“Do you have a favorite part of the campus?”

“Hmm,” I replied, thinking.  “Maybe the Arboretum.  It’s peaceful, like you’re out in nature with all the trees nearby.  Or some of the roads on the rural side of campus, where they do agricultural research.  I ride my bike out there sometimes.”

“That sounds nice,” Rachel said.  “My favorite part of St. Elizabeth’s is this big cross.  Sometimes I just walk out there at night and watch the stars.  I’m not very religious, but it feels spiritual being out there.”

“Is it weird going to a Catholic school when you’re not Catholic?”

“Not really.  There are a lot of students who aren’t Catholic.”

“That’s true.  I’ve never been to Catholic school at any level, so I don’t know what it’s like.”

“What are you doing this weekend?” Rachel asked.

“Tomorrow is Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  Then Saturday I’m going to the football game, against Capital State.  It’s our big rivalry game, the Drawbridge Classic.  The rest of the weekend I’ll just be doing homework.”

“That should be fun.  Do you go to a lot of games?”

“Some.  Not as many as I did freshman year when I lived right on campus.”

“I haven’t really followed sports at St. Elizabeth’s,” Rachel said.  “Apparently football and basketball are pretty big there.”

“I think they’re Division I,” I replied.  “That’s considered the top level of college sports.  Jeromeville is Division II.”

“Really.  It’s kind of funny that Jeromeville is so much bigger but St. Elizabeth’s is in a higher sports division.”

“I know.  I’m not really sure how all that works.  But there’s this local band that I’ve seen three times, called Lawsuit.  They’re playing at the pre-game show, so I definitely wanted to go to this one.”

“I think you’ve told me about Lawsuit before.  Were they the ones who were, like really different from anything you’d heard before?”

“Yeah.  Like rock with horns.”

“That should be fun!  I wonder if they ever play out my way?”

“I think so.  They play around Bay City a lot too.”

Rachel and I spent about another hour, long after we had finished our fortune cookies, talking about classes, college friends, campus activities, mutual friends, and what we had done over the summer.  Eventually, Rachel said, “I should go.  It’s getting dark, and I still have to drive to Capital City.”

“You don’t have too much farther to go,” I said.

“Yeah, but I don’t know where I’m going.  That makes it stressful.”

“True.”

We got back in my car and drove back to my apartment.  I parked and walked Rachel to her car.  “Thank you so much for visiting,” I said.  “It was so good to see you.”

“Yeah!” Rachel replied.  “You too!  It was good to see where you live, finally.”

“Drive safely, and have fun with your friend.”

“I will!”  Rachel put her arms around me, and we hugged, a long lingering hug that lasted about ten seconds.  “Good night, Greg.”

“Good night.”  I watched as Rachel exited the parking lot, then went back into the house.  Rachel may be on a three-day weekend, but it was still Thursday and I had numerical analysis homework due tomorrow.


The weather in early October in Jeromeville was basically Summer Junior, warm and sunny during the day, although not as hot as actual summer.  I rode my bike to the football stadium Saturday afternoon, arriving as Lawsuit was setting up their instruments and equipment on a temporary stage that had been erected for this pregame show.

This scene differed greatly from that of the last time I saw Lawsuit, at the benefit concert for the C.J. Davis Art Center.  For one thing, the show started at five o’clock, and it was not completely dark yet.  People were spread out over a much larger area on a practice sports field next to the stadium, with booths set up for snacks and drinks.  Not everyone was actively paying attention to the band.

Lawsuit played many of the same songs I had seen in the three other shows of theirs that I had been to.  They opened with the same song as the other times I had seen them, “Thank God You’re Doing Fine,” followed by “Useless Flowers.”  I had the two most recent of their five albums, so I recognized at least half the songs, but they played some that I did not know.  I was unsure if these were from older albums, or if they were new songs that were not released on albums yet.  Being that it was a shorter set and part of a football pregame show instead of just a Lawsuit concert, the show felt more like when they performed at Spring Picnics rather than the benefit concert at the Art Center.  They did not have as much banter or inside jokes between the band members as they did at the Art Center, which did not particularly bother me, since most of the inside jokes went over my head.

I made a mental note to go to more Lawsuit concerts this coming school year.  Their monthly flyers told their fans to bug radio stations to play them; maybe I should start doing that too.  I did not know how all of that worked, however.  I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the pregame show tonight.

After Lawsuit finished, I walked into the football stadium, sitting with the Colt Crew, the free general admission section reserved for undergraduates.  A group of students led the Colt Crew in silly cheers all night, with plenty of giveaways during the night.  I got excited during a timeout in the third quarter, when the Colt Crew brought out one of their most random traditions, Tube Sock Madness.  All of the Colt Crew leaders dressed in silly costumes, tossing rolled-up tube socks into the crowd.  I caught tube socks once freshman year from a guy in a cow suit, but I came up empty at this game.  I did not know if the guy in the cow suit tonight was the same guy as two years ago, but I noticed that this cow suit had a nipple ring on the udder.

By now, I had been to enough University of Jeromeville Colts football games that I recognized the tunes of all of the marching band fight songs, and I even knew the words to a few of them.  I hummed along and sang quietly under my breath a few times, taking in the college football atmosphere and forgetting the stresses of studying for one night.  I was already on a high from the Lawsuit show, and the excitement of a good, close game made the night even better.  Unfortunately, the night ended on a disappointing note; with the score tied in the fourth quarter, Capital State marched down the field and kicked a field goal, which Jeromeville was unable to answer in their final remaining drive.  The Colts lost, 27 to 24.

All things come to an end, somehow, someday.  Often, one has no idea that something has just happened for the final time.  That early October Thursday evening was, as of now, the last time I saw Rachel in person.  Rachel’s emails would become less frequent as the year went on, and we gradually lost touch as life continued to get in the way.  However, early in the social media era, when Rachel and I were in our early thirties, she found me on Facebook, and we have been sporadically in contact ever since, occasionally liking and commenting on pictures and such.  She now lives in Mt. Lorenzo, a hippie beach town near where I grew up, working as a sex therapist.  As an unmarried man with conservative Christian values, I have little to no need for a sex therapist and no idea what her career is like.

That football game was also the last Drawbridge Classic I would attend for a decade.  The game was played in Capital City in odd-numbered years, and I did not want to watch it in front of a hostile crowd.  My remaining even-numbered years in Jeromeville, I was busy with other things and not following football as closely.  It was not until 2005 that I would begin attending Colt football games again, this time no longer as a resident of Jeromeville, and not until 2006 that I would see the Colts play Capital State at home

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, that night was also the last time I would ever see Lawsuit perform live.  But that is another story for another time.


Note to readers: What about you guys? When was a noteworthy time in your lives when you did something or saw someone for the last time, and didn’t realize it?

October 21, 1995. The day I went to visit Renee.

I turned right into the parking lot.  The sign said that Chardonnay Village was somewhere among the cluster of nearby buildings.  The directions that Renee had emailed to me had been very clear; I had no trouble getting here, even though the second half of the trip had been anything but a straight shot, zigzagging over hills.  It was around 11:00 on a Saturday morning.  I left Jeromeville at 9:30.  For the first half of the trip, I drove straight down Highway 100 to Fairview, where it merges with Highway 212 for a few miles.  Where the two routes split again just south of Fairview, I took 212 over a hill to Silverado and followed many other two lane roads until I arrived at Valle Luna State University.  Renee said that one of her roommates knew that drive because she used to date a guy in Jeromeville, and that this was the fastest way.

This part of the state was known for growing grapes and making wine, which was why the dorms at Valle Luna State had names like Chardonnay.  I thought it was unusual for buildings on a university campus to be named after alcohol… to me, this seemed to send the wrong message.  Once I got to Silverado, the rest of the drive here passed through rolling hills covered with grapevines, with the occasional cow pasture.  The indigenous people of this area called it “moon valley,” the 18th century Spanish missionaries translated the name from that language into Spanish. Americans arrived in the middle of the 19th century and bastardized the pronunciation; “valle” in proper Spanish was pronounced more like “bah-yay,” but most Americans pronounced it like its English cognate “valley.”

As I walked up to Renee’s building, I saw her outside waiting for me.  I waved, and she waved back.  “Hey, Greg,” she said once I was in earshot.  She gave me a hug from the side.  She looked the same as I remembered her, short, with long red hair, blue eyes, and freckles, but I had just seen her two months ago, so that was to be expected.

“Hi,” I replied.  “It’s good to see you.”

“How was the drive?”

“Your directions were good.  I found everything just fine.”

“Good!”  Renee paused, then asked, “You wanna see my apartment?”

“Sure.”

I noticed Renee’s use of the word “apartment” instead of “dorm room.”  It fit, because Renee’s building was an on-campus apartment, with each room having an entrance directly outside instead of opening into a hallway.  When I walked inside, I saw a small living room and kitchen, with two bedrooms and a bathroom opening onto it, just like an actual apartment.

“Greg, this is Nicole,” Renee said, gesturing toward the dark-haired girl on the couch.  “Nicole is my roommate.  I mean, like, we share an actual room.  Nicole, this is Greg.”

“Hi, Greg,” Nicole said, looking up from the television.

“Hi,” I replied. 

Renee led me toward one of the bedrooms.  “This is my room and Nicole’s,” she said.  “Jenn and Marisol live in the other room.”

“Nice,” I said.  The bedroom had a window looking out on the grassy area between this building and the next one.  I noticed a bulletin board on the wall by one of the desks, with pictures of people on it; I knew this was Renee’s, because I recognized the people in some of the pictures.  One picture was of Renee and her boyfriend, Anthony; one was Anthony’s senior picture from two years ago; and one was of Renee and our mutual friend Melissa.

“The Where’s Waldo picture,” Renee said.

“Huh?”

“Melissa always thought she looked like Waldo in that picture.”

“Hah,” I laughed, seeing Melissa’s red and white striped shirt differently now.  “I can see it.”

As we walked back to the living room, where Nicole was still watching television, I asked,  “This is a nice place.  Are all the on-campus residential areas at Valle Luna more like apartments?”

“Not all of them,” Renee explained.  “I lived in a regular dorm last year, with one bathroom for the whole floor and stuff like that.  The regular dorms are for freshmen.  Older students get first priority for the on-campus apartments.”

“That’s cool,” I said.  “Jeromeville just doesn’t have enough on-campus housing for its student population.  The school took over some apartments just across the street from campus, and even then you only get housing on campus for one year.  So it’s pretty much all freshmen and incoming transfer students in the dorms.  I would have lived on campus another year if I could.”

“I remember that,” Nicole added.  “My ex-boyfriend goes to Jeromeville, and he lived in one of those apartment dorms last year.”

A tall girl with long blonde hair emerged from one of the bedrooms.  “Hey,” she said to Renee.  “Is this your friend?”

“Yeah,” Renee replied.  “Greg, this is Jenn.”

“Hi,” I said.  “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Jenn said.

“I was thinking we could start with a walk around campus.  Does that sound good?” Renee asked.

“Sure,” I replied.  “I’ve never been here before.”

“Great.  We’ll be back in a bit,” Renee told her rooommates.

The first thing I noticed about Valle Luna State University was that the campus was much smaller than that of the University of Jeromeville.  On the drive in, I noticed that the dorms and on-campus apartments at VLSU were on the west and south sides of the campus.  “This is my walk to class every morning,” Renee pointed out as we walked east toward the center of campus.  She pointed out the library and the buildings where most of her classes were.  The non-residential buildings were mostly in a gray concrete style of architecture, more uniform than the varied heterogeneous architecture of UJ but, in my opinion, less interesting.  We then turned south toward a building that she pointed out as the “student center.”  As we got closer, I took a closer look and saw a vast expanse of tables next to a few on-campus restaurants and ATM machines.

“I was just curious what this was,” I said.  “At Jeromeville, the building like this is called the Memorial Union.”

“Yeah.  I think every college has a building like this, but they’re all called something a little different.”

“Actually, UJ has two buildings like this, the Memorial Union and the Barn.”

“The Barn?”

“It used to be an actual barn, and there is a silo attached to it.  Because, you know, Jeromeville started out as a school of agriculture.”

“Yeah.  I’ve heard Jeromeville is pretty big.  That would make sense that there are two Student Centers.”

“It is.  The main part of campus is bigger than here, and there’s also a huge rural part of campus where they do actual agricultural research.”

“That’s interesting.  Like what kind of agricultural research?”

“I’m not sure exactly.”

Renee and I continued walking around campus.  She showed me the building where the department of psychology offices were located, since psych was her major.  She showed me the theater, the student recreation center, and the sports fields on the eastern edge of campus.  “We only have a few sports teams that compete against other schools,” she explained, “and we usually don’t get big-name athletes here.”

“So are you Division II?  Or Division III?  Something like that?” I asked.

“I’m not really sure.  I don’t really follow sports.  But I know they have student teams that play just for fun.”

“Intramurals?”

“Yeah.  Jenn does that for volleyball.”

“Do you and your roommates get along okay?” I asked.  “No conflict or anything?”

“We do.  It took a while to get used to each other, but everything is good now.”

“Did any of you guys know each other before this year?”

“No, we didn’t.  We were just picked randomly.  At first, we weren’t sure if we were going to get along, but it has worked out great.  Actually, didn’t you tell me you had some friends with a weird combination of religions in their apartment?”

I thought for a minute.  “Oh yeah,” I said.  “Danielle is very Catholic, Theresa is Methodist but not very active at church, and Bok and Skeeter are atheists.”

“That reminded me of our apartment.  Nicole went to Catholic school and goes to Mass every week.  Jenn is an atheist and will make a big deal of it if you try to push your beliefs on her, so we learned pretty fast not to talk about religion around her.  And Marisol and I each grew up going to church sometimes, but not every week.”

“It’s good that you found a way not to let that make conflict between you,” I said.

 

After heading back to the Student Center, where Renee and I had lunch at a sandwich shop, we went back to the apartment.  I did not have anything specific planned that I wanted to do.  Renee mentioned that she and Nicole and Jenn had been talking about going miniature golfing, and that there was a coffee shop they really liked, so that was our plan for the rest of the day.  VLSU was located right on the eastern edge of the suburban city of Valle Luna, with a rural area to the east and hills just a few miles beyond that.  We took Nicole’s car into town along a wide suburban boulevard and pulled into a shopping center.  I could see an overpass just beyond the shopping center, where this street intersected Highway 11.  This was the same Highway 11 that passed through my hometown of Plumdale, 150 miles to the south.

Hanging out at coffee shops was all the rage in 1995.  A year ago, a new television situation comedy called Friends had rapidly become popular.  The show featured six single adults living in New York City who often went to a coffee shop.  This quickly brought artsy hippie coffee shop culture into the mainstream.  As Renee, Nicole, Jenn, and I walked into the coffee shop, I looked around.  Some customers sat at tables, and some on couches and comfortable chairs.  Some were in couples and groups, talking, and some sat alone, reading.  Paintings covered the walls.  I wanted to be part of coffee shop culture like everyone else, but I could not for one important reason: I did not like coffee.  I could not stand the taste.

“You don’t like coffee?” Jenn repeated incredulously after I said this out loud.

“I want to like coffee.  I feel like not liking coffee stunts my social life,” I explained.  Jenn laughed.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Renee asked.  “We don’t have to hang out here.  I just suggested it because we go here a lot.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Renee asked.

“You could get a mocha,” Jenn suggested.  “Have you ever had a mocha?  It’s like coffee with chocolate in it, so it doesn’t really taste like coffee.”

“I think I’ll do that,” I replied.

After we ordered and got our drinks, we sat at a round table with four chairs.  I took a sip of the mocha.  “Ouch,” I said.  “That’s really hot.”

“You might want to let it cool,” Renee said quietly.

“So you went to high school with Renee?” Nicole asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“So then you also know Anthony?”

“Yes.”

“Anthony,” Jenn said, slightly shaking her head.  “Did Renee tell you about last weekend when she spent four hours on the phone with Anthony?  I was waiting for someone to call me!  We only have one phone!”

“It was not four hours!” Renee exclaimed, turning red.  “It was more like three.”

“Still!  Three hours!”

“How are things with Anthony?” I asked.  “How’s he doing?”

“He’s good,” Renee explained.  “We’ve been together long enough that we’ve found how to make long distance work for us.”

“Good.”

“He’s really busy with school right now, though.  He’s taking some really hard classes.”

“Well tell him I said hi.”

“I will!”

I took another sip of the mocha, now that it was not quite so hot, and swallowed it.  Even with the overtones of chocolate and an added sugar packet, I could still taste the coffee.  As the four of us talked about school and life in general, I drank about half of it just to be polite, but as I had suspected, I really did not like this drink because I could still taste the coffee.  Oh well.  Live and learn.

We spent about an hour at the coffee shop, then we got back in Nicole’s car and headed north on 11 to the miniature golf place, off the next exit.  “I feel kind of bad that Marisol had to miss miniature golf,” Jenn said as we pulled into our parking place.  “She loves coming here.”

“Did she say when she was getting back?” Renee asked.

“Not until tomorrow afternoon.”

“Where is Marisol today?” I asked.

“She went home for the weekend,” Renee explained.  “She has a boyfriend back home, in San Tomas.  She goes home a lot of weekends.”

After we got our putters and balls, Renee handed me the scorecard and pencil.  “Here, you do this,” she said.  “You’re good at math.”

“Sure,” I replied.  Being good at math is what I am known for, after all.

The first two holes were fairly straightforward, just a few obstacles to putt around, but I got stuck in a corner on the second hole. It took eight strokes for me to get the ball in the hole.

“Aren’t you supposed to just move on after six?” Nicole asked as she saw me write 8 on the score card.

“Oh,” I said, quickly looking over the instructions.  “But I want to finish the hole.  It’s just who I am.”

On the next hole, Jenn went first, then Nicole.  “What are you up to the rest of the weekend?” I asked Renee as we waited for our turn.

“I have a big midterm in my psych class on Monday.  I’ll just be studying for that, after you leave tonight and all day tomorrow.”

“Good luck,” I said.  “Same with me, just studying.  I don’t have anything too big coming up, though, so I can wait to get started until after church tomorrow.”

A while later, we arrived at the sixth hole, which featured a ramp leading up to a small building.  The building had a door that opened and closed on a timer.  Hitting the ball through the door would put the ball next to the hole on the green beyond, possibly even in the hole if everything was just right.  Hitting the ball wide of the door would put the ball farther away on the green.  Jenn made it through on the first try and got a hole-in-one.  Renee’s ball went wide of the door and landed in the position farther away but still with a straight shot to the hole.  I hit the ball perfectly straight, only to have the door slam on the ball, knocking it back to the start.  On my second attempt, the same thing happened.  On the third attempt, the ball went wide and bounced down to the worst possible position on the green.

“Gaaaahhh!” I screamed.

“Are you okay?” Renee asked.

“Yeah.  Just frustrated.  You know how competitive I can get.”

“Just have fun.  It’s like at the graduation all-nighter, when you were Rollerblading and getting frustrated.  Remember?  Melissa and I told you to just have fun with it.”

“You’re not trying to win any competitions,” Nicole added after overhearing our conversation.

“You’re right,” I replied.  “I know.  I’ll try to let go and have fun.”

And I did let go and have fun.  I did not have the best score after we finished our 18 holes, but I enjoyed trying to hit that ball around all the silly obstacles.  The four of us shared more stories about fun college adventures on the drive back to the apartment and for a while in the living room after we got back.  By now, it was late afternoon.  “It’s probably about time for me to head home,” I said after a while.  “I know you wanted to study tonight too.”

“Yeah, I should get started soon,” Renee replied.  “But thanks so much for coming.”

“Thanks again for inviting me here.  It was good seeing you.”

“You too,” Renee replied, standing to give me a hug.  The top of her head only came up to my chin.  “Drive safely.”

“Take care.  And say hi to Anthony for me.”

“I will.”

“And it was nice meeting you guys,” I added, gesturing to Jenn and Nicole.  “Maybe I’ll see you again someday.”

“Yeah,” Jenn replied.

“You too,” Nicole said.

I had a good day, and I felt content as I made the drive back home to Jeromeville, following the directions Renee sent me in reverse.  But I never did see Jenn and Nicole again.  Renee and I stayed in touch off and on for the rest of sophomore year, but by junior year we started growing apart.  We didn’t argue or fight, we never had a falling out of any kind, but growing apart is just a natural part of the cycle of friendships.  I went through many changes sophomore year, changes in living situation and lifestyle and friendships, and many of my friends did too.  Renee and I still emailed off and on for about another year after my trip to Valle Luna, but I did not see her in person again until 2014, at our 20-year high school reunion.  We have been Facebook friends since then, but she does not post often.

It makes me sad how many people I have grown apart from over the years, for no apparent reason, but I have come to accept it as part of life.  We were meant to grow and change over the years, not stay stuck in the same life forever.  Even though I grew apart from some people that year, I also made many new lifelong friends.

 

April 4-6, 1995. Two big steps.

I walked back from the dining commons after dinner.  The sun was low, about to set, placing most of the South Residential Area in shadow from the surrounding trees and the buildings themselves.  The sky was clear and dimly blue, and despite the shadows around me, the fact that the sun had not set yet at seven o’clock felt like a bit of hope after this wet and cloudy winter.  A few more rain storms would probably show up before the end of the school year, but summer would return eventually.

When I got back to my room, the telephone was ringing.  I answered it.

“What happened?” Mom asked.  “The phone was ringing for a long time.”

“I just got back from dinner and checking the mail.”

“Did you get any mail?”

“No.  But I did get a postcard from Jessica in Guatemala yesterday.”

“That’s exciting.  How’s she doing down there?”

“It’s a postcard; she couldn’t write a whole lot.  She said she’s been volunteering at an orphanage.”

“I wonder what made her decide to do that instead of going to college?  She got accepted to Santa Teresa and Valle Luna, didn’t she?”

“I don’t know.  It’s her life. She can volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala instead of going to college if she wants to.”

This postcard would actually be the last time I would hear from Jessica during my college days, although sometimes Mom and her gossipy friend Mary Bordeaux would have lunch, and Mom would tell me something Mary told her about Jessica.  I got back in touch with Jessica in 2000 after a chance encounter of sorts. Jessica and her husband and children live just outside of Gabilan now, not far from where we grew up, at least most of the time. Her adult life has been just as full of free-spirited adventures as her post-high school years were, though.  In 2006, they all returned to that same orphanage in Guatemala for several months and adopted a child from there to bring back to their home.

“I have some mail to send you,” Mom said.  “I’ll send that next week sometime. You got your sample ballot.”

“What sample ballot?”

“I don’t know,” Mom said, pausing, apparently to look at the sample ballot.  “It’s a primary election for county supervisors. And, um, Measure Q.”

“I have no idea about any of that.  I don’t feel comfortable voting.”

“You don’t have to vote.  It’s okay.”

“Yeah, but I hate the idea of not voting.  Maybe it’s time to change my voter registration from Santa Lucia County to Arroyo Verde County.  I know more about what’s going on up here. And I don’t like the Congressman from here. Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, he used to talk about him, so if I register to vote here, I can vote against that guy.”

“Where do you go to do that?  The post office, I think?”

“I don’t know either, but that sounds right.  I think I’ve seen voter registration forms at the post office.”

“Have you had a chance to look at any of those apartments yet?”

“I’m going to do that tomorrow.  I’m going to start with Las Casas and Pine Grove Apartments.  Those are the two top choices. I have a few other maybes in case they don’t have any left.”

“Sounds like a plan.  See, it’ll work out.”

“I don’t know yet, though.  I called both of them yesterday, and they had vacancies, but maybe they were all taken today.”

“Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.”

“I’m trying.”

Mom continued talking for another several minutes, telling me about Mark’s baseball practice and someone at her work whom I didn’t know.  I was only half paying attention, with the rest of my mind on my upcoming apartment search. I was afraid of the unknown, that’s what it really came down to.  I had never experienced looking for an apartment before, and I didn’t want to go through an endless parade of setbacks.

My last class on Wednesday was Psychology and the Law, the class I was taking for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program this quarter.  As soon as class was over, I dropped off my backpack in my room and went to my car. I had some adult responsibilities to take care of.

I drove past Thong Bikini Hill, still closed for the season, and left campus heading north on Andrews Road.  I turned left on West Fifth and right on Maple Drive. This neighborhood north of the campus proper between Maple Drive and Highway 117 contained mostly apartment complexes built in the 1960s.  Some of them were privately owned, and some of them had been taken over by the university and operated as suite-style dorms. Two university dining commons were also in this quasi-off-campus housing area.

I parked on the street next to the Pine Grove Apartments, the largest of the privately owned apartment complexes in this neighborhood.  I followed a sign to the leasing office and walked in. A dark-haired woman of about thirty years old, wearing a name tag that said “Linda,” sat at a desk going through papers in a file.  Behind her, on a white wall, were framed photographs of the grounds of the apartment complex.

“May I help you?” Linda asked.

“I called yesterday asking about a one-bedroom apartment for the next school year.  Is it still available?”

“Yes, it is.  We have two left.  Would you like to look at one?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“The unit I’m going to show you isn’t the actual apartment; neither of the available units is vacant right now.  I have permission from the resident to show the apartment, and both of the available units have the same floor plan.  I’ll show you the location of the two available units after I show you the inside.”

“Okay.”

I followed Linda to a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor near the rental office.  The front door opened into the small but adequate living room, with a kitchen to the left.  A short hallway led behind the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom was about the size of my bedroom back home in Plumdale, a bit bigger than my dorm room.  Nothing really stood out; this is what I imagined apartment hunting to be like, so far. The apartment appeared to be inhabited by one resident who was much neater than I would have expected a college student to be.  This made sense, though, because the leasing office probably would not want to show prospective new residents an apartment full of party animals littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.

“Now, as I said, this is not the unit currently available,” Linda explained after she had shown me the inside of the apartment.  “Are you okay with living on the second floor and climbing stairs? Both available units are on the second floor.”

“Sure,” I said.

Linda and I walked out of the apartment and past the pool.  “You’re a student at UJ?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’ll be living by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“I think you’ll like it here.  We’re close to campus. And many of our tenants stay here at Pine Grove until they graduate.  That’s one of the units available, number 217.” By now we had passed the pool and continued to the back side of a poolside building.  Linda pointed at apartment 217. Then she pointed to the next building past this one and said, “The other available unit is in that building.  Number 228.” We walked back toward the leasing office; Linda made note of the laundry room on the way. “The available units aren’t as close to the laundry room as the one I showed you, but no unit in Pine Grove is really far from the laundry room.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We walked back into the leasing office.  “So what do you think? Are you ready to sign the papers?”

I wasn’t.  I don’t like to make major decisions in a hurry.  I always second-guess myself. Even after committing to something, I often wonder if I made the wrong decision.  “I have one other place I’m looking at later. Can I let you know by tomorrow?”

“Sure, but we can’t hold the apartment for you.”

“I understand.”

“Just remember that we are the closest complex of this size to campus.  You won’t find all of these amenities anywhere closer.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Take this with you,” Linda said, pushing a brochure toward me with floor plans, a list of the amenities offered, and everything else I ever needed to know about Pine Grove Apartments.

“Thanks,” I said, looking through the brochure.

“Thank you for your interest in Pine Grove.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“I’ll let you know.”

I left Pine Grove Apartments feeling pretty good.  This was definitely doable. And I didn’t necessarily even need to wait until tomorrow; if I went to see Las Casas and hated it, I could always call Pine Grove back later this afternoon.  I hated making these decisions, though. Linda’s job was to sell the community to prospective tenants, and people working in sales always make things look better than they really are. Maybe everyone in Jeromeville knows that Pine Grove is the worst place in town to live, and I don’t know it because I never hear these things.  Or maybe they all say that about Las Casas. I don’t know.

I drove north on Maple Drive for about a mile.  Maple Drive was a much quieter street than Andrews Road. Both were residential streets running roughly parallel to each other, but Andrews Road was more heavily traveled.  As I approached the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard, I noticed the name of the street just before Coventry: Acacia Drive. Pete and Taylor and Charlie had signed a lease to live in an apartment on Acacia Drive, and I thought Danielle said she and one of her roommates from the four-person suite in Building C would be living in that same apartment complex on Acacia Drive as well.

On the other side of Coventry Boulevard, Maple Drive passed through a relatively new neighborhood with multiple large apartment complexes built in the 1980s.  A shopping center with a Safeway grocery store was on the left. I turned right on Alvarez Avenue almost as far as Andrews Road. The Las Casas Apartments were now on my left; I parked on the street and walked to the Las Casas leasing office.

I crossed a small parking lot and climbed three steps to a wood patio.  The patio extended all the way to the pool ahead of me, with the leasing office on the left.  I walked inside. On my right was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the pool area, and I could see a gym behind the office.  An older woman with short hair sat behind the desk.

“Hi.  May I help you?”

“I called yesterday asking about a studio apartment for next school year.  Is that still available?”

“Just a regular studio, or the studio with the loft?”

I hadn’t thought about this.  The studio with the loft sounded more expensive.  “Just the regular one,” I said.

“We have one regular studio and two loft studios left for next year.  We have a loft studio available right now that I can show you, so you can see what it looks like.  The regular studio looks the same, except without the loft.”

“That sounds good.”

“I’m Ann, by the way.  What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ann said, shaking my hand.  I shook back. She gave me the brochure for the apartment complex and told me to look at it, which I did.

When I was done looking at the brochure, Ann asked if I was ready to see the apartment.  She led me around the pool to the left, and past the laundry room and mailboxes, which she pointed out.  We walked to the back of the complex, where a long straight building faced a parking lot. We climbed upstairs to apartment number 220.  Ann unlocked the door and let me in.

“So here we have the living area,” she said.  “It’s a studio apartment, so there isn’t a separate bedroom.”

“I know,” I replied.

“The bathroom is back there on the right, and the kitchen is back there on the left.”

The room was about the size of a large living room; it was plenty of room for me to fit a bed, a desk, a TV, a bookshelf, and a chair or two.  That was really all I needed living by myself. I walked back to the kitchen, which was small but big enough for me, and to the bathroom, which had a good size linen closet inside.  Next to the bathroom, against the wall to the right, a narrow set of stairs led upward, with a closet underneath the stairs.

“That’s the loft up there?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ann replied.  “Go on up.”

The apartment had a high vaulted ceiling sloping upward to the back of the apartment, which joined the back of another apartment on the other side of the building.  The only window was next to the front door, because that was the only wall facing outside. The ceiling was high enough that the loft felt like another small room on top of the kitchen and bathroom, and the loft had another small closet attached.  “Most of our tenants put their beds up here,” Ann explained.

“And the studio without the loft looks just like the downstairs part, without the loft?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And how much is rent?”  I knew the rent on the regular studio was $475, but I wasn’t sure what the rent with the loft would be.

“The rent for this unit is $625,” Ann said.  “And the one without the loft, $475.”

There goes that idea, I thought.  I couldn’t afford a loft. I felt guilty enough about having my parents spend $475 on my rent every month.  The one-bedroom apartment at Pine Grove was $500 per month, which was my upper limit. It was bigger and much closer to campus, however, which made it reasonable that it would be more expensive.  But Pine Grove was also older, and I didn’t know anyone who would be living anywhere near Pine Grove.

Ann made small talk as we walked back to the leasing office, past a variety of trees and grassy areas between the buildings in the complex.  I had been planning on taking a night to sleep on the decision, but with only one $475 unit remaining, I might need to make a decision more quickly.

“Where is the available studio without the loft?” I asked as we walked back into the office.  “Which part of the complex?”

“I think it’s number 124.  Let me check.” Ann pulled a file out of a file cabinet and read through it.  “Yes, number 124. It’s downstairs and just a few apartments over from 220, where we just were.  Facing the back parking lot, just like the one we saw.”

I still felt bad about making my parents spend so much money on me just because I was late in finding a roommate and making plans for next year.  Las Casas, however, was less expensive than Pine Grove. It was farther from campus, but both neighborhoods were as was the case there were many student-oriented apartments in the neighborhood.  Las Casas was close to The Acacia Apartments, where Pete, Taylor, Charlie, and Danielle would be living, and also close to Hampton Place, where Liz, Caroline, Ramon, and Jason would be living. I wouldn’t have a hallway to walk up and down to see who was home, but I could walk over to those friends’ apartments instead.  Even though I didn’t like rushing into a major decision, I knew that my mind really was made up by now, so I took a deep breath and spoke before I had a chance to second-guess myself.

“I’ll take it,” I said.  “The one without the loft.  Apartment 124.”

“Great!”  Ann replied.  “Welcome to Las Casas!  Let me get you our New Resident Packet.”

I spent some time after that reading and signing papers.  I would have to write her a check for a deposit, although that was not a major concern because Mom had made sure I had enough money to cover the deposit when I was ready to sign a lease somewhere.  I would also have more papers to sign next week after Las Casas did all the paperwork on their end.

By the time I finished, it was past five o’clock, and I felt a great weight had been lifted now that I had a plan for next year.  I even had an address for next year. 701 Alvarez Avenue #124. I liked the sound of that. I had meant to do something else this afternoon as I was about town taking care of my adult business, but I thought it was probably too late in the day.  It could wait until tomorrow.

After I was done with classes the following day, Thursday afternoon, I ventured off campus again, but this time I went the other way on Fifth Street, toward downtown.  I drove east for about two miles, past the football stadium, past downtown, and eventually to a traffic light at a street called Power Line Road. Just past this, I turned into the parking lot for the Post Office.

I located the voter registration forms and began filling one out.  I used 221 C-Thomas Hall as my address, even though I would only be in that dorm room for another two months.  I couldn’t register to vote at my new address until I moved in on September 1. When I got to the part of the form listing political parties, I looked around to make sure no one could see me, then I covered the form with my left hand as I checked Republican with my right.  I learned pretty quickly during my first month at UJ that many people around here have a very negative view of Republicans. During the end of high school, I had gone through a phase where I was a big fan of the conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. He was at the height of his popularity at the time.  I decided when I came to UJ that I wouldn’t get involved in any political groups, and I also stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, because I didn’t want someone else doing my political decision making for me. However, had I done more research on the political climate in Jeromeville, I probably would not have decided to come here.  I wasn’t exactly surprised, though, that a college town like Jeromeville would have a pronounced liberal slant. And, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let the political climate in Jeromeville keep me from attending school here, because Jeromeville definitely grew on me over the years.

I dropped the form in the mailbox and headed back home.  Instead of going straight down Fifth Street, I turned left on F Street, right on First Street, and left on Old Jeromeville Road, reentering campus from the other direction instead.  No reason, I just felt like it.

When I entered Building C, I noticed Taylor and Pete in the common room, sitting on a couch talking.  They had textbooks and notebooks with them, but they did not appear to be doing any studying. “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked past.

“Hi, guys,” I said, walking toward them.

“How’s your week going?  I feel like I’ve hardly seen you the last few days.”

“I’ve been writing,” I said.  This was during the time I was writing the first draft of The Commencement, and I had spent most of my free time this week in my room writing.  I was really absorbed in this project. “I’ve also been busy with other stuff.  I signed a lease yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah?  For an apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?” Pete asked.

“Las Casas.  Corner of Andrews and Alvarez.”

“That’s near us,” Taylor said.

“You’re at The Acacia, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.  And Danielle and Theresa are at The Acacia too.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Did you find a roommate, or are you living by yourself?” Pete asked.

“By myself.  In a studio apartment.  It’s plenty of room for just me.”

“That’s cool,” Taylor said.  “You’ll have to come see our place after we move in.”

“Definitely.”

“You done with class for the day?”

“Yeah.”

“Us too.”

“I really need to go upstairs and use the bathroom,” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable at my full bladder.  “But I’ll see you guys at dinner, maybe?”

“Yeah.  And enjoy writing.”

I went upstairs, and after using the bathroom, I turned on the radio and the computer.  The radio was set to the classic rock station. On the computer, I checked my email; I had a message from Kim, one of my Internet friends.  She was a freshman at Florida State University. I opened it and began reading.


Hi Greg!  How are you?  Thanks for explaining how your schedule works.  I wasn’t sure why you had new classes in April. I don’t know any schools around here that do that.

Last night was so much fun!  My roommate and I went to this party.  I thought it was going to be a little too wild for me, but everyone there was so nice, and we danced with these guys a lot… they were so funny!

Did you ever find a place to live for next year?  I hope you find a roommate! One of my older friends here was telling me that he needed a place to live, so he and his friend got this really nice looking apartment, but after they moved in they discovered that everything was falling apart and needed to be fixed.  Also, their neighbors played really loud music and smoked pot all the time… I hope you don’t end up somewhere like that!

I need to get to class… have a great day!

~~ Kim


I clicked Reply and began typing.


Sounds like you had a fun night with your friends last night.  I don’t really go to wild parties like that. I think I told you my dorm is an honors program, so most of us aren’t really partiers.

I found a place to live.  Yesterday I signed a lease on an apartment.  I didn’t find a roommate, and I didn’t want to live with a stranger, so I’ll be living by myself in a small studio apartment; it’s a little pricey, but my parents said it would be ok.  It’s about a mile north of campus, in a neighborhood with a lot of fairly nice student type apartments. It’s right on a bus line that runs to campus every half hour. Also, some of my friends from the dorm will be living fairly close.

How were your classes?

-gjd


In 1995, I was using email client software called Eudora.  Eudora worked by dialing the campus Internet access phone number using a 14.4-kilobaud modem connected to my telephone line.  Eudora would stay connected just long enough to send emails I had typed, and to download anything new in my inbox. These new emails would be saved on my computer’s hard drive, so that after the messages had been received, Eudora could disconnect from the computer, and my telephone line would be free again.  I clicked Send/Receive, and as I listened to the whistles and buzzes of the modem sending my message across the continent from Jeromeville to Tallahassee, my mind began to wander. What if my experience at Las Casas was like that of Kim’s friend at his apartment? What if the neighbor upstairs in Apartment 224 was loud or smelly?  What if I had made a big mistake?

No, I told myself.  I can’t keep thinking like this, wondering if everything I did was a big mistake.  I had an apartment. I would be living by myself again, so I wouldn’t have the stress of learning to live with roommates.  And I would have friends living nearby, just as I did this year. They would be a little farther away, about a 5 to 10 minute walk instead of just down the hall, but they were still pretty close.  It was a great situation, and it was going to be a great year. Worst case scenario, if I ended up hating Las Casas, I would only have to endure it for a year, and then I could live somewhere else junior year.  There was nothing to gain by worrying and second guessing myself at this point.

The band Boston was playing on the radio.  Boston, a rock band originating in the city of the same name, had a string of hits in the late 1970s.  They were played often on classic rock radio stations of the 1990s, and they still are today. When I first discovered classic rock in high school, I always thought Boston was kind of catchy.  And I discovered, on a family road trip when Mom told me to find something on the radio, that Dad hates Boston. (To this day, I have never told my dad that I always kind of liked Boston, or that after many trips browsing used music stores in the 2000s and 2010s, I now have all three of the albums that their major hits came from).

I was 18 years old.  It was okay for me to like different things than my parents, because I was an adult.  I was growing up. I was developing a unique taste in music, and I was obtaining an education, preparing myself for some yet undetermined future career.  And now, in addition to that, I had taken another two big steps toward adulthood this week. I had signed a lease on an apartment all on my own, and I had registered to vote at my new home, in a different county than the one where my parents lived.  I still had a lot of growing to do. I would do a lot more growing in my remaining years in Jeromeville, and I am still growing today. But the events of today felt like a major step in the right direction.

apartment 124

January 8, 1995. Let her be.

Today was one of those days where I had to turn the windshield wipers on and off multiple times.  I wish the weather would just make up its mind sometimes. It rained hard enough for a few minutes that I needed to have the wipers on all the way, then the rain tapered off into showers requiring only intermittent wipers.  Then it was dry for a few minutes, and when the wipers started making an irritating squeaky noise, I remembered to turn them off. Then, a few minutes later, it would start raining again, and I would start the whole cycle again.  Of course, the trip from Plumdale to Jeromeville involved driving over hills and across valleys, which also accounts for part of the reason the weather changed so much.

This was now my fifth time making this trip since beginning classes at UJ.  I was learning these roads enough to know where I was and what was coming next.  Highway 11 north from Plumdale north to San Tomas. That usually took about 45 minutes.  Then north on Highway 6, through East San Tomas and Irving, and over a big hill. The highway winds east through the hills, and then north through the outer suburbs of San Tomas and Bay City.  After a city called Marquez, Highway 6 passes through an industrial area on the shore of the Capital River. The river at this point is over a mile wide, and the bridge is very high, because of bluffs on either side of the river and ships passing underneath.  The bridge is narrow, just barely wide enough for three lanes in each direction, with no shoulder and a narrow concrete barrier in the middle. It was built in 1962 when traffic was much lighter.

Across the bridge is an industrial area on the outskirts of the town of North Marquez.  The highway continues north for another ten miles, with hills on the left and a marshy grassland on the right, before merging with eastbound Highway 100.  Somewhere around there, I heard a song on the radio that I had never heard before. At first I thought it sounded like Pearl Jam, but I quickly realized that the singer, although having some similar vocal mannerisms to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, clearly was not him.  This guy had more of a soulful bluesy sound, and the melody wasn’t dark and angsty like a Pearl Jam song. It was more like folksy pop-rock, but with still a little bit of an Eddie Vedder sound to the vocals. Kind of like a Pearl Jam of the South, if such a thing could exist.  “And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be,” the singer who was not Eddie Vedder sang. That line stuck out in my mind all day. I would have to find out what this Pearl Jam of the South was called.

I drove northeast through Fairview and Nueces, but took a little side trip instead of continuing straight to Jeromeville.  A sign on the east side of Nueces says “TRAFFIC ALERT AM 1610,” with flashing yellow lights on top, and for the first time I saw the flashing lights on.  I tried turning my radio to AM 1610 to hear the TRAFFIC ALERT, but there were power lines nearby, and the radio was mostly picking up static. I panicked, wanting to avoid this TRAFFIC ALERT at all costs, so I could hurry up and get back to Building C and, more importantly, pee.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t hold it much longer, and I didn’t want to stay stuck in traffic.

Because I liked to read maps, I was pretty sure I could get back to UJ on back roads from here.  So I turned onto Pittman Road and then east on Grant Road, through nut tree orchards and cow pastures and tomato fields.  Grant Road eventually became West Fifth Street on the outskirts of Jeromeville, and I headed back to Building C the usual way from there.

What I did not realize at the time is that those TRAFFIC ALERT signs are not alerting me to any traffic in or near Jeromeville.  About 40 miles east of Jeromeville, Highway 100 begins climbing into some very high mountains, and this time of year, snow often affects driving conditions.  Each of these TRAFFIC ALERT signs is attached to a low-power radio station, the one I tried to turn on but couldn’t get clearly, and the radio stations play a recorded message about winter driving conditions in the mountains.  Carry chains in case of changing weather conditions. Chains required from such-and-such point to such-and-such point. Highway closed. Stuff like that. In the 21st century, there are electronic message boards that serve this purpose, but this technology had not yet implemented by the state Department of Transportation in 1995.  It doesn’t snow anywhere near Plumdale, and I didn’t grow up taking trips to the snow, so I had no concept that the TRAFFIC ALERT was about this and not a giant traffic jam approaching Jeromeville. I figured I would rather take about 10 minutes longer to get home than risk getting stuck in traffic.

I called Mom as soon as I got home.  “Hi, it’s me,” I said. “I’m home. It took a little longer because I took a side trip to avoid traffic–”

“You’re home?” Mom said, interrupting me.

“Yes–”

“And you’re safe?”  Mom sounded like she had been crying.

“Yes… what’s going on?”

“You weren’t in an accident on the bridge?”

“What?  Bridge? What are you talking about?”

“I was listening to the traffic report on the Bay City news station, to see if you were going to hit any traffic on your trip home, and I heard there was a really bad accident on the Marquez Bridge–”

“Really, Mom?  You hear there’s an accident, and you just assume it’s me?”

“I just knew it was you,” Mom replied, clearly in tears.  “I’ve been terrified this whole time. They said a car almost went over the bridge.  It ran into a truck. And there was a big pile-up behind it. You didn’t see or hear about any of this?”

“It must have been right behind me.  I didn’t have any traffic at all crossing the bridge.”

“I’m so glad you’re safe.  I need to call Grandma and tell her you’re ok.”

“Seriously, though.  Thousands of people cross that bridge every day.  You hear about one accident, and you just know it was me?  You don’t have a lot of faith in my driving skills.”

“I worry about you.  You know that.”

“I do.  But I also wish you would treat me as an adult.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom said.  “It’s just what I do.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your first class?  You start tomorrow, right?”

“Math, at 8 in the morning.  Again.”

“Do you know anyone who is in your class?”

“I haven’t asked.”

“Well, I’m glad you got home safely.  Enjoy your first day of classes tomorrow.  Just think; you’ve been through one quarter of college classes already, so you know what to expect.”

“True.”

“I’ll talk to you later.  Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and went to get lunch… or, more accurately, Sunday brunch.  On Saturdays and Sundays, the dining commons was not open for breakfast, and during lunch time, they served “brunch” instead.  Students often stayed up late on Friday and Saturday nights and did not eat breakfast the following mornings; at least that was my guess as to why the schedule was different on weekends.  I didn’t see many familiar faces at brunch. For that matter, I didn’t see many faces at all. The dining commons was mostly empty. Most students were probably waiting until the last minute to return to the dorms.

I spent my afternoon being lazy.  I wrote some emails to a few girls I had been talking to online.  I read some Usenet newsgroups and got on an IRC chat for a while. I took a nap.  I played Tetris and Sim City, during which I heard footsteps and voices outside. More people were returning from the holidays.

The dining commons was open normally for dinner on Sundays, and it was much more full than it had been at brunch earlier in the day.  I chose a chicken patty sandwich and got French fries to go with it. I looked around and saw Taylor, Pete, Sarah, and Liz at a table with a few empty seats, so I sat with them.

“Hey, Greg,” Sarah said.

“How was your break?” Taylor asked.  “Did you do anything special?”

“The usual, pretty much,” I replied.  “I was with my family for Christmas. My aunt and her family were visiting.  I spent New Year’s with some friends from high school. It was good to see them.”

“I bet it was,” Liz said.

“What did you guys do?” I asked.

“I went to see my grandparents in Washington,” Pete said.  “That was a lot of time in the car, but it was fun.”

“I was back home in Ralstonville,” Sarah said.  “And my boyfriend and I broke up.”

“Aww.”  Liz looked at Sarah, her face conveying serious concern.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  It was hard, but it needed to happen.  It’s the best for both of us. He was definitely getting in the way of my relationship with God.”

I had never heard anyone give that reason for breaking up.  What exactly did that mean? Maybe it has something to do with that Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that everyone else at this table was part of.  If Sarah said that her boyfriend was getting in the way of her relationship with God, that sounded to me like she was saying he was a bad influence on her in some way.  If that was the case, then this breakup was probably a good thing in the long run, even if it was difficult now. I did not say any of these thoughts out loud, though, because relationships and breakups weren’t anything I had ever experienced personally, so I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“So apparently there was an accident on the Marquez Bridge this morning,” I said.

“I heard about that!” Liz said.  “It was on the news. A car hit a truck and almost fell off the bridge!  Did you see it happen?”

“No.  It happened right after I drove across, apparently.  I didn’t see anything unusual on the bridge But when I got back to the dorm, I called my mom, and apparently she had heard about the accident and just assumed it was me.  It’s like she has no faith in my driving abilities; she hears of an accident in the vague area where I am, and she just knows I was in it.”

“That’s kind of sweet of her to care like that, though,” Sarah reminded me.

“But she doesn’t respect me as an adult.  She worries about me too much.”

“Yeah.  But that’s what moms do.  You shouldn’t get mad at her.  Just let her be.”

“I guess.”

Just let her be, I thought.  Like it says in that song by Pearl Jam of the South.  Yes, it was true that Mom could be a little annoying in the way that she worries about me and doesn’t let me be independent.  That was the reason I never considered applying to Mom’s alma mater, San Tomas State. I was worried that, with Mom less than an hour away, she wouldn’t give me a chance to grow up on my own.  But, as Sarah said, this was all perfectly normal behavior for a mother. Mothers, at least the good ones, worry about their children because they love their children and want them to be safe. And I knew that I should be thankful to have parents who cared enough about me to send me to the University of Jeromeville, and to help pay for what my academic scholarship didn’t cover.  Not everyone gets opportunities like that.

After a few more hours of playing around on the computer, I went to sleep, thinking about how fortunate I was to be in this position, and hoping to find a balance between getting to be independent but still having a healthy relationship with my parents.  And that song by Pearl Jam of the South was stuck in my head, with that one line repeating over and over again since I didn’t know the rest of the song very well. And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be.