February 14-18, 1997.  Taking my first step into a larger world. (#120)

I was nine months old when the world first experienced the Star Wars phenomenon in 1977.  As such, I was too young to have seen the movie, or its first sequel The Empire Strikes Back, on the big screen in its original run.  I remember the hype surrounding the next movie in the series, Return of the Jedi, which was released when I was six.  I did not see Return of the Jedi, but I saw the other two movies a couple times over the years during my childhood.  Star Wars creator George Lucas had repeatedly said that he planned to make more movies past Return of the Jedi, as well as three other movies telling the backstory of how the primary villain Darth Vader turned to evil.  In the fourteen years between Return of the Jedi and my junior year at the University of Jeromeville, no more Star Wars movies had been made.

I recognized most of the major characters from Star Wars, but by age twenty, I did not have a detailed recollection of the specific storylines of the movies.  Star Wars just was not a huge part of my childhood.  Therefore, when George Lucas’ company announced that the original three movies would be rereleased in theaters in early 1997, with new scenes to match his original vision, I at first considered this a minor curiosity, something that might be fun to go see, but not something around which to revolve my life.

For my roommate Brian Burr, seeing Star Wars on the big screen again, in this new Special Edition, was a huge deal.  Brian was older than me; he would have been three and a half when Star Wars was first released, so he grew up with Star Wars more than I did.  He announced a while back that he was going to see each movie on the big screen three times.  The movies were being released on Fridays, and Star Wars was not worth missing class over, but I told Brian to keep me posted about the second or third times he saw the movies, so I could go too.

The Special Edition of Star Wars was now entering its third week in theaters, but so far Brian had not said anything to me about seeing the movie.  I was starting to feel left out, like I had from so many cliques already over the last few months.  Furthermore, today was Valentine’s Day, and even though I had gotten brave and talked to the cute girl on the bus this morning, my general failures at love still made me feel discouraged.

After my two math classes, I had New Testament Writings of John with Dr. Hurt.  Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes were very popular with Christian students at UJ.  I was part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship; I had recently started attending Jeromeville Covenant Church and their college group, 20/20; and I had friends who were part of University Life, the college group from the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville.  The Writings of John class had around 150 students; I knew and was friends with many of them.

I had taken Introduction to New Testament with Dr. Hurt last quarter to satisfy a general education requirement, and I was taking this class just because I was interested in the topic.  I was learning a lot about the Bible and life as a Christian from JCF and church, but Dr. Hurt’s classes taught me to look at the Bible from a scholarly perspective, which I had never done before.  Earlier in the quarter, we spent two whole days studying one word in the first verse of the Gospel of John, for example.  In English, the verse was usually translated as “In the beginning was the Word,” but “Word,” Logos in Greek, could mean word, study, reason, discourse, or a number of other concepts that were difficult to translate.  God’s Word in this sense was more than just words, it was what God used to speak the universe into being, and Jesus was this Word in human form, in a way that twentieth century English could not explain well.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Taylor Santiago said as we walked out of Dr. Hurt’s class.  Brent Wang, Noah Snyder, and Mike Knepper had all been sitting near us, and we all walked outside together.  “I see you’re wearing black today.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled.  Bah, humbug to Valentine’s Day, I thought.

“Was the black shirt on purpose?”

“Kinda,” I said.  “Did you guys see Eddie today?

“No,” Brent replied.

“He was wearing a shirt that said, ‘I’m available.’”

“No way!” Taylor exclaimed, laughing.

“But then on the back,” I continued, “it said, ‘Send me.  Isaiah 6:8.’”

“That’s awesome,” Brent said.  Pete and Mike laughed.

“Hey, guys, what’s so funny?” Barefoot James said, walking up to us.  James was a sophomore, a year younger than us.  Two weeks ago, I had started volunteering with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at J-Cov; James was also a volunteer with that group, as were Taylor and Noah.  I told James about Eddie’s shirt, and he replied, “Oh yeah!  I saw that!  That was great.”

“So do any of you have plans for Valentine’s Day?” Brent asked.

“Nope!” Taylor replied.  The others all replied in the negative as well.

“Things didn’t work out for you guys, Mike?” Noah asked.

“I told you,” Mike replied, “Courtney just wants to be friends.”

“Aww,” Taylor said.  “What about you, Greg?  Any ladies we should know about?”

“No,” I said.  I did not know how, or when, to take the next step with the cute girl on the bus.  It happened all too often that I would meet a cute girl and never see her again, or I would take my time getting to know a cute girl while some other guy was busy asking her out.

The others here did not understand; they, or at least some of them, had had girlfriends before.  Taylor and Pete had both been romantically linked to a girl in our freshman dorm, Danielle; she was not together with either of them anymore.  And a few months ago, I thought for sure something was going on between Mike Knepper and Courtney; if I could see it, it must have been really obvious.  Mike had even told me once that he liked Courtney.  But apparently she had just wanted to be friends.

Courtney was a total babe, a freshman, friendly and flirty, with long blonde hair.  I had been seeing more of her the last couple weeks, since she was also a leader at The Edge.  She seemed to spend a lot of time around another of the leaders, Brody Parker, and I was starting to wonder if there was something going on between them. That would explain why she was no longer interested in Mike Knepper.  Although Courtney was very attractive on so many levels, I never considered myself to be interested in her as more than a friend, with all of that competition from other guys like Mike and Brody.

I was ready to talk about something other than Valentine’s Day, so I mentioned the other thing I had been brooding about inside.  “I also still haven’t seen the Star Wars Special Edition,” I said.  “I wanted to go, because I barely remember the original movies.”

“I haven’t seen it yet either,” Barefoot James replied.

Without thinking, I blurted out, “You wanna go see it?”  I had been waiting for two weeks for an opportunity to see Star Wars, and when my mind processed that a chance had fallen into my proverbial lap, I took it.

“Sure,” James replied.

“When?  What works for you?”

James thought for a minute, then said, “Tuesday night?  I don’t have anything going on then.”

“Sure,” I said.  “I’ll look up the times it’s playing.  Will you be at church on Sunday?  We can figure it out then.

“Yeah,” James said.  “Sounds good.”  Of course, Barefoot James on Tuesday night was not exactly a Valentine’s Day date, but at this point what mattered was that I really wanted to see Star Wars.  I made plans with someone, and this was progress.


It turned out that the only show that worked on Tuesday night for Barefoot James was at 10:20, later than I would have liked to start a movie on a school night.  But I really wanted to see this movie, and I had already made a commitment to James.  I could survive on one day of getting less sleep.

I drove downtown and arrived at the theater a few minutes after ten o’clock.  I did not see James outside, nor could I see him inside in the lobby.  I was usually early showing up to things like this, so I stood outside the entrance, waiting for James to arrive.

As my watch ticked past 10:10, 10:15, 10:20, I continued looking across the nearly deserted G Street, wondering where James was.  Had he stood me up?  Had he forgotten?  Had something happened to him?  I wondered what the protocol was for this kind of situation.  How long should I wait before assuming that James would not come?  And in that situation, should I buy a ticket and watch the movie by myself, or should I just go home?  If I did give up on James and watch the movie by myself, how would James know that I was inside the theater?

I got excited when I saw a guy with light brown hair and stubble approach from my left, but as I started taking a step toward him, I noticed that this was clearly not Barefoot James.  As this guy’s facial features came into view, he began to look less like James, and I also noticed at that moment that he was wearing shoes.  It was now 10:26, and my mind was still racing, confused about how to handle this.  Maybe I should just go inside and watch the movie before I missed too much of it.  But if I told the person at the ticket booth to watch for someone fitting James’ description, to pass on the message that I was inside, would she do that?  Would the girl at the ticket window pack up soon if there were no other shows starting that night?  Had the movie even started yet?  How much did I miss?  How much time did I have?  Or should I just go home?  I would give it five more minutes before I decided.

Fortunately, I did not need to make this decision, because James approached from my right on the opposite side of the street at 10:29, waving when he saw me.  He was wearing sandals; I had known James for over a year now, and this was the first time I had ever seen him not barefoot.  “Sorry I’m late,” James said.  “Let’s go.”  As we bought and paid for our tickets, James explained, “I would have been on time, except I got halfway here and remembered that I wasn’t wearing shoes, so I had to go back.  This movie theater is one of the only places I’ve never been able to get into without shoes.”

“I see,” I said.  As we walked toward our theater, I asked, “Why don’t you wear shoes anyway?  I’ve never known.”

“I’ve just never liked shoes,” James explained.  “I think they’re uncomfortable.”

“I see,” I replied.  It was true that shoes were often uncomfortable, but personally, my feet would get too cold if I always went barefoot.  I did not like going barefoot.

The movie theater in Jeromeville had six screens; Star Wars was in theater 3.  We walked in while a preview for an upcoming movie played.  “Oh, good,” I said.  “We didn’t miss anything.”

The theater was about half full; we sat toward the back near the center.  The preview that played as we sat down was the last one, and the movie began after that.  I felt anticipation building as the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, the Lucasfilm logo, and the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on the screen.  A few people cheered as the music started and the backstory text scrolled up the screen; I clapped with them a few times.

I had only seen Star Wars a couple times in childhood, and it had been several years, but I remembered bits and pieces of the plot.  Although the characters were familiar, most of the movie felt like a new experience to me.  I watched intently as Princess Leia hid a top secret message inside the memory of the droid R2-D2 and launched him and his companion C-3PO in an escape pod to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. The droids were found by scavengers and sold to a farm boy named Luke Skywalker.  Luke helped the droids find Obi-Wan, who then explained to Luke about the Force.  Obi-Wan said that the Force was an energy field that holds the galaxy together.

“Sounds kind of like the Logos,” I whispered to James.  “In the beginning was the Force.”

“Whoa,” James replied.  “That’s probably some kind of blasphemy or something.”

A few minutes later, in the movie, Luke and Obi-Wan met the pilot Han Solo in a seedy bar. They paid him to take them and the droids to Leia.  As they left the bar, a green-skinned gangster stopped Han and asked him about a shipment that Han had previously lost.  The gangster shot his blaster, missing Han to the side; the special effects for that part looked uncharacteristically awkward, not the smooth, realistic effects that Star Wars was known for.  Han then shot back, killing the gangster.

“Han shot first,” James whispered.

“Huh?” I replied.

“Han shot first.  You know about that, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I read about that,” I said as the significance of that scene dawned on me.  The most controversial change made for the Special Edition of Star Wars involved Han Solo’s gun battle with someone named Greedo.  In the original movie, Han shot Greedo unprovoked, but in the Special Edition, the scene was altered to make it look like Han shot in self-defense, so as not to portray Han as a cold-blooded murderer.  Many fans believed that the original scene was more in line with Han’s smuggler and mercenary background.  I did not realize at first that this dead green gangster was Greedo.

I continued to watch the movie.  Obi-Wan began to teach Luke about the ways of the Force.  Darth Vader found Luke, Obi-Wan, Han, and the others, and battled Obi-Wan to settle some unfinished business from their past.  Luke escaped that battle and found the Rebels, who then began making plans to go on the offensive.  I tried to take in as many details as I could, so that I would be able to discuss the movie with Brian and other Star Wars fans.

As the movie ended and the credits began, I said to James, “That was good.”

“Yeah.  That new scene with Jabba the Hutt was interesting.”

“Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Star Wars.  What was that part like before?”

“It just wasn’t there.  It was a whole new scene.  Jabba didn’t show up until Return of the Jedi.”

“Oh, okay.”

“So do you have plans to see The Empire Strikes Back yet?” James asked as we left the theater.  “It comes out Friday.”

“I know Brian and his group already got tickets for Friday.  But I heard him say he’ll want to go a second time.  I’ll ask if I can get in on that, and I’ll let you know.”

“Great, man.  I need to get to bed, I have class in the morning.”

“Me too.  I’m gonna be tired tomorrow, but it was worth it.”

“Yeah!  I’ll see you tomorrow at The Edge?”

“Yes.  Drive safely.”


I did not see Brian until I got home from school Thursday, two days later.  Brian was busy for much of Wednesday, and I was gone for much of the day at school and at The Edge.  Wednesday evening at The Edge.  (After the students went home from The Edge, Courtney and Brody sat in a corner talking, oblivious to the world; it really did look like something was going on between them.)

Brian was happy to hear that I had seen Star Wars with Barefoot James.  “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world,” he said, quoting what Obi-Wan had said to Luke after beginning to teach Luke about the Force.

“Are you still going to see Empire again after the premiere?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Brian said.  “Probably on a weekend, next week or the week after.  You wanna come?”

“Yes!  And James does too.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll keep you posted.”

I may not have grown up with Star Wars, like many kids my age, but tonight I really had stepped into a new world. I was a Star Wars fan now.  This movie was going to be part of my life.  Or at least I would be a Star Wars fan after I saw Return of the Jedi, since I still had no idea how the trilogy ended.  My Jedi training was not complete yet.  Brian had the original versions of all three movies on VHS tapes, but I wanted to wait and see the other two Special Editions with friends first.

After I saw all three Special Editions, I watched all the movies again, using Brian’s tapes.  I bought my own copy of the Special Editions on VHS later that year.  The first of the prequels, telling the story of the future Darth Vader when he was a child, was released in 1999, and one of the most exciting moments of my Star Wars fandom was seeing the first showing of that in a group of sixty of my closest friends.  Yes, sixty.

But that is a story for another time.


Author’s note: Are you a Star Wars fan?


Advertisement

Summer 1996. The friendly neighbor. (#93)

According to an old saying, people come into your life for either a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  Some of the people I met in Jeromeville only crossed my path for a reason; I only met Moises a few times, and he showed me the gross misconceptions held by other Christians about Catholicism.  For the people who came into my life for a season, the season varied dramatically in length.  Megan McCauley, my older friend who became a hopeless crush, was part of my life for a little over a year, but Sarah Winters, one of my best friends at the University of Jeromeville, we were friends for about thirteen years until life got in the way and we gradually grew apart in our early thirties.  And, of course, some of the people I met in Jeromeville, like Taylor Santiago and Eddie Baker, have become lifelong friends whom I am still close with today.

One person who came into my life for a literal season, the summer of 1996, sat in a lawn chair reading one afternoon in front of apartment 224 at Las Casas Apartments, the apartment directly above mine.  The class I was taking had just started a few days earlier.  I rode my bike home from campus, checked my mail, and rode up to my apartment.  “Hi,” I heard a voice say above me as I walked my bike up to the door.  “Do you live downstairs from me?”

I looked up at the balcony and saw a short, stocky African-American woman with short curly hair and glasses looking at me.  “Yes,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”  As far as I knew, the leases at Las Casas ran from September 1 to August 31, to correspond with the UJ academic year.  I was not sure how I could have a new neighbor at the end of June, but she promptly answered my question.

“I’m Marie.  I’m Dan’s friend, I’m subletting this apartment from him; he’s gone doing research for the summer.”

“Nice to meet you.  I’m Greg.  I never actually knew Dan; I kept to myself a lot all year.”

“Nice to meet you too!  So what do you do?  Are you a student?”

“Yes.  I’m a math major.”

“Undergrad?”

“Yeah.  I just finished sophomore year.  What about you?”

“I’m just working at a temp agency.  I’m kind of at a point in my life where I’m trying to figure out the next step.  I’ve been moving around a lot, working here and there until I figure things out.”

“Where were you before this?”

“Southern California.  I liked it there, but I was just ready to move on.”

“That makes sense.  Have you been to Jeromeville before?”

“No!  But Dan has told me about it, and it seemed like a nice place to check out.  So here I am!  Are you from around here originally?

Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“Oh, okay.  I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times.  It’s so pretty there!”

“Yeah.  What about you?”

“I’m originally from North Carolina, but like I said, I’ve lived all over the country.”

“Wow.”

“Are you taking classes this summer?  You’re wearing a backpack.”

“Yeah.  I’m taking Introduction to Software.  I don’t need it for the math major, but it’s a prerequisite for an upper-division computer science class that counts toward the math major.  And I like fiddling around with computers.”

“Wow.  I’m not a techie at all.  I’ll come to you next time my computer isn’t working.”

“I don’t know if I’m that good,” I said, chuckling.

“It was nice meeting you!  I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Yes!  It was nice meeting you.”


The next time I saw Marie was about a week later.  She knocked on the door as I was typing an email to my mom, who had just recently gotten Internet access for the first time and was writing to me almost every day.  “Hi,” I said after I opened the door.

“Hi, Greg!” Marie said.  “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.  What about you?”

“I’m good!  Have you had dinner yet?”

“No,” I said.  “Why do you ask?”

“I decided to try this new chicken and rice recipe that I got from a friend, and I made too much for just me.  Want to come upstairs and try it?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Come on up!” she said.  I locked the door behind me and followed Marie up the outside stairs into her apartment.  The apartment above me was a studio apartment with a loft; the loft was set up like a bedroom, but open to the living area downstairs.  A small dining table was next to the entrance to the kitchen, where I had my bookshelf in my apartment.  I was not sure which of the furniture and pictures on the wall were Marie’s and which belonged to Dan, who had the apartment the rest of the year.

Marie went into the kitchen and emerged with two plates.  Each plate had a chicken breast on top of rice with vegetables mixed in, and other vegetables on the side.  “Sit down,” she said gesturing toward the table.  “I’ll get you some water.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I waited for Marie to sit back down before I started eating, and after she did, I took a bite.  “This is really good.”

“Thank you!  Would you like the recipe?  I can write it down before you leave.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Honestly, though, I’m not very good at cooking.  I don’t know if or when I’ll make it.”

“That’s no problem.  It’s there if you need it.”

“True.”

“So how is your class going?  What are you learning about?”

“The programming language C,” I explained.  “It’s set up differently from the other programming I’ve done, but it’s ultimately a lot more powerful.”

“Interesting,” Marie replied.  “I told you before, I don’t know any of that stuff.  Why didn’t you major in computer science if you’re into that?  There’s a lot of good jobs out there for computer people.”

“Because most of my computer knowledge is out of date, so most of the people in my classes would be coming in with more knowledge of the basics than I have.  Also, I didn’t want my hobby to become work.”

“That makes a lot of sense.”

“I taught myself BASIC on a Commodore 64 when I was nine,” I explained, “but that’s useless already in today’s world.  Technology moves so fast.”

“That’s true,” Marie said.  “How old did you say you were?”

“I’m 19.  I’ll be 20 in August.”

“That’s right.  You said you were a sophomore.”

“Yeah.”

Marie paused, then said, “How old do you think I am?”

Uh-oh.  I did not like being put on the spot like this.  “I’m not good at guessing people’s ages,” I said.

“I’m just wondering, because people say I look younger than I really am.”

That made it even more difficult, because she looked a little big older than me.  Was she actually a lot older than me?  “25,” I guessed hesitantly.  Marie pointed upward.  “Older than 25?” I asked.  Marie nodded, and I guessed, “27.”  She pointed upward again.  She really did not look older than 27.  “30?” I guessed, apprehensively.

“Yes.  I’m 30.”

“Whoever says you look younger, they’re right.”

“Thanks,” Marie said, smiling.  “So what are you doing this weekend?”

“Probably just studying,” I replied.

“I’m thinking I want to go see a movie this weekend.  You want to come with me?  Maybe Saturday afternoon?”

I was not expecting this; instead of Yes or No, the first thing to come out of my mouth was, “What movie?”

“Have you seen Independence Day yet?  I’m seeing ads for it everywhere.  It looks interesting, for sure.”

“I haven’t, but I want to.  That sounds good.”

“Great!”

I stayed in Marie’s apartment for about an hour and a half that night, just talking about life.  She looked up the movie times at some point, so we could make plans for Saturday.  After I left, I sat in my apartment, trying to make sense of what was going on.  Marie was kind of acting like she was interested in me.  At least this is what I assumed it was like when a girl was into me; since no girl had ever been into me as far as I knew, I was not quite sure.  But she was thirty years old.  Surely she was not interested in a young kid like me.  She was just friendly.


On Saturday afternoon, I climbed the stairs to Marie’s apartment about half an hour before the movie started and knocked on the door.  “Hey!” she said when she opened the door.  “You ready to go?”

“Sure.  Want me to drive, or are you?”

“How about you drive, and I’ll pay for the tickets.  Does that work?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s my car down there, the red Bronco.”

“Nice,” she said.  As we headed down Andrews Road and turned onto Coventry Boulevard, she asked, “So do you ever take this thing off road?”

“I don’t,” I said.  “Well, this was our family car for five or six years before I moved here.  We used to visit my great-grandma in Bidwell a few times a year, and she lived at the end of a dirt road about a mile long.  Sometimes we’d use the four-wheel drive on that road.  But that’s about it.”

“You should go off-roading!  It’s so much fun!”

“Maybe someday.”

I turned right on G Street, just past Community Park, and headed south toward downtown.  The movie theater in Jeromeville was on the corner of G and First Streets, six blocks from the old part of campus.  I had not seen many movies in the last couple years, at least not during their first run in theaters; I had only been to this movie theater twice before.  It was in a gray building with a two-story parking garage above it.  I maneuvered my large vehicle through the narrow ramp leading up to the parking garage, barely wide enough for a car going up to pass a car going down.

“Can you fit in here?” Marie asked.

“I’ve done it before,” I said.  “Hopefully an even bigger car doesn’t come down at the same time.”

Marie laughed.  “Then we’d be in trouble.”

The stairs leading down from the parking garage were on the outside of the building, not a typical scary parking garage stairwell.  We walked to the box office, where Marie said, “Two tickets for Independence Day, please.”

“Are you sure you want to pay for both tickets?” I asked.

“Sure!  I asked you.  And it’s afternoon matinee prices.”

“Seven dollars, please,” the cashier said.  Marie gave the cashier the money, and he gave us our tickets, which the person at the entrance promptly tore in half a minute later.  We sat near the middle of the theater; seats were already starting to fill up.

“Do you like these kinds of movies?” Marie asked.

I had to think about this.  “I guess I don’t really have one specific kind of movie that I like best,” I said.  “Some movies I just like, and some I don’t.”

After sitting through several minutes of previews, the movie began with giant alien spaceships coming to Earth early one July.  The aliens positioned themselves over major cities, destroying them all simultaneously with massive energy beams.  A Marine played by Will Smith led attacks on the alien spaceships, which failed.  Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character eventually found a way to deactivate the force fields protecting the aliens, and Bill Pullman’s President of the United States character gave a rousing speech.  He said that July 4 is Independence Day in the United States, but now it would be the day that the whole world fought back against the aliens.  People watching the movies cheered on the fighter pilots on the screen.

After the movie ended, I turned to Marie and said, “I’m excited.  That was a nice feel-good movie.”

“It was!”  She grabbed her purse, then said, “So what do you want to do now?  Want to get something to eat?  Lyon’s is right across the street.”

“That sounds good.”

As we stepped outside, I had to squint, since my eyes had become accustomed to the dark theater.  We crossed the street and walked into the restaurant.  Lyon’s was a chain of restaurants serving American diner food.  When I was very young, I remember a few times going to breakfast with my dad at Lyon’s in Gabilan.  I usually got waffles.

“What are you getting?” Marie asked as we each looked through the menus.

“Probably a cheeseburger.”

“I’m going to get this chicken salad.  It looks good.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  I did not admit that I was not a big fan of salads.

“So what did you think of the movie?”

“It was a lot of fun.  But I’m kind of suspicious that the alien spaceships would be compatible with a human computer virus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.  You’re the computer guy.”

“A computer virus is just a program that does something destructive,” I explained.  “If the computer can’t understand the instructions, the virus can’t do anything destructive.  If you took a virus for a PC and ran it on a Mac, nothing would happen; it would just look like gibberish to the Mac operating system.  The movie writers apparently don’t know how computer viruses work.”

“That makes sense.”

The food arrived a few minutes later.  I tried to break up a lull in the conversation by asking, “So how long will you be in Jeromeville?  Are you just here until your friend gets back?”

“Yeah.  He comes back in the middle of September.”

“And he has the same apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.  Do you?”

“No.  I’m moving into a bigger apartment with roommates, at Sagebrush Apartments on Maple Drive.”

“Oh, ok.  So, around the corner from Las Casas?  Past the shopping center?”

“Right.  What about you.  Where are you going next?”

“I’m gonna take some time off for a while.  I’m going to travel, see some of the National Parks in the Southwest and the Rockies.  I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was little, and I’ve never been to Zion, so I’m definitely going to those two.  I haven’t really figured out where else.”

“That sounds fun!  I’ve never been to either of those places.  Where is Zion?”

“Utah.”

“Yeah.  We didn’t really travel much growing up.”

“Really?  You gotta get out there and see the world!”

“I will someday.”

“What’s the farthest away you’ve been?”

“Vancouver,” I said.  “My family took a long road trip to the Expo ‘86 World’s Fair when I was nine.  We went to Spokane first, to see Dad’s mother, then we all went to Vancouver in a rented RV.  That was my only time out of the country.”

“That sounds fun!”

“Oh!  And I’m going to Illinois in December.  That’ll be the farthest away I’ve ever been.  It’s for a Christian student and young adult convention, to learn about mission trips and service opportunities.”

“Are you looking to do that?  Be a missionary someday?”

“I’m not sure.  But I have friends who do things like that in the summer, and I want to learn more about what they’re doing, and stuff like that.”

Marie and I finished our meals, talking more about my faith journey and her options for life after she finished her trips to the Grand Canyon and Zion.  It must be fascinating to live that way, to wander the country working short-term jobs, never putting down roots.  I did not see that kind of lifestyle as my future.  I hoped someday I would settle down with a wife and children.  But there was nothing wrong with Marie’s way of life, if it worked for her.


My favorite part of the Jeromeville Bulletin local newspaper was the daily column written by Bill Dunnigan.  He often poked fun at the City Council and other prominent local figures.  One member of the City Council was an aging hippie named Jill Popovich, who had ideas like making long straight avenues curved so drivers would slow down.  Ms. Popovich was vocally against paving a muddy alley downtown that became a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the winter, because dirt alleys enhance the small-town character of Jeromeville, and she was a major proponent of adding a tunnel for frogs to a new overpass that opened that summer.  Bill Dunnigan often joked that she was an alien.  A few days after I saw the movie with Marie, Bill Dunnigan wrote, “If the City Council thinks that Jeromeville is so important, why didn’t the aliens in the movie Independence Day attack Jeromeville?  They probably feared the wrath of Jill.”

I ran into Marie around the apartment several more times between then and the end of August, when I moved out.  She was always friendly, and I always enjoyed talking to her.  In late September, in the new apartment, I got a postcard from Zion National Park.  It said:


Greg —

I’m enjoying my travels very much!  It is so beautiful here.  Utah looks so different from California.  So good to be out in nature again.  I’ve been on so many great hikes here!  I leave for the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning.  I hope you’re doing well, and that you like your new roommates.  Have a great school year!  –Marie


That was the last I ever heard from Marie.  To this day, I still do not know if she liked me or if she was just being friendly.  She was nice, but I just would not have felt ready to be in a relationship with someone a decade older than me.  We probably would not have worked out anyway, because of that.  Marie was part of my life for a season, but also for a reason: I got lonely sometimes that summer, and I needed a friend.  

January 19-20, 1996. A dangerous glance. (#67)

A few months ago, during October of my sophomore year at the University of Jeromeville, I had gotten involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, a chapter of an international nondenominational organization called Intervarsity.  JCF had weekly meetings on Fridays with worship music with someone giving a talk about the Bible, and attending these was the extent of my involvement so far.  I knew that there were also small group Bible studies and a few retreats every year, but I had not gotten involved in those yet.

As a relative newcomer to the group, I was still learning the etiquette.  Some people stood up during worship, some waved their hands, some sat quietly.  I was having trouble doing any of those right now because I had to pee, and I was not sure if getting up to use the bathroom during the music was frowned upon.  I walked quickly to the bathroom as soon as the last song and closing prayer ended, and when I got back to my seat, Liz and Ramon, Jason, Sarah, Caroline, and Krista were standing where I had been sitting.  I stood quietly next to Sarah.  All six of these people had been in my dorm freshman year, and they were how I first knew about JCF.

“Hey, Greg,” Sarah said.  “What are you doing tonight?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“We’re going to 199 Stone to see Dangerous Minds.  You want to come?”

“Sure,” I said.  “When does it start?”

“10.  We don’t need to leave quite yet, but we should probably leave soon, to get there early.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Good idea.”

A little while later, the seven of us left Evans Hall and walked to Stone Hall.  Evans and Stone were right next to each other on Davis Drive, so we did not have far to walk.  A division of the Associated Students organization called Campus Cinema used the large 400-seat lecture hall in Stone as a second-run theater on weekends, showing movies that had played in theaters a few months earlier but were not released on video yet.  Tickets were three dollars, less than even matinee prices at actual theaters.

Two lines extended from the front of the building, a relatively short line of people waiting to buy tickets, and a longer line of about 50 people who already bought tickets and were now waiting for the earlier show to get out.  The seven of us paid for our tickets and moved to the back of the longer line.  “This is based on a true story, right?” Krista asked.

“Yeah,” Sarah replied.

I did not know a whole lot about this movie, except that it was about an inner-city teacher, and that the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” came from this movie.  I only knew that song because of Mark, my younger brother who loved gangsta rap.  I did not realize that the movie was based on a true story.

About five minutes after we arrived, more people trickled in and moved to the back of the line where we stood.  At one point, I spotted a familiar face walking toward me, and my mind flooded with thoughts.  What do I say?  I have not seen her in a while, and our last conversation was kind of awkward on my end.  Maybe I should–

“Megan!” I called out, waving, interrupting the voices in my head.

Megan looked around for the source of the person greeting her.  She saw me and smiled.  “Greg!  How are you?”

“I’m doing ok.  Classes are going well.  How are you?”

“I’m great!”

“How’s your building?”

“It’s good.  It’s a pretty calm group of people so far.  There hasn’t been a lot of drama.  I have to go, I need to find the people I’m meeting here, but hey, it was good seeing you!”

“You too!” I said, smiling.  Had I been asked yesterday, I would have said that I was making progress in getting over Megan.   When she mentioned two months ago that she was dating someone, I was devastated, but I did not think of her as often since I did not see her as often anymore.  Last year, she was an RA in a dorm in the same campus residential area as mine, and I saw her frequently around the dining commons.  This year, she was an RA in a different residential area, and I lived off campus.

As I stood there in line, I found that I could not help but wonder if Megan and this guy were still together.  Maybe that was who she was meeting.    To my knowledge, Megan had no idea how I felt about her, since I never knew how to tell girls that I liked them.  In the time since I found out that Megan had a boyfriend, I had also found out that another girl I liked had a boyfriend; this was a common theme in my life.

I saw a crowd of people leave the building as the early show ended, and a few minutes later, our line started moving.  We climbed up to the building’s front entrance, walked across the lobby, and then down the aisle of the lecture hall.  “Is this okay?” Liz asked as she gestured toward a mostly empty row in the center section toward the back.

“Sure,” I said, nodding.  The others assented as well, and we sat down in seven consecutive seats.  I watched as advertisements for other Associated Students services flashed on the screen, mixed with a few silly announcements.  “Want to learn to be a projectionist?  So do we,” one of them said.  I laughed.

I looked around me at people filling in the seats.  I saw Megan and her friends walk past us; they sat three rows in front of us.  I looked back up at the screen, watching the advertisements, occasionally looking around but unable to stop myself from glancing at the back of Megan’s head.  She was talking to one of the people she came with, an Asian girl with shoulder-length hair; they were laughing about something.  Megan put her arm around the girl and leaned forward, and they kissed on the lips.  Megan pulled back, smiling, then leaned toward the girl and kissed her again, leaving her arm around the girl after their lips separated.

Wait, I thought.  What just happened?

Megan never told me that she had a boyfriend.  Her exact words were “the person I’m dating,” and apparently the person she was dating was a girl.

The movie started, and I tried to pay attention to what was happening on the screen.  Although it was dark in the building once the movie started, I could still see the outline of Megan and her girlfriend cuddling.  I tried to look away.  Looking at her felt wrong.  Not only was she in a relationship, but it was a same-sex relationship, and that she was not even into guys in the first place.  I forced myself to watch the movie, at times even putting my hands over my face to cover just enough of my field of vision so as not to be able to see Megan and her girlfriend.

I became more absorbed in the movie as it went on, watching Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Ms. Johnson, struggling to connect with the city kids in her class and relate to their experiences.  In one scene, the mother of one of the students called Ms. Johnson a vulgar name and told her that she should not teach these students to be academically successful.  I could not understand how someone could possibly have such low expectations for her own child.  I would have just as hard of a time as Ms. Johnson understanding the world that these students lived in, and she was much more patient with the students than I would have been.

At the end of the movie, Ms. Johnson’s character was unable to save one of the students from the dangers of street life.  She seemed to feel that all her efforts were futile.  Futility felt familiar tonight.  All of my efforts to get closer to Megan, the late night conversations, sitting with her and her friends in the dining hall, exchanging birthday cards, the time we had lunch and hung out in her room, none of that mattered.  I did the best I could, but I was doomed from the start just because I was a guy.

When the movie ended, people began standing and filing out of the theater.  I realized that I could turn toward my friends so that Megan would be behind me, and I would not have to see her as she left the building with her girlfriend.  But I also did not want to be conspicuous or rude about this.  I stood facing forward as I normally would, waiting for the people around me to leave,and as Megan and her girlfriend walked up the aisle past me, I made eye contact with Megan and waved.

“Good night, Greg,” Megan said.  “Have a good weekend!”

“You too,” I said, trying my best to act the way I always did, hiding the disappointment in my voice.  I turned to my left, to the people I came with.

“What did you think of the movie?” Sarah asked.

“I liked it,” I said.  “Sad, but that’s life sometimes.  Sometimes, no matter what you do, things don’t work out.”

“Yeah.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” Krista added.  “But I thought it was cool how much effort she made to relate to the students.”

“It wasn’t bad, but there are already a lot of movies like this,” Jason observed.  “Kids from rough neighborhoods and teachers trying to relate to them.”

“Yeah,” Krista agreed.

“You ready to go?” Liz asked me.  I realized that I was standing closest to the aisle, so I would have to leave first in order for the others to get out.  The crowd of people filing out had begun to thin, so I nodded walked toward the aisle.  We stood outside in the cool night for a few minutes, talking about weekend plans and classes.  Eventually, we all said our goodbyes, and I walked back to my car and returned to my apartment.


The next day was Saturday, and I did not have to wake up early for class.  I lay in bed for over an hour after waking up, processing the events of the previous night.  Megan McCauley was a lesbian.  I saw her kissing a woman.  Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I was still holding out hope in my mind that things would not work out with the person Megan was dating, and that I might have a chance with her.  Last night had put an end to that hope.  All it took was one look, last night while I waited for the movie to start, for what hope I had left to be put to death quickly.  I supposed, though, that finding out the way I did had its advantages.  Had I actually been brave enough to ask her out, she would have had to tell me that she did not like guys, and that interaction would have been awkward and embarrassing.

I put on a sweatshirt and went for a bike ride, trying to clear my head.  I rode south on Andrews Road toward campus, intending to ride the entire length of the University Arboretum east to west.  But as I approached, I realized that my route would take me right past Carter Hall, Megan’s dorm, and the North Area Dining Commons where we had met for lunch in September.  I turned left on Fifth Street and entered campus on Colt Avenue instead.  I did not want to ride past Megan’s building and think about her and her girlfriend in bed together.  But it was too late; the thoughts were already there.

One look.  All it took was one look to ruin my hope and my weekend.  What if I had not looked up while I was in line and seen Megan outside of Stone Hall?  Or what if I had made an effort not to look at her once I got to my seat?  What if I had not gone to the movie last night at all?  Then maybe I would have still been blissfuly unaware of Megan’s sexual orientation, and I would not have felt this awkwardness over having spent a year of my life having a crush on someone whom I did not even realize was not into guys at all.  One look can turn happiness to sadness.  That sounded poetic.

I stopped when I arrived at the east end of the Arboretum, behind the art and music buildings.  Perhaps my mind was giving birth to another poem; I had been writing a lot lately.  I did not like the “happiness to sadness” part, though.  I continued riding my bike a short distance through the Arboretum and sat on a bench overlooking the small lake next to Marks Hall.  The sky was blue, without a cloud in sight, but it was still January, and many of the trees in the Arboretum had shed their leaves.  One look can turn summer into winter.  No, that was not quite right.  One look can turn the blue skies into gray.  Iambic pentameter, very Shakespearean, but still not quite right.

One look can turn the daytime into night.

That was it.  That was going to be the first line of my poem.  Two years ago, in high school, we had studied Shakespeare’s sonnets, and I had become fascinated with their rhythm and rhyme pattern.  I also found it interesting how much had been speculated over the years regarding who they were written to, or about, although I had not studied this in great detail.  I continued my ride west through the Arboretum, thinking about how one look ruined my night last night, and how if I were to gouge out my eyes, I would not be able to see uncomfortable truths in the first place.

When I reached the oak grove at the end of the Arboretum, I continued on Thompson Drive across Highway 117 to the rural part of campus, past the sheep barn in the middle of the agricultural research fields.  At the south end of Hawkins Road, I stopped again and stood for a few minutes.  Olive trees lined both sides of the road.  Behind me was Arroyo Verde Creek, with oaks and sycamores and various small bushes along its banks.  Riding my bike on this route always made me feel so peaceful.  Despite still being on a large university campus, I felt like I was miles and miles from civilization, not worried about girls rejecting me, or upcoming exams, or my uncertain future.

In Mr. Jackson’s AP English class at Plumdale High, we studied a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets in detail.  Sonnet 29, the one that begins “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” was my favorite.  Today I felt like I was in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.  Life just sucked sometimes.  Shakespeare used fourteen grandiloquent lines of iambic pentameter to say, essentially, that when he felt discouraged, hopeless, or envious of others, he simply thought of a certain special someone, and having this person in his life was more important than everything that was bringing him down.  Scholars had spent centuries speculating about the identity and gender of this special someone and the nature of his or her relationship to Shakespeare.

But, now that I took the time to get out of my head and think about things, there was no mystery to the identity of my special someone, or in this case, multiple special someones.  Sure, I had never had a romantic partner.  Megan had a girlfriend.  Sabrina Murphy had a boyfriend.  Back home, I never got anywhere with Rachelle Benedetti or Kim Jensen or Melissa Holmes or Jennifer Henson or Annie Gambrell.  But I had people who cared about me, and that really was important.  Sarah and Krista and Liz and Ramon and Jason and Caroline had invited me to the movie last night.  Taylor Santiago and Pete Green and Charlie Watson always welcomed me to their apartment when I just needed to get out of my apartment and interact with human beings.  I had my friends from the Newman Center, I was making new friends at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, I made friends in my dorm last year, and I had a few friends from classes or just from seeing them around campus.  Sure, none of these people was my girlfriend, but they cared about me, and in my darkest moments, they had been there for me.

As I rode my bike back home, I continued thinking of ways to put my feelings into iambic pentameter.  I was now modeling my poem on Sonnet 29, using the first eight lines to lament the illusion-shattering experience of seeing Megan kiss a girl, but then reflecting on the positive things in my life in the final six lines.  I wrote down what I had so far when I got home, then after making lunch and spending a few hours studying, I logged onto an IRC chat in one window with my poem open in another window, writing my poem as I waited for people to reply to my messages.  I finished a little after midnight.


“One Look”

One look can turn the daytime into night,
A happy day into a tedious chore;
One misdirected glance, and all’s not right,
The ships I’ve tried to sink arrive at shore.
I think that I will gouge out both my eyes
And lay this possibility to rest;
No more will I see through some grand disguise
To find that things are not as I’d have guessed.
But then my eyes would shut to all the love
My friends have shown in times of great despair,
And blind I’d be to gifts from God above,
And times I’ve persevered when life’s not fair;
One painful sight is quite a modest price
To pay to live a life of things so nice.


Megan and I did not stay close for the rest of the time we were at UJ.  I had of course not ruled out the possibility that she was bisexual, interested in both women and men, but that was not something I wanted to think about, and it was beside the point.  Although I did not grow up with much exposure to the LGBTQ community or lifestyles, I did not reject her out of prejudice.  We had already started growing apart now that I did not eat at the dining hall anymore.  I also made less of an effort to stay in touch with her once I found out she was dating someone, because I knew she would not be interested in me.  I did not avoid her intentionally; I still saw her on campus over the years and said hi occasionally.  But we just ran in different circles, and sometimes people just naturally grow apart.

After this, I only have one more specific memory of an actual conversation with Megan.  It was early in my senior year, her fifth year, when I passed her on the way to class.  She told me she had two more quarters left to finish her undergrad degree, I told her about what I had done over the summer, and she told me that a friend of hers had done the same thing as me a few years earlier.  Additionally, in 2014, I was looking at the website for a place where I had a job interview coming up, and I saw a mention of an employee named Megan McCauley .  I do not know if it was the same person, but Megan’s degree was in chemical engineering, and this person’s position was related enough to chemistry that it was possible.  No picture accompanied the name.  I decided to let sleeping dogs lie and not try to figure out if this was the same Megan McCauley; it did not matter in the end, because I was not offered the job.  If Megan and I are ever meant to cross paths again someday, I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

May 20, 1995. Not my typical Saturday. (#39)

I nervously left Building C and walked to the other side of the South Residential Area.  It was a warm night, but not warm enough to wear shorts, in my opinion. I wore a t-shirt and jeans.  I kept trying to reassure myself that I didn’t have a reason to be so nervous. They invited me, after all; it’s not like they are suddenly going to reject me.  But what if they do? What if they something weird happens and they never talk to me again? What if I embarrass myself in front of these people, who don’t know me as well as my Building C friends do?

I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous.  Just because I was going to be hanging out with a different group of people did not necessarily mean that something bad was going to happen.

I got to the main entrance of Building K and saw Megan and Tiffany already in the lobby.  I knocked on the door, and Tiffany let me in. “Hi, Greg,” she said. “Come on in.”

Megan turned around and looked at me, smiling.  “Hey, Greg. We’re just waiting for Maria and Ron.  They said they’d be down in a few minutes. You ready?”

“Yeah,” I said, looking around.  Building K looked just like Building C, except the walls were painted a different color, and there were different flyers on the bulletin board.  Megan was one of the resident advisers for Building K. She wore shorts and sandals with a T-shirt, and her short dark blonde hair still had a few traces of green in it.  She had cut her hair short and dyed it a few months earlier, but it looked like she was growing it a little longer again. Her hair had been somewhere between chin and shoulder length when I met her.  Amy, one of the RAs in my building, had introduced me to Megan in the dining hall during fall quarter, and we had gotten to be friends just from seeing each other around and talking. I wanted to get to know her better, and I wanted to know if she had a boyfriend, and if not, if she was interested in shy younger guys like me.

Earlier this year, my friend Brittany, who lived in Texas and met me online in a chat room, had asked me if I had met any girls in college yet.  I mentioned that I kind of had a crush, but it probably would not work out because she was older. “How much older?” Brittany had asked. “If she’s also a student at your school, then you can’t be more than three or four years apart, right?  That’s nothing. You shouldn’t worry about that, unless this Miss Megan is 40 or something like that.” Brittany was probably right. Megan was only older than me by a year and three days, and that isn’t really a significant age difference. However, I was inexperienced enough with dating and relationships and girlfriends that I still felt way too young to be dating a sophomore.  Megan was going to turn 20 in August. That was a grown-up age. She was almost done being a teenager.

“How’s your weekend going?” Megan asked.

“Good.  I’ve mostly just been studying.  Trying to get it out of the way. One more math midterm on Monday, and that’ll be the last midterm until finals.”

“That midterm is gonna be hard,” Tiffany said.  “Greg’ll probably ace it, though.” I smiled.

“You two are in the same math class, right?” Megan asked.

“Yeah,” I explained.  “I don’t think it’s that hard so far.  But it seems like the quarter is going by fast in general.  The first midterm still feels like it wasn’t that long ago.”

“I know!  This quarter is flying by!”

A girl with dark hair and brown eyes, whom I had seen around the dining commons and met a couple times before, emerged from the stairwell into the lobby with a spiky-haired thin guy.  I assumed this guy must be Ron, since I knew Maria was the girl.

“You guys ready?” Megan asked.

“Let’s go,” Ron replied.

The five of us walked out of Building K, along the bike path past Kent Hall and the barns, turning left at the chemistry building, and getting into a line at the large outdoor steps leading to 199 Stone, the largest lecture hall on campus.  The room held around 400 students, and that lecture hall was the only room in Stone Hall. The front of the room was one building story lower with the rows pitched downward as they would be in a theater or stadium, and a door on the right side of the back wall connected to the basement of the chemistry building, which was right next to Stone Hall.  The room number 199 was chosen to be consistent with the numbering of the nearby rooms in the chemistry building.

On weekends, a division of the Associated Students organization called Campus Cinema used 199 Stone as a movie theater, showing movies that had been in theaters a few months earlier but were usually not available to rent on VHS video yet.  (Those are those giant cassette tapes for watching movies at home, before DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and streaming video were invented.) A different movie would show every day, and tickets only cost three dollars.

About an hour ago, I sat down with Megan, Tiffany, and Maria at dinner.  They said that they were going to watch the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone and invited me along.  I said sure. I needed to get out and do something tonight, and more importantly, this was an opportunity to hang out with Megan.  I had also seen commercials for this movie when it was released last fall, and it looked intriguing. The movie was based on a true story, about a television game show from the 1950s with outcomes that were rigged by the producers.

On the walk to 199 Stone, Maria and Ron were acting very much like a couple, holding hands and kissing a few times.  Does that mean I was Megan’s date? Or Tiffany’s date? Of course not, but I kind of wished I could be Megan’s date. I was walking in the back of our group of five, and I realized at one point that I had been staring at Megan’s butt and legs in front of me for long enough that Tiffany might have noticed.  I looked up, hoping that she hadn’t.

After we bought our tickets, and Ron bought popcorn, the five of us sat down toward the top of the room, in the right section.  The room was filling up, but we were still able to find five seats together; I sat between Megan and Tiffany.

One of my favorite parts of Campus Cinema was that they showed an old cartoon before the main movie, like movie theaters of my parents’ and grandparents’ time would do.  Tonight, it was the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he has a feud with an opera singer, ending with Bugs pretending to be the conductor at the singer’s concert and making him hold a long note until he runs out of breath and the stage collapses.  I had seen that one many times over the years; I grew up on old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons.

As I watched Quiz Show, I felt like this movie was exposing a dark underbelly of the game show industry.  The producers of the show in the movie entice their returning champion to lose on purpose, because a new contestant is presumed to be more likable to audiences.  In order to keep the new contestant on the show, they provided him with the questions and answers in advance, and the producers manipulated the air conditioning and ventilation around the contestants to make them sweat and experience physical discomfort.

At one point during the movie, Megan crossed her legs, and I could feel her crossed leg inadvertently brush up against mine a few times.  I looked up one of those times. “Sorry,” Megan whispered, and moved her leg away from me. I didn’t want that. I kind of liked her brushing up against me.  But I said nothing. That would be inappropriate, and probably a little creepy. Also, someone would probably find a way to make fun of me for it, just like in 8th grade when Paul Dickinson figured out who I liked and told the whole school.

I hoped that the game shows I enjoyed watching as a child in the 1980s had not been fixed like the one in the movie; that would be disappointing.  I do remember as a child watching an episode of Press Your Luck where one contestant went on a ridiculous winning streak, always stopping the spinner on the best spot on the board and never getting a Whammy.  I suspected that the contestant himself had somehow figured out how to beat the system, but I did not know if the show’s producers were involved. Hopefully the show was not fixed, because after the incident that the movie described, new laws were passed to prohibit fixing of prizes on television shows.  However, television never tells the full story of what is really happening. I would learn years later that the contestant I watched on Press Your Luck had cracked the code on his own.  He was a compulsive gambler and get-rich-quick artist who lost much of his game show money in a robbery and the rest in a bad investment, and he would eventually die alone, broke, and fairly young.

On the way home from the movie, Megan asked, “Are you guys both going home for the summer?”  The question was directed to me and Tiffany; Maria and Ron were walking more slowly, arm in arm and no longer in earshot of us.

“Yeah,” Tiffany said.  “I’m probably not going to be doing anything.  Maybe getting a job.”

“My mom said she has a job for me,” I said.  “Someone she knows works at a bookstore, and they’re looking to hire someone part time.”

“That’ll be good,” Megan said.  “You’re from, where was it? Somewhere near Santa Lucia, right?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.”

“And you’re from Ashwood?”

“Yes,” Tiffany replied.  I realized that I had known Tiffany since January but had no idea where she was from until this moment.  Ashwood was at the far end of the Valley, about as far away as Plumdale but inland, to the southeast, whereas Plumdale was more due south.

“I’m going to miss all my friends here,” I said.  “I want to get everyone’s address so I can write. Or email, for people who have computers at home.”

“Definitely,” Tiffany said.  “Give me your address before the end of the year.”

“I will.”

“I’ll be here taking summer school,” Megan added, “so I’ll have email.”

“Great.  I’ll write you.”

By this time, we had returned to Building K.  “Thanks for coming with us, Greg,” Megan said.

“Thanks for inviting me!  It was a good movie.”

“I know.  I’ll see you around.  Have a good weekend, OK?”

“I will.”

Megan hugged me, and I smiled.  Tiffany hugged me too. I turned around toward Building C, turning back one last time to wave to my friends from Building K as they entered the building.

 

As I climbed the stairs toward Room 221, I could hear the muffled sound of music playing somewhere else in the building.  It seemed to be coming from directly above, from the third floor on my end of the building. Instead of going to my room, I continued up to the third floor, curious to see what was going on.  I began to hear muffled voices along with the muffled music, as if many people were being loud trying to be heard over the music.

When I was on the landing halfway between the second and third floor, the third floor door opened, and the music and voices became louder.  Gina Stalteri and Karen Francis walked through the door. Karen was giggling and leaning on Gina, having a hard time standing on her own. She was holding a can of Coors Light beer.

“Hey, Greg,” Gina said, noticing me on the landing.  “Come on up.”

“Greg!” Karen shouted, giggling.  “I’ve never been drunk before!” She tried to step forward but staggered to the ground instead.

I continued walking up the stairs toward them and walked into the third floor hallway, my mind still processing what I was seeing.  This appeared to be a party. My first college party. I had never been to an actual party like this, but I had seen parties on TV and in movies, and this looked exactly what I imagined a party to look like.

At each end of each floor, the hallway widened in front of the last room on each side.  The hallways on the second and third floor opened to a balcony at the end of the building, like the balcony on which Taylor Santiago had been sitting when he met my parents, but that was at the opposite end of the building.  A few months ago, someone had hung strings of beads where I was now, over the hallway at the point just past the door to the stairs, so that one had to pass through the beads in order to get to rooms 322 through 325. Brendan Lowe in room 322 had started referring to himself and his neighbors at the end of the third floor as “The Bead People.”  Derek Olvera in room 324 had put a sign on his door proclaiming that “Cool people live here.”

The door to Brendan’s room was open, and the music seemed to be coming from there.  I didn’t recognize the song. Brendan listened to a lot of weird, really dark music that I was never exposed to in Plumdale.  I peeked my head into room 322, where Brendan, his roommate Will, Jenn from the first floor, and two guys I didn’t recognize were sitting, talking, and drinking something from plastic cups.

“Hey, Greg,” Brendan said, pointing to a case of Coors Light in cans.  “You want one?”

“No, thanks,” I said.  I stood in the doorway observing their conversation for a few minutes.  I didn’t understand what they were talking about, so I went back into the hallway and walked around all the people sitting against the wall drinking beer.

Room 324, where cool people supposedly lived, was also open.  Derek, a tall guy with reddish-blonde hair, sat on his bed. He had his arms around a dark-haired girl named Stephanie who lived at the other end of the third floor; I had seen them together a lot lately.  Pat Hart sat on the other bed. The other bed belonged to Jared, the guy who often played Scrabble in the common room, but I did not see Jared at this party.

“Hey, Greg,” Derek said when I walked in.

“Hey,” Stephanie added.  “What’s up?”

“Just looking around,” I said.

“Take a seat if you want,” Derek offered, gesturing toward an empty chair.  I sat. Derek lifted his leg and farted. Pat laughed. Stephanie gave him a disgusted look.  I chuckled.

Karen walked into the room.  “I’m back!” she said. She attempted to sit with Pat on Jared’s bed, but fell over on her side instead.  Pat picked her up and kissed her deeply for quite a long time. When they finished, Karen looked up and announced to the room, “This is the first time I’ve been drunk!”  She had told me this same thing just five minutes earlier. “Nate said he’s bringing more beer,” Karen continued.

“Good!” Stephanie shouted.

“I’m going to go see who else is here,” I said.

“See you around, Greg,” Derek said.  Stephanie waved. Pat and Karen were making out and did not seem to notice that I was leaving.

A voice coming from Brendan’s stereo started singing something like “bow down before the one you serve.”  This was still not the type of music I was most familiar with, but I had heard this song before, unlike the song that was playing before.  I thought this song was by that band Nine Inch Nails. Brendan really liked them, as did Skeeter. I didn’t see Skeeter at this party.

I stood outside of Derek’s room in the wide part of the hallway at the end of the building.  A few people were sitting there on desk chairs taken from nearby bedrooms, and some other people were sitting on the floor.  Mike Adams and his girlfriend Kim, Dan Woodward, Schuyler Jenkins, Tracy Lee, Yu Cheng, and two guys I did not know who did not live here sat talking.  Mike was telling a story loudly, interrupting to laugh every few sentences. Others laughed as well. I missed the beginning of the story, so I wasn’t sure what it was about.  I saw Pat and Gina come through the beads with a case of Budweiser cans, but then I realized it wasn’t Pat because he was busy sucking face with Karen in Derek’s room. This was Nate, Pat’s twin brother who lived in a different building.  “Hey, Greg,” Nate said when he saw me. “You want one?”

“No, thank you.”

Nate went into Brendan’s room to put the beer down, and then into Derek’s room where his brother was.  I felt something brush against my leg; I looked down and saw Schuyler lean her head on my leg, from a position of sitting against the wall.  “Hi,” she said, looking back up at me.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Having fun?”

“I just got here.  I was watching the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone with some friends from another building.”

“Did you like it?”

“I did.  It’s interesting.”

“Really?  I’ve seen it before.  I thought it was boring.”

“I grew up watching game shows.  It was fascinating to see the dark side of the game show world.”

“I just thought it was dumb.  Not my thing.”

Mike was laughing loudly again at something, and everyone reacted as if he had been the funniest human being alive.  Schuyler took another sip of beer. “I think I’m going to go back downstairs now,” I said.

“No!” Schuyler replied.  “Don’t leave.” She put her arms around my legs, giggling.  I carefully stepped out of her tenuous, drunken grasp.

“This party isn’t my thing.  Just like how the movie isn’t your thing.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah.  I’m fine.”

“Come back later if you want.”

“I might.”

Before I walked into the stairwell, I looked at the door to room 321, where Amy, the RA, lived.  On the small bulletin board on her door, she had put a piece of paper telling people where to find her, with a push pin indicating where she was.

Amy is

  • Here.  Come on in!
  • Here, but please knock first.
  • Studying hard.  Please do not disturb.
  • In class.
  • Eating at the DC.
  • At the Help Window.
  • Somewhere else on campus.
  • Off campus.
  • Not in Jeromeville.

The push pin was next to “Not in Jeromeville.”  Amy must have gone home for the weekend, which explains why the Bead People had chosen tonight to throw a party right next to the RA’s room.

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of Karen emerging from Derek’s room.  “I’ve never been drunk before!” she announced to the people sitting in the hallway. I turned around and walked back down the stairs to the second floor.  It was ten o’clock at night, and quiet hours started at eleven. If this party didn’t shut down in an hour, I would not be getting any sleep that night. I knocked on the door of room 215, where Gurpreet, the other RA, lived.  He did not answer either. I was not surprised; of course the party would happen when there was no one in charge in the building.

I went back to room 221 and sat on my bed, angry.  How did this happen? I knew no one here was 21 years old; who bought the beer?  Did they have fake IDs? Did they have older friends buy it for them? Maybe one of the other people at the party who was not from this building was older.  And what about Karen? She was drunk enough to be staggering, and she was not even a legal adult. She had skipped a year in elementary school and graduated from high school early, and she had just turned 17 a month ago.  In health class in high school, we learned about drugs and alcohol, and everyone kept talking about how kids could get drugs and alcohol anyway even though they were illegal. Where? How? Who were these kids? Everyone seemed to know how to get drugs and alcohol except for me, and it made me angry.  I had no desire to do drugs or drink alcohol, but it made me angry nevertheless because these people had some kind of secret knowledge about how to flout authority that I did not have, and they felt no remorse for doing something illegal and unsafe.

Sometimes I wished I had gotten invited to more parties in high school.  That way, I would know when and where kids were getting drunk, breaking the law, and I could call the police on them and get them in trouble, and justice would be served.  Now I finally had my opportunity, and the people in charge were gone. It was frustrating. What should I do now? Should I call the police? Should I go to the Help Window and tell whichever RA was on duty tonight?  Maybe I should call Megan. She was another authority figure who might be able to do something about this. And that would give me another chance to talk to her.

As I sat on the bed thinking about what to do, I realized that I knew all along what the right decision would be.  I did nothing. I got over it and let it go. If the Bead People and the others who went to that party wanted to make poor choices, that was their life.  No one was hurting me, and a bunch of college freshmen drinking cheap beer and playing loud weird music is not exactly the greatest threat to America’s freedom and well-being.  The police might not even consider it a high enough priority to respond. And these people were my friends. I had come a long way to be at this point in my life where I actually had friends, and I didn’t want to ruin that by being a stickler for the rules.  Following authority is important, but so is friendship.

I didn’t go back upstairs to that party that night.  But I also didn’t report them to any authority figures.  I just sat quietly in my room playing around on the computer.  I played Tetris. I got on IRC chat and looked for girls to talk to.  I played around with this new thing I had gotten recently called Netscape, where I could look at these things called Web sites that had text and pictures to read.  If the text was underlined, I could click on it and a new page would open. The pictures took several seconds to load, but it was still more interesting than the text-based Internet I had been using all year.  That night I kept myself busy looking up Pink Floyd lyrics and album artwork. And I was far enough away from the party that the noise didn’t keep me awake. I never did find out what happened the rest of the night at the party on the third floor.  I don’t know if anyone got in trouble. And it was not my business. I slept just fine that night.