In the winter of 1998, I began every school day with my internship in Mr. Gibson’s class at Jeromeville High School. I was starting to feel like I was learning more about what not to do when I was a teacher someday. Jeromeville was a university town, the locals placed a high value on education, and parents often bought their students fancy, expensive graphing calculators for math class. The predominant model at the time was the Texas Instruments TI-82. In those days, the Internet was emerging as a mainstream technology, and the kids all knew either how to download games onto their graphing calculators or copy games from their friends’ calculators. Mr. Gibson’s teaching style was lecture-based and kind of dry, and half the class was tuned out, playing games on their calculators. That just made me sad. I thought about telling this to Mr. Gibson, but as a 21-year-old undergraduate intern, I did not feel right questioning a veteran teacher on his teaching style.
As I was leaving, I passed by Jeromeville High students on their way from first to second period. I saw a familiar slim brown-haired girl with glasses approaching; she was a senior named Sasha Travis, and she and her family went to my church. I usually saw her in passing as I was leaving the high school after Mr. Gibson’s class, and I knew her well enough to wave and say hi.
“Hey, Greg!” Sasha exclaimed. “How are you?”
“Pretty good. Glad it’s Friday.”
“Me too! Have a good weekend!”
“Thanks! You too!”
I went straight to the university campus after I left Jeromeville High, as I always did. I parked my bike near the Memorial Union and walked inside. With almost an hour before my next class, I had time for one of my favorite daily rituals: reading the school newspaper, the Daily Colt. At some point in my childhood, I started reading the local newspaper regularly every day, and I have done that ever since. Jeromeville has a local newspaper, but my roommates subscribed to the nearby big-city newspaper, the Capital City Record, before I had any input into the issue, so these days I read the Record every morning before I leave the house. That was how I got most of my news on the major issues of the day. Then at some point during a break between classes, I would read the Daily Colt to get campus and local Jeromeville news.
I did not always read every story; I skimmed or outright ignored the ones that were less interesting. I saw a story buried on page five about some plant pathology professor who had won some award, which I was about to skip until I noticed the by-line under the headline: “BY SADIE ROWLAND, COLT CAMPUS WRITER.” Sadie was my friend, so I always read her articles. I might see her tonight at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and if I told her I read her article, maybe she would like that. It would give me something to say to her, at least.
After I read Sadie’s article, I found Joseph Tomlinson‘s weekly column. The Daily Colt was published Monday through Friday, and each of the five days of the week featured a different student columnist. Typically two of them wrote about political issues, one from a liberal perspective and one from a conservative perspective, and the other three just wrote about their lives as students at the University of Jeromeville. Joseph Tomlinson was in his second year of being the conservative columnist, and his column this week was on Jeromeville’s obsession with “small-town feel.”
The Jeromeville City Council had a distinct anti-corporate bias in those days, which is still the case today. A running joke among Jeromevillians was that one cannot buy underwear in Jeromeville. The local leaders believed that large chain department stores did not belong in a small town like Jeromeville. While I saw the value in supporting small, locally owned businesses, I was hesitant to support government interference in the free market. Also, this position was built on false pretenses to begin with, because whatever it was once, Jeromeville was not a small town anymore. Sixty thousand people lived in the city limits, and another eight thousand lived on campus just outside the city limits. And with no clothing stores in Jeromeville, people had to drive eight miles north to Woodville or twenty miles east to Capital City to shop, putting more pollution in the air. The chain stores all went to Woodville instead, even though Woodville had only three-fourths the population of Jeromeville.
Recently, the corporate chains won a rare victory in Jeromeville with the opening of Borders Books. This upset many people, but a bookstore was classy enough that it did not anger Jeromevillians as much as something like Walmart would have. Joseph Tomlinson pointed out in his column that one of the City Council members owned a bookstore, so he should have recused himself from votes related to Borders because of a conflict of interest. I agreed. “Vote no on Small Town Feel,” Tomlinson concluded. “Small Town Feel violates the American concept of freedom.” I always do, Mr. Tomlinson. I always do.
On Friday nights, I attended the large group meetings of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, back on campus. When I arrived that night, I found an empty seat and sat down. A guy with bushy blond hair wearing a collared shirt, slacks, and a flat gray driver cap sat next to me a few minutes later. I had seen this guy around JCF before; he always stood out to me because he was more well-dressed than the typical university student, and because he wore cool hats. “Hey,” I said as he sat down. His name tag said “Jed.”
“Hi,” Jed replied. “What’s up?”
“Not much. Just glad it’s the weekend.”
“I know! What was your name again?”
“Greg,” I said. Then I pointed to his name tag and asked, “Jed? I know I’ve seen you around before.”
“Yeah. Jed. It’s nice to meet you.” Jed shook my hand. “What year are you?”
“I’m a senior. You?”
“They’re starting, so we should probably be quiet,” I said in a loud whisper as I heard the worship team start playing. “But It was nice to meet you.”
“You too!” Jed replied.
As I stood and sang along to the music, I turned around and saw that, while I had been talking to Jed, Sadie Rowland had arrived, sitting in the row behind me. I smiled and waved, and she waved back.
An hour and a half later, after the talk and more worship music, I still had no plans for afterward. I was about to ask Jed if he was doing anything, but he spoke first. “I need to get going,” he said. “I’ll see you next week?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Have a good weekend!”
I turned around, hoping that Sadie was still sitting behind me; she was. “Hey,” I said.
“Hi, Greg! How are you?” Sadie asked.
“Good. Just been busy with school. How are you?”
“Same. I had a paper due today. I finished it at the last minute.”
“You finished it. That’s what’s important.”
“Hey. I saw your article in the Daily Colt today, about that professor who won the award. It was good.”
“Thanks!” Sadie replied. “It was interesting researching and writing that story, but I’m hoping to get moved to local politics next year. That’s really what I want to write.”
“I know. They need a conservative voice on the Colt, even though they probably don’t want one.”
“I guess they have Joseph Tomlinson, but he’s just a columnist, not a reporter.”
“Joseph Tomlinson is great!”
“Yes!” I agreed. “He’s hilarious, and insightful too. I loved his column today on Small Town Feel. Jeromeville can be pretty ridiculous.”
“I know! You’ve been here two years longer than I have, so I’m sure you’ve seen more of the Jeromeville ridiculousness.”
“Definitely. Like the ‘historic’ muddy alleys where mosquitoes breed, but they won’t pave them because of the neighborhood’s historic character.”
“Wow,” Sadie said, rolling her eyes.
“And you know about the frog tunnel, right?”
“Yeah. That’s so weird.”
“I know. One City Councilmember was quoted as saying she wanted to build connections to the frog community.”
“Like the frogs have any idea what’s going on,” Sadie added. “But, yeah, the media is so biased. The newspaper back home keeps calling our house trying to get us to subscribe, and my dad is like, ‘Stop calling me. I don’t want to read your Commie trash.’”
I laughed. “That’s a good one. I should try something like that next time someone calls me trying to sell me something.”
“That would be funny.”
“Yeah. So how was your week? What else did you do?”
“We had Bible study yesterday.”
“Nice,” I said. “My Bible study is huge. We do a few worship songs together, then we split into three groups to do the actual study part. We come back together for prayer requests at the end.”
“Which one is that? Who are the leaders?”
“Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler.”
“How big is huge?”
“We average probably between twenty and twenty-five each week.”
“Twenty-five! That’s too big for a study group like this. Why is it so big?”
“It’s exactly what I said was going to happen. JCF has moved so much toward groups for specific populations. You’re in a Kairos group, right?”
“Those are handpicked by their leaders, and people like me never get included. And there’s the group for transfer students, and the group for student athletes, and the two groups just for women. All of us who don’t fit those categories only had one group left to choose from, so that group ended up huge.”
“I don’t think the Kairos ministry is supposed to be about excluding people, but I get what you’re saying,” Sadie observed.
“I’m concerned with the direction JCF is going. There’s also a group specifically for Filipinos, and I’ve heard someone say that next year they want to make more groups specifically for people from certain cultural backgrounds. How is that not racist? Aren’t we supposed to treat each other equally and not be segregated by race?”
“That’s messed up.”
“I know. Paul said in Galatians that there is no Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
“Exactly! Maybe you should tell Dave or Janet or one of the leaders your concerns.”
“I have. Didn’t do any good.”
“That’s too bad. What are you guys studying?”
I told Sadie that we were going through Romans, and I tried to remember specifically what insights I had that I could share with her. She told me about her Kairos group and everything that they had learned. Her group seemed to have the same kind of studies as other groups, but with a specific focus toward preparing student leaders, which was the stated mission of the Kairos ministry.
“You have any exciting plans coming up?” Sadie asked me a bit later.
“Not this weekend. But in a few weeks, I’m taking the basic skills test I need to get into the teacher training program. And then I’m going straight from there to meet up with the kids from church at Winter Camp. I’ll be joining them a day late.”
“Winter Camp sounds fun! What is this test?”
“It’s required for anyone wanting to be a teacher, or a substitute, or anything like that. It looks like it’ll be pretty easy. It’s just meant to show that you have the equivalent of a ninth grade education.”
“Really? Only ninth grade?”
“Yes. And a lot of people are complaining that teachers shouldn’t have to take the test. They say it excludes people who would otherwise be good teachers.”
“How? How can you be a good teacher without a ninth grade education?”
“I know! They say it’s racially biased.”
“Of course. Everything is racially biased these days.”
“If I had kids,” I said, “I wouldn’t care what color skin their teacher had, but I certainly would insist on a teacher who could do ninth grade reading and math. If you’re a teacher, you need to understand more than just the material you’re teaching.”
“And that’s why you’re gonna be a great teacher.”
“Aww,” I smiled. “Thank you.”
“We definitely need good teachers. A lot of my teachers in high school were ready to retire and just there for the paycheck. And, of course, I had a history teacher who was really liberal. He and I used to get into arguments all the time.”
“That would have been fun to watch. I wish I had been in your class to see that.”
Sadie laughed. “I could have used your support. I did have one other friend who used to jump into those arguments and take my side.”
“That’s good. I had a friend kind of like that in history class, but he usually started the argument with our teacher, and I’d join in. He was kind of annoying, but we had a lot of classes together, and I liked having a conservative friend.”
I told Sadie about Jason Lambert and how he could be kind of loud and argumentative, and also about the time he asked out the girl that I wished I had the guts to ask out. But I also told her some good things about Jason, like the project we did in Spanish class where I was a bully taking his lunch money. Jason’s character used a magical growth drink called La Leche de Crecer, at which point we paused the recording and replaced Jason with a six-foot-seven football player, who proceeded to take revenge on my bully character. Sadie told me about some of her more memorable high school friends, and some of the parties she had gone to with them. She had a bit more active social life than I did in high school, apparently.
“Hey, did I tell you I’m going to Washington, D.C. for the spring and summer?” Sadie asked after the conversation about high school reached a lull.
“I don’t think so. What’s this for?”
“An internship with my Congressman from back home.”
“Yeah! I’ve met him a few times. My dad volunteered for his campaign.”
“That’ll be good experience for you. When do you leave?”
“April. I’ll go home for spring break, then stay there for two weeks, then I’ll be gone until the middle of September. I’m going on planned leave for spring quarter.”
“That’s exciting! I’ll miss seeing you around spring quarter.”
“I know! I’ll miss everyone here. And I’ll miss Outreach Camp. I had so much fun there this year.”
“I know. I have to miss Outreach Camp too, because I will have started student teaching by then. The school where I’m teaching will start earlier than UJ.”
“Do you know where you’ll be student teaching yet?”
“No, but probably not Jeromeville High. The professor who runs it says the student population in Jeromeville doesn’t reflect what we’ll see in the average teaching position around here. Jeromeville families tend to be wealthier and more educated.”
“That makes sense,” Sadie observed.
“Greg, Sadie, time to go, you two,” I heard Tabitha Sasaki’s voice call out from across the room. I looked up, confused. The room was empty, except for me and Sadie, and Tabitha, who was carrying the last of the worship band’s equipment toward the door. I looked at my watch. Sadie and I had been talking for over an hour, long enough for all of the hundred or so others to go home and the staff and student leaders to put everything away and clean up the room. And I had not noticed any of this.
“I guess we have to go now,” Sadie said. “I should get home and go to bed anyway.”
“Did you drive here? Where’d you park?”
“I’m over in the lot by Marks.”
“I’ll walk you to your car,” I said. I grabbed my Bible, Sadie grabbed hers, and we walked out into the dark but clear night, with no moon and only a few stars visible beyond the streetlights lighting the path we walked. “You said you just turned in a paper? Does that mean this will be a relaxing weekend?”
“Unfortunately, no. I have a midterm Monday.”
“That sucks. But good luck.”
We had arrived at Sadie’s car by that point. “It was nice talking to you,” I said.
“You too! I’ll see you around.”
“Good night, Greg.”
I walked toward my car, but before I unlocked my car, I watched Sadie drive off. I got in the car and began the trip home a minute later.
If I could live my university years again, knowing what I know now about life as an adult, I would take more chances. I would not have wasted this opportunity, getting thoroughly lost in conversation with a cute girl, and walking her to her car, only to watch her drive off without attempting to make some kind of future plans. I did not know exactly what to do; I was always just trying to be a good Christian and be friends first and not rush into dating. But this did not work for me, because I did not know what to do once I was friends with a girl. As a student, I was surrounded by others in more or less the same stage of life as me. I did not come to realize until my thirties that life would never be like that again. As I write this in my mid-forties, I have grown apart from many of my friends, and I have found it difficult to meet people and make new friends. If I had been able to see the future on that winter day in 1998, if I had known the directions that mine and Sadie’s lives would take, I would have done everything imaginable not to let her just drive away that night. Things might not have worked out between us, but at least I would have known that I tried my best.
Readers: Tell me in the comments about a night you wish could have ended differently.
I updated the Dramatis Personae. Some of the entries were badly out of date. And Sadie didn’t even have an entry; she was just listed, with no last name, under “Others from JCF.” If anyone is looking for hints of what will happen in the rest of Year 4, it is noteworthy that two characters who were just briefly introduced in this episode now have their own entries already…
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