I checked my email as I ate my bowl of cereal, and I gasped as I finally saw the message I had been waiting a month to receive.
From: “Megan McCauley” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 22:44 -0700
Subject: Re: hi
Greg!! I’m so sorry it took so long for me to get back to you! The class I was taking was so much work, and I was busy all the time, and then once that ended, we had RA training and orientation all last week. And my residents moved in yesterday… it’s been a whirlwind! I’m in Carter this year, in the North Area. How was the rest of your summer? Are you all moved back here?
Do you want to meet for lunch at the DC sometime this week? The RA meal plan lets you have guests a certain number of times each month. I’m usually free around lunch time, so I can work around your schedule. Let me know. What classes are you taking this quarter? See you soon!
I felt so relieved to know that Megan was not ignoring me for the last month. She was just really busy. And now she wanted to have lunch with me. Sure, the dining commons was not exactly the most glamorous place to meet someone for lunch, but I did not care one bit. Last year, living in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program dorm gave me a built-in community, but I had no such community this year, living alone in an apartment a mile from campus. Maybe this would be a better week than the rest of September, now that school was about to start and students were moving back. Hopefully this was the end of the lonely bike rides and Internet chats that had dominated the last three weeks.
I clicked Reply to answer Megan’s message.
It’s good to hear from you! I’ve been up here for three weeks. I was getting bored at home and I needed a change. I’m ready for school to start now.
How about tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon for lunch? Does that work? I’ll see you then!
After a few hours of procrastination, chatting on IRC and reading some of the Usenet groups I still follow, I grabbed my backpack and left the apartment around 11:00. I had things to do today. I rode to campus the usual way, south down Andrews Road. Just past Coventry Boulevard, I saw a thin, average height girl with straight medium brown hair approaching me. I recognized her off in the distance, and as I approached her, I stopped my bike next to her.
“Hey, Liz,” I said.
Liz looked up at me, clearly not expecting to be addressed by anyone. “Greg!” she said. “Hi! How’s it going?”
“Pretty good. I’ve been up here bored for the last three weeks, because it’s better than being bored at home. I’ve been going on a lot of bike rides.”
“That sounds nice!”
“How are you? How was the rest of your summer?”
“Great! Last week we had Outreach Camp for JCF–”
“Oh, yeah. Sarah wrote to me and told me about that. What’s that like?”
“We spend a week in the mountains studying the Bible and planning our activities for the start of the school year. It was so good. It was good seeing everyone again. Hey, you should come to large group.”
“Did you ever come last year?”
“No, but I heard you guys talk about it.”
“Every Friday night, in 170 Evans. We have a worship time, sing songs, then hear a talk about something from the Bible. And usually people hang out afterward. I think you’d like it.”
I let that comment linger for a few seconds, nodding. “You guys live right around the corner, right?”
“Yeah. Hampton Place.” Liz pointed east across the street, in the general direction of her apartment. “Caroline and I, and then Ramon and Jason are right downstairs from us. Come visit any time!”
“I will. You can too. I’m in Las Casas on Alvarez.” I pointed behind me, in the general direction of my apartment.
“Yeah! I need to get going, but it was good seeing you!”
“Hey,” I asked, a little nervously, “what’s your phone number? Just so I know how to reach everyone.”
“Sure! Do you have something I can write with?” Liz asked. I reached around in my backpack and pulled out a pen and piece of paper. Liz wrote down her phone number along with that of the guys downstairs.
“Thanks!” I said. I tore off a corner of the paper and wrote my phone number and gave it to her. “Here’s mine too.”
“It was good seeing you! Have a great day!”
I continued riding down Andrews Road. Liz Williams and her roommate and neighbors were all friends from my dorm last year. She lived across the hall from me one room to the left, and Caroline Pearson, her roommate this year, lived across the hall from me one room to the right. Jason Costello lived right across from Liz, next to me, and Ramon Quintero, Liz’s boyfriend, lived upstairs at the opposite end of the building. Liz had written to me once and Caroline had twice over the summer.
I passed Jeromeville Covenant Church on my bike. Some of my friends from the dorm, including these four, attended church there. I knew that they were also involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, the local chapter of an international organization called Intervarsity. JCF did a weekly large group meeting, small group Bible studies, and retreats a couple times each year, like the one that Liz had been to last week. This was not the first time I had been invited to the JCF large group. Everyone I knew from JCF seemed nice, but I grew up Catholic, and I was unsure of what to expect from other Christians. Some of them sounded kind of weird to me. And some Catholics and Protestants still like to claim superiority over the other group, although my mother, the primary churchgoer in our family, was not like that at all.
When I got to Fifth Street, the boundary between the city of Jeromeville and campus, I turned left, then turned right on a bike path through the North Residential Area. The North Area had two distinct sections: four five-story high-rises, and the dining commons where I would be meeting Megan McCauley for lunch tomorrow, to my right, and seven smaller two- and three-story buildings, each comparable in size to the buildings of the South Area where I lived last year, to my left. Megan was a resident advisor in Carter Hall, one of the smaller buildings.
At the end of this path, I turned left, toward the Quad and the Memorial Union. Next to the Quad stood the two oldest surviving buildings on campus, simply called Old North Hall and Old South Hall. They were built as dormitories in 1911, but as the campus grew, those two buildings, now located in the core area of a large campus, were remodeled into office buildings as new dormitories were built at the west end of the core campus. Today, Old North and Old South housed a number of student services.
In the basement of Old North was a room full of bulletin boards containing postings of on-campus student jobs. I was growing up, and I needed to take more responsibility for my life. I felt bad that my parents were spending so much money for me to have my own apartment when I was too oblivious last year to notice that I needed to make living arrangements and too scared to answer an advertisement looking for a roommate. No one was making me look for a job, but I wanted one. I read dozens of job announcements. Desk jobs. Cashiers. Food service jobs in the dining commons. Hosts for conventions held by the university. All of them were titled “Student Assistant” with some Roman numeral after them, probably for legal reasons; I never did learn what the Roman numeral meant. I supposed I could probably handle a desk job, or a cashier position after my summer job at Books & More. But then I saw something more suited for me.
STUDENT ASSISTANT IV – TUTORING
Tutors needed for math, English, biology, chemistry, history, more. Meet with small groups of students weekly. Good academic record or professor recommendation required. $10/hr. Contact Albert Wilkins 555-0177 or visit Learning Skills Center – 201 Krueger
I certainly had a good academic record; I had straight As except for one A-minus in a class unrelated to my major of mathematics. I could get paid ten dollars an hour to do math, and I would not have to go out and find students like the private tutors whose flyers I see all over campus, since they would be assigned to me by the Learning Skills Center. Math was easy for me. This sounded like the perfect job. I took an application and wrote down the information. I also wrote down information for a cashier job at the campus store, so I would have another option in case tutoring did not work out.
After eating lunch at the Tex-Mex Grill inside the MU, I walked to the campus store. General interest books, school supplies, and clothing were on the ground floor, and in the middle of the store a wide stairway led down to the basement, where textbooks were sold. As I feared, the store was crowded, because classes began in a few days, but I had nothing to do all day, and I needed to buy books. I headed toward the stairs to the basement, walking past a line of people waiting to buy things on the ground floor, when I saw a round-faced Asian girl with dark chin-length hair in line, and I realized I knew her.
“Tabitha,” I said, stopping in front of the girl.
Tabitha looked up at me and paused. “Greg,” she said. “How are you?”
“Doing pretty well,” I replied. Last year, Tabitha had lived in the dorm next to mine. I often saw her around the dining commons, and she was friends with several people in my building because they were in a Bible study together with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. “How was your summer?” I asked.
“It was good. I was just back home in San Tomas. And I went on a retreat last weekend. How was yours?”
“I was working in a bookstore. Nothing too exciting. Was that retreat for JCF? I saw Liz Williams earlier today, and she told me it was good.”
“It was! It was inspiring. Are you here to get your textbooks?”
“Yeah. It looks like it’ll be pretty crowded down there.”
“Good luck. I was just down there earlier today. And I might need another book later, depending on if I get into a class I’m on the wait list for.”
“Thanks. It was good seeing you again.”
I stopped myself just before I walked downstairs. “Hey,” I said to Tabitha, “can I get your phone number? I’m just trying to stay in touch with everyone this year, now that I won’t see people at the DC or in the dorm.”
Tabitha looked confused for a minute, then she said, “Sure!” I tore a scrap of paper out of a notebook in my backpack, and she wrote her phone number on it. I tore off another scrap and wrote my number on it, and gave it to her. “Here’s mine, if you want.”
“Thanks!” Tabitha replied. “Have a great day!”
A few minutes later, as I walked up and down the aisles of textbooks in the basement looking for the books I needed, weaving past other customers and the line that wrapped from the cash register all the way around the room, I thought about Tabitha’s reaction to me asking for her phone number. I wondered if she thought I was weird for asking. She was not a complete stranger, true, but Liz did not have the same confused look earlier when I asked her. This was probably because Tabitha and I were nearly as close as I was with Liz and the others at Hampton Place. I was not specifically trying to ask Tabitha on a date or anything; I really was just trying to make sure I could stay in touch with everyone I knew last year. Of course, if something were to happen between me and any of these female friends, I would not necessarily be inherently opposed to it.
When I was ready to pay for my books, I went to what appeared to be the end of the line. “Is this the end of the line?” I asked.
“Yeah,” replied the girl who I assumed to be last in line.
“Looks like we’ll be here a while,” I continued. “I’m not doing anything the rest of the day, though.”
“That’s good.” The girl in front of me was short, with bushy blonde hair and glasses. She wore overalls and white shoes, and she had a blue backpack.
“That math book you have. ‘Short Calculus.’ Is that 16 series?”
“I was wondering because I might be working as a tutor with the Learning Skills Center, and I took the 21 series, so if I have to tutor 16 I won’t know their book. But if I’ve done 21 I should be able to help with anything you learn in 16.”
“Probably,” she said. “What’s your major?”
“That’s cool. You want to be a teacher?”
“Probably not. I just need a job this quarter, and I’d probably be good at tutoring. I was always good at math, and my friends in high school always asked me for help.”
“What’s your name?”
“Amber. What’s yours?”
“Greg. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too!”
“How was your summer?”
“I worked at Taco Bell. It was hectic, but it was money. How was yours?”
“I worked at a bookstore back home. It was boring, and it was mostly a store for snobby old ladies, but like you said, it was money. I moved back up here as soon as my apartment lease started.”
“Where is back home?”
“Plumdale. Near Santa Lucia and Gabilan. What about you?”
“I’m from Bear River. You know where that is?”
“Yeah. In the Valley, south of Stockdale and Ralstonville, but north of Ashwood, right?”
Amber and I continued making conversation for the entire twenty-six minutes that we spent in line. When her turn at the cash register came, I said, “Hey, it was nice to meet you. I’ll see you around campus?”
“Yeah!” she replied. “Thanks for making the line a little less boring.”
“You too. Have a great day!”
I rode my bike home the way I came after I bought my textbooks. I had not asked Amber for her phone number, as I had Liz and Tabitha. Maybe I should have. But it just seemed weird to ask a complete stranger for her phone number. I ran into Amber a couple more times around campus that year, but we never became close friends. Could things have been different? Would she have given me her phone number? In hindsight, I suppose I had nothing to lose by asking, but I guess I will never know.
On the other hand, even though Tabitha had given me her number after giving a weird look, I do not remember ever actually calling her that year. But if she had thought it weird, she got over it eventually, because we saw each other enough that year that we did stay friends. Tabitha and I have stayed friends to this day, in fact, and I was at her wedding in 2001. My biggest concern about living alone sophomore year was that I would not have friends without a dorm to wander around in which to say hi to people. But if today was any indication of what this year would be like, I would not have to be concerned about that one bit.