October 23-25, 1996. A pen pal on another continent.

The way people communicate has changed radically over the course of my life.  When I was young, telephone calls outside of one’s own city cost a lot of money, so when friends moved away, I often never heard from them again.  Writing letters in the mail was an option as well, for people committed enough to do so.  In high school, my friend Catherine went to Austria for a year to be an exchange student, and we wrote letters the whole time she was gone.  When the young people of today have friends who move away, they stay in touch through texting and social media.  Some of them have thousands of followers on social media all over the world, some of whom they have never met before.  Many of them do not want to be bothered with traditional voice-based telephone calls, and many of them do not know how to address an envelope or use a stamp.

I attended the University of Jeromeville during an awkward transition period when both of these worlds existed simultaneously.  Some of my friends used email, some of them communicated by writing letters, and some I never heard from again once I moved.  I spent a lot of time on text-based Internet Relay Chat, usually looking for girls to talk to, because I was not good at meeting girls in real life.  I stayed in touch with some of them by email, but I also sometimes got handwritten letters from them.  Sometimes we wanted to exchange photos, and in an era when flatbed scanners were relatively uncommon and digital cameras were not yet mainstream, it was easier to send a photo in the mail.  Other times, someone I know would lose access to email temporarily, and stay in touch by writing letters.  That was the case for many of my university friends when they went for the summer.  That was also the case with Laura Little, although her story was a bit more interesting.

I met Laura on IRC in the spring of my sophomore year at UJ.  She was seventeen years old, and she lived in upstate New York, on the other side of the United States from me.  In one of our first conversations, she told me that she was going to be leaving in July for a year, to be an exchange student in Switzerland, where she would not have Internet access.  I had been getting letters from Laura regularly since she left; she had a difficult transition to life in Switzerland, and her German was not good, so she wanted to get letters to read in English.

Laura and I had never met, obviously.  I did not know what she looked or sounded like.  Right before she left for Switzerland, a romantic interest named Adam whom she also met on the Internet had come to visit her for a few days.  Whenever she mentioned Adam, her answers were a bit inconsistent and evasive; first she said they had a good time but decided to just be friends, but then in the next letter she said something about having to get her mind off of what happened with Adam, and then she said something about regretting what she did with him, that she felt stupid and that she should have known better.  Clearly I had not gotten the entire story, so the last time I wrote to her, I asked exactly what happened.

I got home in the late afternoon after a long Wednesday of classes to find a letter from Laura on the kitchen counter next to the phone; one of the other roommates had apparently gotten the mail earlier.  Shawn was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher.  When he saw me pick up Laura’s letter, he asked, “Hey, who are all these girls who write letters to you?  You’re getting letters from all over the world!  You’re a ladies’ man!”

“Not exactly,” I said.  “Laura is someone I met on the Internet; she’s from New York but studying in Switzerland this year.”  I conveniently left out the part where she was only seventeen. Even though that was only a three-year age difference between Laura and me, Shawn was turning twenty-three next month, so to him, she would seem significantly younger.

“And you got a letter from Hungary last week.”

That’s Kelly Graham.  You know Kelly.  She was roommates with Haley Channing and Kristina Kasparian last year, on Baron Court.  She’s studying abroad in Hungary this year.”

Shawn thought for a minute.  “Kelly!  Oh yeah.  And don’t you have a girlfriend back home?”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah.  That girl from Gabilan who has written to you like four times already.  That’s where you’re from, right?  Plumdale is right near Gabilan?”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Cecilia, or something like that.”

Cecilia?  From Gabilan?  I laughed loudly as I figured out who Shawn was talking about.  “That’s my grandma!” I said.

“Your grandma!” Shawn laughed.  “This whole time, I thought you had a girlfriend back home.”

“I wish I had a girlfriend back home who wrote me as often as Grandma did.”

“She sure likes to write.”

“She does.  And my cousin Rick, the second-oldest grandchild, went away to North Coast State this year, so he’s gonna get just as many letters from Grandma now too.”

“That’s nice of her, though.”

“Yeah, it is.”  I walked upstairs to read Laura’s letter.  Laura had very small handwriting; she sometimes wrote in cursive and sometimes printed, sometimes both in the same letter, and she often did not bother to separate her letters into paragraphs.  This letter was handwritten on tan stationery, with a typed paper inside the envelope as well.  The typed paper appeared to be a math assignment of some sort.


Greg,

Guten tag!  Meine Deutsch ist besser.  (My German is better.)  I understand more than I did before at least. I’m doing well.  The weather here is getting colder.  I just spent 200 francs on sweaters and a long sleeve shirt.  My mom would kill me if she found out how much money I spent.  I’m supposed to be taking this test, but it’s a take home test so I’ll make a copy and send it to you.  I’m so lost and I have told the teacher that I don’t understand any of this.  He just told me to do my best but I just sat for half an hour debating if I did the problems correct but I left half of them blank because I don’t know what to do.  Maybe you can help me.  I’ll write what it means in English if I know it.  I would really appreciate it if you could help explain these.  I know it is really sad how lost I am.  I told my mom about you and said that I was going to ask you for help with math, and she says thank you.  I do too.  So anyway, last weekend I went away on a trip with the other exchange students in my program and I got to talk in English all weekend.  It was so good.  We went to the mountains and in the morning we took a cable car to the top of a mountain and it snowed.  I love it.  And we had a big party that night.  It was cold, but we had a snowball fight and took a lot of pictures.  We have Herbstferien here, it’s a fall school holiday, I CAN’T WAIT!  I’m going to go skiing, I’ve never been before.  I hope you don’t think different of me after I tell you what happened with Adam because I know it was a mistake and I should have just been friends with him but I’m so stupid.  Sometimes when I’m put in a pressure situation I don’t think straight.  Only you and one of my friends back home know about this because I don’t want anyone to know.  I was so stupid to let it happen but it’s too late to fix it now and I just want to forget about that.


I had a feeling I knew what was coming next.  It was pretty obvious where she was going with this.  I continued reading.


Well I kinda slept with him.  Only once though but we also did some other stuff.  I don’t want to say anything more, I’m so stupid to let it happen.  But on a lighter note I got my ear pierced at the top.  It didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would but I couldn’t sleep on that side for a few days.  One of my friends from school here and I got it done together.  I like it.  I’m not feeling homesick as often.  I know how to prevent it now and I don’t think it will happen again.  I know my writing is messy but I haven’t slept much.  I hope you don’t think of me different because of all that.  Oh yeah, you’ll be happy to know my butt doesn’t hurt as much when I ride my bike to school.  I’m happy now but I can’t ride long distances like you do sometimes.  How are you?  Have you met anyone yet?  It made me sad when you said you felt like giving up on girls.  Just talk to someone.  Ask her to coffee or ice cream or lunch or something.  And tell me all about her.  Any girl would be lucky to spend time with you.  I hope to hear from you soon.

❤ Laura


I was not entirely sure how to react to what she said about Adam, although I had a feeling that was what she was going to say from the moment she told me in her last letter that she regretted what she did.  Part of me was disappointed that this happened; Laura was not the kind of nice Christian girl I was hoping to meet.  She had never claimed to be Christian, though, so that was just wishful thinking on my part.

But I also did not blame her or Adam one bit.  If I had been Adam, I probably would have been having fantasies about going to bed with Laura the whole time I was visiting her, even though I knew it was wrong.  I must admit, I had had those fantasies about her before, although I could not bring myself to tell her that, of course.  This sounds paradoxical, but such are the trials of a lonely, girl-crazy Christian young adult like me.

I only had one class the next day, and one of my students for my tutoring job did not show up, so I had plenty of time to get homework done during the day.  After dinner that night, I went upstairs to my room and began writing my next letter to Laura.  


October 24, 1996

Dear Laura,

Thank you for your honesty.  Don’t worry about me thinking differently of you.  Everyone does things they wish they hadn’t afterward.  And please don’t call yourself stupid.  You aren’t.  You said you regret what you did, so learn from this.  You told me that you know you don’t think straight in pressure situations, so when you know you’re going to be in a pressure situation, set boundaries in advance.  If there’s a guy who likes you, for example, don’t be alone with him if you don’t want to feel pressured.

I wish I got a fall break.  That sounds like it’ll be fun.  I’ve never been skiing either.  I don’t know if I want to try it.  I’m not usually good at things like that where I have to keep my balance by going fast, and I would probably just get frustrated.  But tell me how it goes.  Your ear piercing sounds cute.

I started going to a new church a couple weeks ago.  I really like it.  A lot of my friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship go to that church.  But I don’t want to start going there just because I have friends there.  That shouldn’t be what church is about.  So I decided for the rest of October to go to both churches every Sunday and pray about it.  So far I like the new church.  People there seem more serious about following God and reading the Bible.

Things are going well at the apartment.  I’m adjusting well to having roommates.  Four of us share a three bedroom apartment; Shawn and I share the big bedroom.  It hasn’t been a problem so far.  We both get up early for class, so I don’t have to worry about waking him up or him waking me up.  Brian is really nice too.  The fourth guy, Josh, he works weird hours, and I don’t see him very often.

I don’t have a girlfriend.  I’m not good at meeting girls.  I feel like I have a lot of acquaintances these days, but I’m kind of on the outside of a lot of my friends’ social groups.  There’s this one girl I know from JCF who I would love to get to know better and spend more time with.  She’s really sweet and she has beautiful blue eyes.  I just don’t know what to do, though.  I don’t get to talk to her very often, and lately she’s been acting a little different.  I’m not sure why.  Last week at JCF she was talking a lot with this other guy, but I couldn’t tell if they were together or anything.  I met her in January when I was having a really hard day, and this guy invited me to hang out with some of his friends, and we hung out at her house.  A couple months ago, around the time all the year leases run out, I rode my bike past their house and everything was dark, and that inspired me to write a poem.  I’ll send it to you. It’s a Shakespearean sonnet; I’ve always liked that format for poems.


I continued writing, telling her all about trigonometric ratios on the next page, which apparently her mom wanted to thank me for.  I wondered exactly how much Laura’s mom knew about me.  I told my mom very little about all the girls I had met on the Internet, although she knew about one, Molly from Pennsylvania, because Molly wrote me letters the summer after freshman year when I went home for the summer.

Next I opened a file on my computer called “2234.”  This was the title of the poem I had mentioned in my letter to Laura, about a time when I rode my bike past the house where Haley and her roommates lived, but Haley was home for the summer and everyone else had moved out by then.  I titled the poem 2234 after the address of the house, 2234 Baron Court.  I printed the poem and put it on my desk with the rest of Laura’s letter, which I would mail in the morning.


“2234”
by Gregory J. Dennison, 1996

Inside your walls, that January night,
My life began again, in joy and love;
My brand new friends had shown to me the light;
Set free from gloom, I praise my Lord above!
Today your door is locked, your curtains drawn,
Along your quiet street you make no sound,
Your residents, and all their friends, are gone,
No sign left of the friendship I once found.
But though the cast has left, the show is done,
The drama rests forever in my heart;
This friendship still is shining like the sun,
We’re miles away, but not so far apart;
   Though now, O house, you’re empty, cold, and dark,
   My night in you forever left its mark.


I took a long time to fall asleep Thursday night.  I kept thinking about Laura, having sex with Adam and partying with all of the other exchange students, probably getting drunk in the process.  I wondered if she made any other decisions she regretted on her weekend with the other exchange students.  I knew consciously that that line of thinking was horribly judgmental, and that I was being a bad friend by entertaining those thoughts, but I could not help it.  I woke up tired Friday morning, still dwelling on these dark thoughts.

I was not feeling angry with Laura, though.  My brooding was directed more toward myself, at my failures with girls, and at a society where fake people with loose morals always got the girl or guy they were after, and guys like me were ridiculed and made outcasts.  I did not know how meeting girls and dating worked.  Laura tried to encourage me, but her suggestions just were not easy for me.  I did not know how to talk about things that girls would be interested in, and sometimes I felt like I was on the outside, or at best on the outer fringes, of cliques that seemed to spend a lot of time together.

During a break between classes, I went to the Post Office to mail Laura’s letter.  There was a small Post Office in the Memorial Union building, around the corner from the campus store.  Four people were in front of me in line, and with two friends in Europe that I was writing to that year, I had spent enough time in this line to know that I would be here for at least fifteen minutes.  Usually only one employee worked at the desk, and whenever he had to get something behind the desk, or place a package where the outgoing packages went, he seemed to move so slowly that I wondered if he was exaggerating his slow movements on purpose.  Did he have special training to learn how to work so slowly and inefficiently?  If I had been working behind that desk, I would be moving a lot faster, just because it was in my nature to get things done.  It probably would have saved time to buy stamps in the denomination of what it cost to send a letter to Europe, but sometimes I wrote long enough letters that it cost more, and I would have had to stand in line anyway to get the right postage.

I finally mailed my letter and walked toward the other end of the Memorial Union looking for a place to sit.  I was thinking about Laura’s encouragement to talk to girls and not be afraid, and as if on cue, I saw Haley walking toward me.  Before I could overthink myself out of it, I said, “Hey, Haley.”

Haley stopped and looked up at me with her bright blue eyes, smiling.  “Hi,” she said.  “What’s up?”

“Not much,” I said.  “Glad it’s Friday.”

“I know!  I had a big midterm yesterday.  It was a long week.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?”  The words just came out; I was not sure where I was going with this line of conversation, but it felt right to ask.

“Not much.  But I’m going to play games at the Albert Street house tonight.  Did you hear about that?”

“I don’t think so.”

“After JCF tonight. Just hanging out and play games.  I’m sure you’re invited.”

“Eddie and Raphael’s house?  That Albert Street house?”

“Yeah.  I have to get going, but will you be at JCF tonight?”

“I will.  I’ll see you there?”

“Yeah!  See you there!”

I did go to the game night after JCF that night, and it was a lot of fun.  About ten of us were there, and we played Uno and Taboo until well after midnight.  Nothing special happened between me and Haley, although we did get to talk a bit more.  That felt like progress.  Maybe next time I would ask her to do something specific, just me and her.

After the game night ended, I headed home on the nearly empty streets of Jeromeville under the dark night sky, driving over the overpass with trees on it and flipping around the stations on the car radio.  As I heard Alanis Morissette singing about how “you live, you learn, you love, you learn” in her pain-inducing voice that sounded like the sound some sort of bird would make as it was being stabbed, I instinctively reached over to change the station.  But just before I pressed the button, I stopped.  Maybe Alanis was right.  I was living my life and learning from my missteps and mistakes.  And so was Laura, on another continent.  I was not doing myself any favors when I got down on myself because of my social and romantic failures, and neither was Laura when she called herself stupid because of what happened with Adam.  Laura was my long-distance friend, and friends were there to encourage each other, and help each other learn and grow.


Dear readers: What are some experiences you’ve had with learning not to be so judgmental? Or learning from your mistakes?

Also, I know this is a day late. I might be taking an unplanned week off from writing here and there, because I’m behind on real life right now. Next time I skip a week, you can always read an episode from the archives.

July 12, 1996. Thinking about the future.

Everyone has those experiences of seeing a familiar face in an unexpected place or situation, and usually, such a moment turns out to be awkward.  Kids see their teachers grocery shopping and freak out, because it never occurred to them that teachers eat like normal humans and do not live at school.  In 1996, Kevin Johnson was playing basketball for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and in 2007, I saw him ordering at Chipotle, but I was too afraid to say anything.

I had one of those moments one Friday afternoon in the summer of 1996, when I was taking Computer Science 40, Introduction to Software, at the University of Jeromeville.  It was five o’clock, and I was still wearing the same old pair of shorts that I used for pajamas.  I had no class on Fridays, so I had not showered today.  I spent the morning in an IRC chat talking to a girl on the other side of the country, then I had worked on homework for a while, then I read a few chapters of a book for fun, and now I was going to go for a bike ride.  I put on a pair of real shorts and walked my bike out to the parking lot.  I looked up and saw Joe White.  “Hey,” I said.

Wait a minute.  Joe White, the teacher’s assistant for my computer class, does not live at Las Casas Apartments.  Or does he?  I had never seen him around here before.  He appeared to have just gotten out of the pool, and he was holding hands with a girl in a black bikini whom I had seen around the complex.

“Hi, Greg,” Joe said.  “You live here?”

“Yeah.”

“My girlfriend lives here.  It seems like a pretty nice place.”

“It is.  I like it.”

“How are you?  You seem to be doing really well in class so far.”

“I’m good.  I tend to figure out computers pretty easily.”

“Are you a CS major?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m a math major.”

“Do you need CS 40 for the math major?”

“No, but I needed 30.  And 110 counts in place of math units toward the major.  I’ve always liked computers, I want to learn more about programming, and 40 is a prerequisite for 110.”

“That makes sense.  Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, you were in Math 145 last quarter with Dr. Thomas, right?”

“Yeah.  Were you in that class?”

“Yes.  I’ve been wondering if all the math professors at Jeromeville are as bad as Gabby Thomas, or if that was just her teaching style.”

This comment caught me completely off guard, since Gabby Thomas had been my favorite math professor so far, and I was not sure what it was that Joe found so abhorrent about her teaching style.  I liked her class.  Not wanting to debate this, I simply said, “Every professor is different.  I’ve had good and bad experiences.”

“That makes sense,” Joe said as I nodded.  He continued, “So what do you want to do with your math degree?”

“I’m not really sure,” I explained.  “Math is just what I’m good at.  I’ll probably just stay here and go to grad school.”

“A Ph.D. from Jeromeville doesn’t really mean much if you’re going to be a serious academic.  But if your math grades are anything like how you’re doing in CS so far, you could probably get into a really prestigious program.”

“Hmm,” I said, nodding.

“I should get going,” Joe said.  “Enjoy your ride, and I’ll see you in class.”

“Thanks!  Have a good weekend!”

I pedaled out toward Andrews Road and headed south toward campus, thinking about what Joe had said.  It had never crossed my mind how degrees from different universities with different levels of prestige might affect future employment opportunities.  As a kid, I just went to whatever school was in my neighborhood; I never had to consider the school’s prestige, reputation, or history.  Apparently, a career in academia was a bit more complicated.  It also rubbed me the wrong way that Joe seemed to have a very low opinion of the University of Jeromeville.  He thought my favorite professor was awful, and that an advanced degree from here was worthless.  If he thought so lowly of UJ, why was he getting his degree here?  For all I know, maybe he did not get accepted anywhere else.

I rode my bike past the North Residential Area and Thong Bikini Hill, which was full of sunbathers and swimmers today, to the oak grove at the west end of the Arboretum.  I continued along the path on the south bank of the creek for the entire length of the Arboretum, emerging downtown on First Street.  I turned right on Cornell Boulevard, crossing under the railroad tracks near Murder Burger and then over Highway 100.  Another trail followed the dry creek bed on this side of the highway; I worked my way to this trail and followed it east to where it ended.  The grasses between the trail and the dry creek bed had turned brown in the dry summer heat, but the trees lining the trail were full of green leaves.

At the end of the trail, I turned around and headed back to the west, until I got to the greenbelt that led to the park at the end of Baron Court, where I turned right, away from the creek.  In May, I had been playing disc golf in this Greenbelt as part of the Man of Steel competition, an annual event among the men of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship involving disc golf, an eating contest, and poker.  I was looking forward to next year, hoping that I would not finish close to last place for a second time in a row.

As I pedaled past trees and a small playground, I got an idea.  Although I lived alone at Las Casas, part of the reason I chose that apartment was because thirteen of my friends from freshman year lived within a short walk of me.  I occasionally walked to one of their apartments just to visit.  During sophomore year, I got involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and two households full of my new JCF friends lived on Baron Court.  What if I dropped in on them just to say hi the same way I did for my friends who lived near me?

I stopped my bike in front of the closer of the two houses and walked it up to the door, nervously.  During the school year, Haley, Kristina, Kelly, and Jeanette lived here, with two other girls whom I did not know as well.  I was not sure who would be here today, except that I knew that Haley would not, since she went home for the summer.

I took a deep breath and looked back out toward the street, contemplating getting back on my bike and going home.  This was a bad idea.  Maybe none of my friends would be here.  Maybe they had other roommates in the summer who did not know me; what would I say if one of them answered the door?  Which roommate was I looking for?  Would it be weird to say that I knew multiple girls who lived here and I just dropped by to say hi to whomever was home?  Why was I even here?  If I was looking for a chance to talk to Haley, she was not in Jeromeville, so that would not happen.  I knocked on the door before I could talk myself out of this.  The thirty seconds that I waited for a response felt like several minutes as I played out all the scenarios in my head.

Kelly answered, wearing a t-shirt and running shorts.  “Greg!” she said.  “Hi!  What’s up?”

“Nothing,” I explained.  “I was just out on a bike ride, out your way, and just wanted to say hi if anyone I knew was home.”

“Come on in!  I’m the only one here right now.  You want some water?”

“Sure.  And I’m sorry that I’m all sweaty.”

“It’s fine,” Kelly said, walking toward the kitchen.  I followed her.  “I just got back from a run a little while ago, and I haven’t showered yet.”  As Kelly got a glass out of the cupboard and filled it from a pitcher in the refrigerator, I noticed something frying in a pan on the stove.  “I’m making a hamburger,” Kelly explained, handing me the glass of water.

“I see,” I said, drinking about half the water in my first sip.  “How’s your summer going?”

“Pretty good.  Two classes during a summer session is a lot of work, though.  But I’m keeping up with it.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a lot of work.  I’m only taking one class, and that’s a lot of work by itself.”

“Which class?”

“Computer Science 40.  Intro to Software.”

“That does sound like a lot of work,” Kelly said, chuckling.  “What are you learning about?  Intro to software, like making your own?  I’m not really a computer person.”

“Yeah.  We’re programming in C, which is a structured programming language.  A lot of more entry-level programming classes use languages that are simpler for humans to understand, but a lot less powerful.  Like last quarter in CS 30, when we learned programming in Pascal.”

“I see.”

“I don’t like working in the computer lab in the basement of Kent Hall, though.  I work better from home, with music playing and stuff.  But I have to be connected to the computers in Kent, and I don’t want to tie up the phone line.  So I’ll dial in around 10 at night, and stay up late getting my work done, and it works out because I don’t have to be up early in the morning.”

“That makes sense.”

“And I’ve trained myself to sleep in a little.  I don’t usually sleep in very well.”

“I… have the opposite problem,” Kelly said, chuckling.  “I sleep through my early morning classes.”

“I’ve found that most people do have the opposite problem.”

Kelly flipped over the hamburger patty with a spatula.  “So what else have you been doing this summer?  Did you go home at all?”

“Yeah.  The week in between spring quarter and summer session.  My brother and I turned all of our silly inside jokes into a board game.”

“That sounds fun!  How old is your brother?”

“Fourteen.  He starts high school this year.”

“Oh!  I was picturing older.  Is it just the two of you?”

“Yeah.  What about you?”

“I have an older sister.  She’s in grad school in California.”

“Nice,” I said.  “That’s about it for my summer.  I’ve just been going to my class, and going for a lot of bike rides, and going to the Bible study on Thursdays at Lillian’s– Oh!  And I mailed off my payment for Urbana!  I’m going, for sure!”

“That’s exciting!  I’ve heard such great things about Urbana!  I really wish I could go.”

“Why can’t you?” I asked, hoping it was not too personal of a question.

“Did I tell you what I was doing next year?”

“I don’t think you did.”  I hoped that I had not disrespectfully forgotten some key piece of information that Kelly had told me before.  I first wondered if she could not afford the trip to Urbana, then I wondered if she was going on a mission trip, the kind of thing I would learn more about at Urbana, like what Taylor and Pete and Charlie were doing in Morocco or Xander was doing in India right now.  Neither one was correct.

“I’m going to Hungary,” Kelly said.  “To study abroad.”

“Oh!” I said.  “That’ll be exciting!”

“Yeah.  I always wanted to study abroad.  I wanted to be an exchange student in high school, but it never worked out.  This time, the opportunity did work out.”

“When do you leave?”

“After first summer session ends, I’m going to go home for a little over a week.  I leave in the middle of August.”

“Will you have email?  Or is there an address I can write you?”

“Yeah!  I don’t think I’ll have email, but I’m keeping an address book so I can write to people.  I’ll send you my address once I get there.  Lemme go get it.”  Kelly left the kitchen and came back a minute later with the address book; she turned to the page for the letter D and said, “Will you be at the same place next year?”

“No,” I said.  “I’ll give you my new address.”  I wrote in the address book, Greg Dennison, 2601 Maple Dr. #K-5, Jeromeville (after Sept. 1).

“Who did you say you were living with next year?”

Shawn Yang, Brian Burr, and Josh McGraw.”

“So this is Brian’s address too?  I’d been meaning to get his address.”

“Yes!  And I will definitely write you.”

“Great!”  Kelly turned off the stove and put her hamburger on a bun, which she had on a plate.

“I should probably let you eat that,” I said.  “I need to get home.”

“Yeah, I need to eat and then get in the shower.  But thanks for stopping by!”

“Yeah!  Good luck with the rest of your classes!”

“Thanks!  You too!”

I left Kelly’s house and rode down Baron Court.  I thought about stopping by the house down the street where a bunch of guys I knew lived, but at this point I was ready to get home and make something to eat, so I did not stop.  Kelly’s hamburger smelled good.

I turned right on Valdez and right again at Cornell Boulevard.  I saw tractors and backhoes on the other side of Cornell from me; I had read that a shopping center was being built here.  Shopping centers always brought controversy in Jeromeville.  The city was run by aging hippies who fought tooth and nail to keep the city feeling like the small town it was forty years ago, in complete denial of the population growth brought on by the large and growing university adjacent to the city.  The construction of a shopping center always renewed debate about what kind of stores belonged in a proper small town like Jeromeville.  I thought the city council should just mind their own business and let the free market decide, because this was America.

I turned left on Willard Avenue.  This was my first time on this stretch of road.  An overpass had just opened a few weeks earlier, connecting Willard Avenue with Power Line Road on the other side of Highway 100.  In typical Jeromeville fashion, the overpass was controversial; new roads would bring more traffic, which would bring more crime from other cities, according to the very shaky logic of the people who ran this city.  Currently, only two two-lane roads connected the part of Jeromeville south of 100 with the rest of the city, and horrible traffic jams plagued both of them, especially Cornell Boulevard heading into downtown.  This new overpass in between those other two was desperately needed, in the eyes of anyone who could think logically and unemotionally.

When the need for the overpass became apparent, the people planning it decided that it would be a uniquely Jeromevillian overpass, with a landscaped median full of planters with trees.  Trees on an overpass made no sense to me.  Trees grow, and trees have roots, which would crack the concrete and dangle over the freeway below.  The trees and planters also would add weight to the overpass.  As I crossed Highway 100, riding past the trees, I thought about how the local newspaper columnist Bill Dunnigan had said the same thing I did about them.  But someone thought this was a good idea, and as if not to be shown up, the city of Nueces, 15 miles west on Highway 100, built their own overpass with trees a few years later.

North of the freeway, the overpass crossed a railroad track and Second Street, then passed between two undeveloped grassy areas.  One had a pond fed by storm drains that was full for most of the year.  The city paid thousands of dollars to design a tunnel under this road so that wildlife could cross the road, a move which many pundits from other cities in the region made fun of.  A local artist built some miniature buildings called “Frogville” which he placed near one end of the tunnel.  What makes this situation even more messed up is that much of the land was paved over within a few years, and no frogs or other animals were ever seen using the tunnel.  I always said that Tunneling Frogs would make a good name for a band.  Had I done more research into the quirky left-wing hippie local politics in Jeromeville before I came to UJ for school, there is a good chance I would not have chosen UJ.  However, after making so many friends here and discovering how much I loved bike rides, Jeromeville was definitely starting to grow on me.

As I continued riding home, north on Power Line Road, west on Coventry Boulevard, and then right on G Street into the Coventry Greenbelt, I thought about that afternoon’s conversations.  Joe White had brought into question my plan to stay in school forever, with his comment about the importance of getting into a prestigious graduate program.  Kelly Graham clearly had a plan for her year in Hungary.

What was my plan?  Was I really planning on staying in school forever?  What would I do then?  I would become a mathematician, teaching college classes while doing mathematics research.  Was that what I wanted?  What were my other options?  I was pretty sure I did not want to teach middle or high school.  If I changed my major to computer science or something involving computers, I would be competing with others who were much more knowledgeable than me about computers from this decade.  I also enjoyed fiddling with computers, and I did not want something fun to turn into work.  By the time I got home, I found that I was more frustrated than I had been when I started on this ride.

I stopped at the mailboxes on my way back to the apartment and took a deep breath.  I knew that I did not have to decide my future plans right now, but it felt more urgent than it had a few hours ago.  I opened the mailbox and saw a letter from Sarah Winters.  She was at home in Ralstonville for the summer.  I went home and read the letter before I got into the shower.  In my last letter to her, I had mentioned that the weather had been uncharacteristically cool.  I had also told her about my class, my week at home, and how I needed to coordinate with Shawn and Brian and Josh about moving into the new apartment and storing my things for a few days after I moved out of this apartment.  Sarah told me that she had been in a wedding for one of her high school friends, and that she had been going to the college group at her church.  She was going to Disneyland later this month, and she would be talking to her pastor about missionary opportunities over the next couple of years.  She closed her letter saying, “I hope your plans for next year fall into place and that the sun comes out soon.  Take care!”

The sun did come out; temperatures this week had been in the 90s.  And Sarah was referring to the moving plans falling into place, but after today, I felt like I had many other plans that needed to fall into place.  I still had time to figure out my future.  Or did I?  I had been at UJ for two years, and I had made virtually no progress in choosing a career.  I would graduate in another two or three years, and it would be better to come up with a plan soon, so that I could choose the right classes.

I seemed to remember the Math Club talking about career opportunities sometimes; maybe I should pay attention to those.  Or I may end up doing something entirely different.  In December, I would be attending the convention in Urbana, Illinois, to learn about Christian mission opportunities and ways I can serve God.  Maybe I would discover an entirely new career opportunity there.  The world was not an easy place, but I was learning, and I would figure out my future when I was ready.  Things seemed scary and confusing now, but my sun would come out soon.