Have you ever met someone who obviously cared about learning your name but you responded by being as interested in him as gum on the bottom of your shoe? I officially met Steve at a greeting meeting for our dorm which occured in the chapel which is ironic considering the range of irreverent activities that our dorm would engage in that year. I had seen Steve before that week as his head was covered in a briar patch of brown curls which bounced when he walked. I slid into a pew in the chapel with a few of my other hallmates. Steve was in the pew ahead of us and was leaning back, shaking hands with my hallmates and interestedly learning their names. He impressed me as someone who had not realized that high school was over and hence it was not necessary to meet as many people as possible in order to earn their student council vote. I introduced myself and he took note of my name and I noticed how he said it back to me - "Kendra" - but not in the tone used by everyone else at Liberal Arts College on a Hill when repeating back to you what you just said. "Kendra." But I assumed that I was only a fleeting name in his mental rolodex, soon to be
I was wrong.
The greeting meeting for our dorm in the chapel was memorable. Memorable in that all of the RAs introduced themselves and blah blah they were majoring in Blippity Blah and they hoped we'd get involved in Bloopity Boppity Boo. Finally, the dorm director who was a scrawnier version of Pee Wee Herman in a polo stood up to the mic and said, "Many students come..." and then made the near-fatal mistake of pausing. Every last male resident of Baldwin Hall guffawed. I thought that the comic value of this incident would fade soon after the meeting ended. And then when it didn't, I thought that after the week of Orientation, people would forget the building director's faux pas and invent new dorm humor. Instead, many students came to repeat Many Students Come at mealtimes, on dry-erase boards for the rest of the year. Which explains why I still remember this hallmark quote from our building director who did not return to Liberal Arts College on a Hill the next year. He off and joined the circus. No, really, he went to work in residence life for Barnum & Bailey. I do believe that Baldwin Hall prepared him well.
The few days before classes began were a little bit more enjoyable. One evening, I learned that several of my other dormies were headed to the Campus Ministry picnic, and when I consider that group, it makes me smile. One included Big Red, a red-headed girl from a farm country in northern Pennsylvania. The group started up the hill and Big Red exclaimed "F@#% this s&!^, I'm not walking, I'm going to get my car" on her way to the Campus Ministry picnic. Two of the other sojourners, Eric and Celia, became two of my very best friends senior year and a year after graduation, promised to be each other's best friends for life in holy matrimony. The other travelers were Topher who was going for the free food, and Colleen who was nuts.
There was a refreshing tone of frivolity at the picnic. Of course there was another beat icebreaker or two, but there were upperclassmen there who were not totally jaded by self-introductions and they made it fun. Each organization gave a skit and one included a portrayal of "backyard banchees" which made me miss the boy whom I had decided that I loved because he was always carousing around like a backyard banchee, skits notwithstanding. I know that I saw Steve at the picnic but was probably chalking him up as another person there for the free food.
The weekend before classes began is a blur to me. I am sure that I had registered for some classes and bought books with the cash moneys that my Nana had given me which didn't seem right since she was living off of Social Security and had not bought a new pair of anything for herself since pre-Watergate. But she had insisted so I was keen for new books bought from the bookstore since, again, I did not know how to use the internet per se and was ignorant of the vast, cost-effective possiblities of buying books online. I am also quite certain that I watched "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" on McKinley's lawn for the first time with a girl who spelled her name KIMmy. I admired her for this, and for wearing lacy slips on the outside.
My roommate woke up for classes at 6:30am. I had thought that such a wake-up call - when her first class was at 8am - was necessary for someone who was going to milk the cow and fetch eggs for making breakfast from scratch. This was because, for the last four years, I had rolled from the rumpled covers of my bed ito the plush seats of my friend Micky's Oldsmobile each morning on our way to the overprivileged all-girls school where the uniform consisted of a navy skirt (I purchased one and wore it for four years and washed it at least twice) and a white shirt with an elastic waistband which meant that we didn't even have to worry about tucking it in. I had never in four years of high school gotten up to put on make-up or comb my hair or offer a casual thought about my appearance other than whether or not I had taken off my pajama pants by the time I arrived to my first class. I may have lost sleep over many things in high school, but it was never because I had woken too early to apply my eyeliner straight. My roommate, on the other hand, was up at 6:30am everyday, while I rolled over and waited for my beacon at 9:45a, just in time to eat an untoasted pop tart before my 10a class.
My classes first semester were all very base-level intro classes that did not give me much trouble, other than Calc which awarded me my first ever "C" on a report card. I studied with the quintessential college boy whom I had encountered on day one. He was so HOT. Oftentimes, we would meet before class to go over homework when algorithms were so hard and he was SO hot. One evening, we had planned to meet in the main lounge of Baldwin and I had arrived to the table early. Steve was sitting on a window ledge in the lounge and said "Hi, Kendra." I said hello and didn't make pleasantries, because was I even sure that his name was Steve? He asked me where I lived in Baldwin and what I was studying and I looked at him and thought he was very cute but that he clearly had an agenda.
Despite the connections with people in my classes, I was still very lost and very lonely. I still starred as Kendra the Deer Caught in the Headlights in the dining hall at every mealtime. Additionally, I had gained some weight before college which was good since I no longer starred as Kendra the Skeletal Zombie of high school, but unfortunate since none of my fall clothes fit. And being friendless with flood pants in the dining hall was not the way to spend freshman year, I had decided.
That week I also I received a beautiful, thoughtful, and totally ambiguous letter from the boy whom I had decided that I loved. The day I received the letter, I read it 74 times. He had used the word "pulchritudinous" and I knew the meaning of it, but knew not why he had used it in reference to me. The letter? It did not come as much comfort to me. It became clear to me that the boy whom I had decided that I loved was thousands of football fields away from me, both geographically and in smarts. I took several days to respond as it may have been necessary to consult a thesaurus.
The one stability during that first month was Friday night. I attended a praise and worship night hosted by the Christian student association on campus. It was warm and lively, and reminded me of the gatherings that our Catholic youth minister had discouraged us from attending in high school. For me, it was the perfect place to be a lost freshman and to realize that God lived even on a campus where the stairwells smelled of stale beer and the walls were smeared with barbecue sauce. Steve also attended the nights and said hi to me. He was a social butterfly. It finally occurred to me that he was not running for student council but rather strategically successful in meeting people by learning their names. It was at this point that I ceased being suspicious of him and began to take notes from him. Sometimes, he had soccer games on Friday nights and I would miss seeing him. One night, I decided to find his room in Baldwin Hall.
It Happened One Night
I knocked on his door and started to walk away. He came to the door in his boxers and laughed. He asked me what I was doing in the dorm on a Saturday night. I replied, "Because I have no friends and the only conversations I have with people here are about alogrithms and whether I can sit with them at lunch or not. Because I am a recovering Catholic schoolgirl and wore a uniform for twelve years and now have no pants that don't give me a wedgie when I walk. Because I am afraid of drinking and getting ruffied and getting raped and even beyond all that, I am afraid of boys, particularly ones that will come to the door in boxers and who leave me with nothing to say."
Actually I started to blush and stammered, "Because I was coming through the horseshoe outside and walked through your hall to get to my hall."
"Let me put some clothes on and then you can come in," he said.
I entered his room which was dark except for a lava lamp and the oscillating lights on his stereo system which I now know was playing Jars of Clay. I sat on the edge of his bed and he lay on his back and he smiled when I talked and his voice was gravelly when he asked me a question and then I yawned and he said it was the cutest thing he had ever seen, like a puppy. He said I should put my head on his pillow because I looked uncomfortable and he was less right about my discomfort and more right about how I had wanted to put my head on his flannel pillow which looked yummy enough to mash my whole face into without any scruples.
He patted my back? Or was it my head? And we found out that both of our parents had gotten divorced while we were in high school and how we both had had a tough go with our moms. We both had younger sisters who told us how it was, and we liked the movie "Good Will Hunting." I told him a little bit about the boy whom I had decided that I loved, and how I couldn't really describe him in so many words, only that he was wonderful and that I missed having friends who didn't judge you when you wanted to be ridiculous. We talked about how we couldn't understand how people were so amoral in college sometimes, and how we both really wanted to grow to know Christ more, and how life was very confusing but very rewarding at times.
His roommate, who turned out to be Eric of the Campus Ministry Picnic, came in but then left again, maybe thinking that we were hooking up, but really we were just talking about Eric and how his Princess Bride poster totally made him a babe-magnet.
Many CDs rotated in his stereo that night and Steve said it was okay if I passed out in his bed but I was not that kind of girl. I had finally made a friend at college. For weeks I had been trying to make myself invisible and now, having made a friend, something was different. I felt as though I had placed myself on the map, that I had a right to be here, and a right to enjoy myself, definitely in my dorm now that I had met someone who was awesome and relatable, and maybe, maybe I would eventually enjoy myself here at Liberal Arts College on a Hill. Maybe I would enjoy some experiences rather than dreading them, now that I had a friend. Maybe I would even make it, even in the dining halls.