There was never a question about my going to college. I was going. If I’d tried not to go, I’d have still gone. By my junior year of high school, I had grown serious about my grades. I was making As and only As. I was developing stars in my eyes in the shape of ivy league brick buildings. I wanted to go somewhere special and do something special. My parents wanted me to go to a small, private, Christian junior college.
I said UNC Chapel Hill, as if I would have been accepted.
They said Florida College, who accepts almost anyone.
They only required one semester there and said we could then discuss it. They said this knowing I’d stay longer than one semester. It was there that I met many of the lifelong friends I still have. It was there that I met Todd. I stayed until I’d earned every last credit they could hand me. And then I was off to Florida State for my junior year.
I was alone at Florida State. Alone with 14,000 other students just like me. I lived at home (highly UNrecommended, no offense, pops), parked my car at a friend’s home near campus and biked to all of my classes. Occasionally I would run into a friend from middle school. But most of the time, I walked into and out of my FSU classes by myself.
It sounds like a sad story, but I loved my final two years of college. I hadn’t gotten my way on where I went to school, but I totally got my way on the classes I took. I was an English Major with emphasis in Creative Writing. I took workshops where all we did was write stories and critique each other’s work. I learned specific writing techniques from studying the likes of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I couldn’t think of anything much better than this.
In the Maymester of 1991, I took Beginner’s Fiction Workshop: Art and Imitation taught by Ralph Berry. It met from 6-9 on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I had spent the day before lining up my texts for the class, one of which was At Swim, Two Birds by Flann O’Brien. The book cover was every bit as weird as the title. I was intrigued. Because the class started when I would normally be eating dinner with my parents, I had to wolf down a sandwich and head toward campus by 5:15. Parking was almost always a bad day in Vegas. I had my tricks, though. My best parking trick was the back 40 clay parking lot behind the Tri Delta sorority house.
These classes with Dr. Berry were the highlight of my summer. That makes me pathetic. I know it now and I knew it then. I loved sneaking through the Tri Delt property and walking up Park Avenue. The walk led me past Ruby Diamond Auditorium and to the Williams building, a grand old structure with brick and tile from 1926. Every class I took that summer was inside these ancient, ivy-covered walls. I entered the building through an arch. Every time I did, I felt I could hear whispered stories from 80 years before. That building was an audience and a cheerleader for every writer that stepped inside. In my second story classroom, the north-facing wall was entirely windows, overlooking the fountain in front of Ruby Diamond. As Dr. Berry laughed about the absurdities of Flann O’Brien, his face became a deep, neon pink. Some nights, when everything was flowing just right, his laughing face would flush pink as the sun was dropping across campus. For a brief few minutes, everything was the same shade of red.
One night, I had pushed my departure from home too late. I left at 5:30. Tennessee Street was snarled with traffic. I didn’t have time to even consider my other parking options. I had to drive the absolute shortest route to Delta Delta Delta, park quickly, and then sprint all the way to room 229. I whipped in the back entrance to the back lot and parked as far back as I possibly could. But instead of sitting in my car for a few minutes as an incognito sorority girl, I had to exit my car immediately and risk whomever might cross my path.
This would be okay. I mean, all I had to do was move with purpose, blend with girls that looked like Cameron Diaz, and not draw attention to myself. I did not need to worry about getting towed while I was sitting in a 3-hour class. I could totally pull off the Tri Delta look. I pulled into the parking lot at 5:53. That gave me 45 seconds to cross the Tri Delt property and 6:15 to make the rest of the trek. I gave myself a glance in the rearview mirror of my dad’s copper colored 1983 Datsun 280ZX. My hair was going to give me away before I cleared the sidewalk. It was wearing the humidity like a badge of honor and sticking off my head like a frayed rope. I patted it and wished it well and shoved the heavy metal car door shut with my hip. Then I tucked At Swim, Two Birds and my notebook under my right arm and took off.
Don’t make eye contact. Look ahead. Think like a Greek. Practice your bible Greek. Low profile. It was going pretty well on my speed walk from the clay back lot to the side yard of the fancy main house. I was within view of total freedom. The brick, colonial style house stood dignified, pressure washed, unblemished. It kept its stern and stoic face to Park Avenue like a member of the royal guard. The porch was dotted with Delta Delta Delta girls. I pictured them in my mind, but could not make eye contact. Maybe they’d think I was here to see someone. As if.
I took a deep breath. Focus. Be the Delta. Put a little swag in your step.
That last one was the game changer for me. Not only did I decide to make a last-minute change in my gait in hopes that I might blend better, but I sped up. To a run. Somewhere between the transition between normal stride, sorority girl stride, and sorority girl running, I kicked a rock. The rock was camouflaged by nothing. It was in plain view, but I had too much going on. Turns out it’s not easy to rush to class while pretending to be someone else and also trying to avoid detection.
When my foot encountered that rock in plain sight, my leg was already in some unsightly position. I was off balance. There was no recovering. I kicked the rock. Hard. My foot stayed back, as if being held by a defensive end. The rest of my body lurched forward. I threw my books like a forward lateral and went down on my face. Right there. Twenty short paces from the Tri Delt girls who had nothing but time for the show I put on. I hit ground with three different body parts. The one I felt the most was my right knee, which was bleeding pretty freely when I stood back up. Now I was going to have to add a 2-minute restroom visit to clean up my knee.
As I hobbled up the hill toward the Williams building, I never looked back at my audience. I heard my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Haste makes waste.” How could I argue with her now? I had wasted time. I had wasted my knee. And worst of all, I had wasted my chances to ever get in tight with the Tri Delta girls. I had also wasted a perfectly exceptional parking solution.
But I don’t worry. There are sororities for girls like me, too. They’re called Honor Societies. I started one of my own in my mind that accepts school-loving, old-car-driving, clumsy, fluffy-headed readers and writers. The parking lot is paved and smooth and the porch is screened with a swinging bed and Amish rocking chairs. There is a fountain out front with two birds at swim.
I’m a charter member of Pi Trippa Dorka.
And there’s something to be said for that.