Old Country Buffet, Candle Lights, and Why It’s Good to Talk to Classmates

Sophomore Year — 2001-2002.

8-8-2001 So I think I’ve figured out that I have no happiness in my life.  I was listening to the song that says, “I don’t know where my soul is.  I don’t know where my home is.  I’m like a bird, I wanna fly away.” Because of my extensive time with pheasants, I can picture a bird as some kind of symbol for my life.  I think that it would really help me if I could catch that stupid shimmering bird of happiness.  I don’t know where my bird is, though.  I don’t know where I will feel like I belong.  I’m getting close to the point in my life when I need to either change or turn to gluttony for comfort.  I need that bird, I just don’t know entirely what it is or where I can find it.

8-26-2001 I recently had another one of those moments when everything that’s been jumbling through my head makes sense.
It has been really humid and hot lately.  I mean, really humid and hot.  I remember when we were in Las Vegas a man was complaining about the 20% humidity that day. Being from Michigan, I don’t complain until the humidity percentage reaches the upper 90s, and today the heat index was 106.  It honestly hadn’t rained in a little over a month until two days ago, and everything has been horrid.  The humidity (here’s where my point comes in, by the way) was so bad that it clouded everything in this grayish blue haze.  I’d stopped noticing it because it had covered everything for so long.  I could look out my window and not be able to see the tree line behind our fields because of the haze.  Anyway, after the rain the humidity dropped, and everything looked different.  More real.  The colors returned, and I could once again see the distinct leaves instead of a grayish blur.
Along with this clearing, I had one of those old feelings again.  I was sitting in church, listening to the sermon, when everything just engulfed me and I felt alive again.  The thing was, I really hadn’t seen before that I was in that deep of a funk.  I just sat there, in church, thinking things over as usual when I found tears forming for no explainable reason.  Something in the sermon did trigger it all, although now I can’t think of it…something about prayer, and I thought suddenly how little it seemed to matter lately.  That started my upward spiral.  I can’t really explain it, but I know it’s happened before.  I get stuck in a slump and God picks me up and I’m back on my feet again, ready to get back to life.  I wish I could say that I’ll stay awake this time, but I know myself better than that.  I can try, though.
I have so much inside of me that I chew over, and I don’t know what to do with it.  There are very few people whom I feel connected to enough to talk about certain things.  I think a large part of my personality doesn’t want me to talk about certain things because they are mine.  I have this horrible control thing.  But I’ve been kicking myself lately because I know there is something wrong with me but I don’t know how to fix it or if I even want to.  It suddenly came to me that I probably should sort through the fog and figure this out, though.
I’m not entirely sure why I saw the connections between this and the humidity so strongly.  Timing, I think.  The mind-numbing shroud being lifted, certainly.  I don’t know, I think that humidity is a weird enough metaphor for me that I’ll remember what I’m talking about.

Sophomore Year was when I really started figuring out what I wanted out of life.  I still didn’t know what I wanted to do vocationally, but I was gradually learning that I could do anything and still be happy as long as I had some fulfilling creative outlet.  Or maybe this was just what I told myself to survive my job at Old Country Buffet.

Here’s how that happened.  The head manager of the OCB in Grand Rapids was a member of the Haymarsh Hunt Club, so my grandfather took it upon himself to use his connections and get me a job there, even though I said I’d be perfectly content working on campus.  (He ignored this, not surprisingly.)  We met for lunch at OCB, I had an interview which basically consisted of my Gpa and this guy talking hunting, and then I was hired.  I’m pretty sure the fact that I spoke English was all that was required, and I ended up being the cashier/hostess.  Pretty much all the other employees were Romanian, and I had the privilege of being exposed to a new culture and was even given permission to say “ciao” for the rest of my life.  These genuinely likable coworkers were the highlight, because most of the English-speaking manager guys were kinda off/terrible/jerks in one way or another.  And I still can’t stand the smell of frying chicken. It lasted 6 months.  Maybe.

But back on campus, I was actually starting to enjoy myself. My freshmen roommate, Elise, and I moved over to the apartments on the other side of campus, and joining us now were Melody and Mita.  Being in an apartment instead of a dorm room was lovely, as was having the ability to choose our roommates (as opposed to our nightmare suite-mates the year before).  For some reason we decided to cram all four beds into one bedroom, and we stayed up many nights giggling and talking.  It was really quite nice living with girls who were less tomboyish than myself, and I felt like I was catching up on what I’d missed all these years.

A few memories:

  • One night we each shared stories of the worst things we’d done as kids.  I don’t remember the rest of our stories, but innocent Mita told hers.  “My siblings and I snuck out of the house, went down to the river, and went fishing…”  Elise, Melody, and I all waited for the big reveal. Then we realized this was the end and burst out laughing.
  • On 9-11, we were having a class meeting when our class president rolled a big screen TV into the room.  We sat and watched the news as the second plane crashed.  Later that day, I remember everyone panicked and went to fill up their gas tanks before prices skyrocketed. I stayed in our apartment and painted.  I don’t know why this calmed me down, but it did.
  • Candle Lights.  Whenever someone would get engaged, it meant a stupid wonderful Cornerstone tradition where girls would run and squeal down the halls, banging on everyone’s doors so that we had to get up and go to the lounge area.  However late it was, you were expected to attend, which did not result in a good attitude on my part.  We would sit around in a circle, and a candle would be passed around the circle until it got to whichever girl had gotten engaged.  She would then blow out the candle; more excited squealing followed. As I rarely knew the girls who got engaged, I viewed this whole thing as an intrusion on my sleeping patterns.  I’m a hopeless romantic, I know.
  • For some reason, Cornerstone held fire safety drills/meetings at least twice a month (maybe not, but it felt like it.)  One such meeting was held in a building a whole 100 yards from our apartment building, so Elise drove us.  Everyone was a little slap-happy and annoyed with the meeting, and it was very late by the time we poured out of the building to return home.  Elise drove back to our apartment behind a van full of boys, one of whom (I know who you are) decided to moon us.  Elise COVERED HER EYES, so we jumped for the wheel before crashing as she continued to accelerate.
  • Then there was Smelly Guy, who always wore too much cologne and we somehow always ended up in the stairwell at the same time.
  • And of course I’m not likely to ever forget the time Andria, the girl who lived across the hall from us, screamed with so much obvious pain that I ran out into the hall to discover she’d chopped the tip of her finger off in the doorway.

Classes during this year were pretty great too, since I was mostly done with the general requirements and could steer more into my own interests.  World Lit with “The Fab” allowed me to write a paper on Sci-Fi, which thrilled me not in a small part because I got to pick first and grabbed it before any of the guys could.  There also was some group presentation we had to do about Oedipus, and my group performed a dramatization out the window as if it was a TV screen, me jumping off a ladder as Jocasta and Derek smearing his eyes with a gory mix of red dye and peanut butter while screaming,  “Oh, my gods!” Intro to Fine Arts was again with Burghart and meant looking at more cool art stuff.  Intro to Philosophy was with Bonzo.  I kinda half-assed that class and got a B+ because I was annoyed with the philosophy students who clearly thought they were all brilliant (apologies to those of you who are now my friends.)

But here’s the funny thing about my classes in the second semester:  I had at least 3 classes with a guy I never talked to. We would go from Weight Training in the morning immediately to Religious Authors, and either I would follow him or he would follow me all the way from one building to the other.  As time went on and we had more and more classes together, I realized that this guy and I probably had a lot in common.  He spoke in class enough for me to realize he was pretty smart, which quite frankly was the kind of person I needed at this point. But we never spoke, and looking back (now that we’re good friends) it seems ridiculous to both of us.  Had I bothered, it might have led to my introduction to my current group of friends much sooner, but without time-travel (and wouldn’t that be handy?) I guess there’s no point thinking about it.

Anyway, classes and friends and jobs and life in general opened me up this Sophomore Year. I learned about the Dalai Lama, Wendell Berry, more holocaust literature than I’d ever planned on reading, and Li-Young Lee.  And although I still feel bad about lying so obviously when Stephens, my Creative Writing prof, asked if the class had helped me with my own writing, maybe it did and I just wasn’t aware of it yet – learning what doesn’t work for me is useful too, I suppose.  At any rate, this year brought me a little closer to figuring out what I wanted. 

10-3-2001  When I was under five feet tall, I remember running through the woods on my stick legs and not caring about the scratch marks I received that would leave scars which would stick around for years to come.  My hair, which I rarely bothered to brush, would flow down my back during the few times when I was able to escape the house before my mom could put it up in pigtails. Life was so simple then.
I remember one particularly wild run through the woods vividly.  I was wearing my favorite blue T-shirt that of course had the most holes of any shirt I owned, and I was barefoot, running along the unfinished berm on the front of our house.  (Dad had assured mom that he would finish the berm within the first week after we moved in; it remained unfinished so long that Mom had quite forgotten about it and it was my favorite shortcut to run into the house.)  As I was skipping along, I remember thinking that I would get serious and become a girl once I hit sixteen.  I would wear pink, put ribbons in my hair, have a boyfriend, and be popular with the cool girls.  I also had this thing about changing my name to Erin, but that’s not important.  It seemed so far off, so I think I was comfortable with this resolution.  When I was sixteen, I would settle down.
Well, needless to say, not much of this happened.  Okay, none of it happened.  But I remember how important it seemed that I do these things by the time I was sixteen.  I can’t figure out why all of this suddenly flashed into my mind today as I was walking back from bombing a psychology quiz, but it did.  I think it’s because I have to start deciding what I want to do with my life, and it’s a little more serious than the color pink, ribbons, boyfriends, and being popular.  What AM I to do?  What do I even want?  I didn’t want those things that I did when I was under five feet tall, and that’s probably why I never attained any of those “lofty” goals.
So what do I want? Before I die, I want to have seen a little of the world outside my bubble.  I want to see the British islands my family is from, Egypt, Asia, Rio de Janeiro.  I want my own bit of earth. I want to find someone who makes vulnerability not a thing igniting in me complete terror.  I want to have found a haircut I actually enjoy for two days in a row.  I want to own at least two dogs.  I want to come up with a short explanation for why I am the way I am. I need something that is my own that no one else can get to, something that makes me smirk like “I know something other people don’t,” as I was told the other day.
I have been to Las Vegas, San Antonio, Orlando, Branson, Daytona, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Chicago, Mackinaw Island.  I have seen the Mammoth Caves, Grand Canyon, both Oceans, sunsets over Lake Michigan.  I have hiked the mountains of West Virginia, played in Tahquamenon Falls, climbed the dunes of Silver Lake, walked the circuits of Disney World and Gettysburg.  I have seen twisters, storms at sea, meteor showers, aurora borealis.  I have friends whom I have known since birth, and I will have friends whom I haven’t met yet.  I have created paintings, crafts, stories, and my share of joy and pain.  I have problems, concerns, frustrations, tears, and grievances.  I don’t know what to do with my life.  I don’t know what to make of Spring, Winter, and the unusual Michigan changes in between.  I have seen 20 winters of gently and not so gently falling snow.

About Sunshine Somerville

I'm the author of "The Kota Series" and "A Fairly Fairy Tale. Originally from the beach side of Michigan, I work as a medical transcriptionist from home. When not staring into a computer screen, I enjoy reading, painting, and being outdoors.
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5 Responses to Old Country Buffet, Candle Lights, and Why It’s Good to Talk to Classmates

  1. Aunt Penny says:

    I am getting addicted to your writing!!! Please, please, please, write another book. I can’t wait to read more. You just soak me into your feelings! You are an awesome writier!!!!!

  2. Aunt Penny says:

    Great! I spelled writer wrong!

  3. Gloria says:

    Wait. Were we in the same Philosophy class?

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