The Knapp House

The Setting

When I moved back from Detroit, three friends and I rented a house on the dodgy end of Knapp Street in northeast Grand Rapids.  We had an alleyway instead of a driveway, a basement that flooded, neighbor dogs that yipped at all hours, and neighbor children that did likewise.  It was heaven.  Since we were in a house instead of apartments or dorms, it felt like a home.  It was a decent house for the rent, too – high ceilings, a big kitchen with a breakfast bar area (emphasis on the “bar,” considering it was next to what I called “the happy cupboard”), woodwork everywhere, and a very lovely porch that was the site of many Porch Nights with friends.

The Players

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Halloween…in case clarification is needed.

Myself – Manic, recovering mess.  We’ve covered.

Miranda – Bless her.  Miranda filled the father role in our house.  M was handyman, chore creator, yard mower, responsible bill payer, etc.  (We never decided who the mother figure was, and Rachel pointed out, “We’re a single parent household.”) Sharing the upstairs loft with Miranda for a while, I quickly was reminded that there are significant differences between the two of us.  We have a lot of common interests and that sort of thing, but our basic approaches to life, I think, are drastically different.  The major difference seems to lie in the left brain vs. right brain issue.  M is stronger than me in so many ways.  She’s incredibly focused.  She has self-control and an internal monitor.  She’s also possibly the most composed person I’ve ever met, and of course I hate her for it.

Rachel – I think I admire Rachel most because she is such a tumble of quirks.  Studies Klingon.  Conspiracy theorist.  Matchmaker…er…supreme.  She once spent an entire day using PhotoShop to make wedding pictures of herself with Joaquin Phoenix.  I always appreciate people who are “smart but don’t always show it” (ahem, John VanderWeide), and Rachel is very free about being a goofball and yet wielding a philosophy degree at the same time.  One night we had a discussion about predestination; the next day, while watching Hitchcock’s The Birds she came up with a theory that the birds were really angry environmentalists who were upset by the fur coats, second-hand smoke, etc.  Delightful.

Racie – I had never been friends with Racie before, and it was a struggle at first to get to know her because I hardly ever saw her during the first few weeks.  But then came the Winter Olympics 2006.  Now, honestly, I couldn’t care less about Winter Olympics aside from jumping on the momentary bandwagon of patriotism, but Racie liked them.  So, figuring this would be good bonding time, we watched figure skating, snowboarding (I actually do like that one), ice dancing, bobsledding, etc.  I found that it was pretty easy to get to know Racie even when talking about something as unimportant as the scoring system for ice dancing – which, if you can avoid it, do.  As it turned out, my personality is probably closest to Racie’s, so that was an interesting discovery, even if I was closer to M and Rachel initially. I also remember being incredibly grateful that she was willing to go get me Gatorade when I had the flu, so maybe Racie filled the mother role in our house.

amAmber – When Rachel moved out and we needed a fourth roommate, something pretty cool happened.  In one of those beautiful God moments, we realized that Amber, a friend of Racie’s, would fit perfectly because we all liked her and coincidentally she needed desperately to find a new place to live.  She’d even asked her mom’s church ladies to pray that she find a new living arrangement, and the next day we invited her to live with us without knowing this.   Amber was a great filler of the fourth roommate spot.  Since she was in grad school, it was fun to have someone around who had homework again.  She was sensible, calm, and also crazy and fun.  She had the worst music I’d ever heard from an iPod.  She could quote Friends like no one I’ve ever met.  She said “uber” before almost every adjective.  Amber and I also had this running joke about my unhealthy enjoyment of fire, but that was okay because she liked Paul Walker movies.

alAl – When Amber moved out and Racie got married and therefore moved out, Miranda and I tried to live on our own for a while.  But after one winter of paying the heating bill, we wanted another roommate.  Thus entered Al, who is M’s younger brother.  Since Al worked about two miles from our house and often stayed at our place after episodes of Lost, it just made sense for him to move in.  Al was… Think basically a stereotypical 22-year-old boy but one who likes to read a lot too.  Belching.  Toenail clipping.  Leaving the seat up.  BUT, he also cooked, cleaned up after himself, and fixed things.  He was entertaining, funny and witty, and as my friends often pointed out was not bad to look at (though this is creepy when you think of someone as “Other Brother”).  Al introduced us to the joys of Rob & Big and numerous other boyish things that we tomboys greatly appreciated.  After he moved out to live with friends, I pouted for about a week because I no longer had anyone to watch bloody movies with.

Memorable Points –

  • Once, we had to push Rachel’s car out of the muddy driveway only to discover as she screeched down the street that she’d had her parking brake on the entire time.
  • One night, hopped up on watermelon, Miranda and I were playing in the backyard in the dark when I looked over and saw a black, small animal scampering across the alley to our house.
    When it paused in the yard, I called, “Here, kitty, kitty.”
    It turned its head, revealing a white stripe down its back.
    I yelled, “Oh, that’s not a kitty!” and we ran quickly into the house at is started coming our way.
  • We created our own version of the game “Apples to Apples” that turned out to be “Inside-Joke/Dirty Apples to Apples.”
  • Our house became the gathering site of our college pals.  We had several “parties” where we sat around drinking and playing board games – oh, the wild parties of English majors.  (I could have done without pickle juice being spit on our floor, but oh well.) At one party, there was a bit of confusion as Buddy was leaving and I asked if he wanted a Blow Pop.  The question alone wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t made a hand motion in front of my mouth to “clarify” what I meant. Any reference to Blow Pops became a running joke.
  • When Rachel needed help moving, we loaded up a few vehicles for the drive to Ann Arbor.  While trying to squeeze Rachel’s mattress into the back of Amber’s Blazer, we had to fold it, and the best instructions for how to do this were “Taco it!”  It made sense, but the box springs simply would not fit in the Blazer.  This meant we had to tie it down to the top of the vehicle, and Rachel somehow managed to completely tangle herself in the rope.  As the rest of us fell over laughing, Rachel danced around in the rope, only making it worse.
    Amber, trying to get Rachel out of the tangled rope, asked, “How do you exist without killing yourself?”
  • Dan, Racie’s fiancé, would often stay with us for a week at a time.  Really, I only remember him during this time as that guy who stayed on our couch.  And he had good music taste (which really always means someone has your music taste, doesn’t it?)  But whenever he stayed with us, for some reason M and I would pretty much stay upstairs in our room the entire time.  Maybe we were just trying to give Dan and Racie time to themselves, but we certainly could have made more of an effort.  Especially since, it turns out, Dan is one of my favorite spouses to enter the group.  Why? Because pictures like this happen:

    dan
    Again, to clarify, at Halloween.
  • Al more than once came into my room after shaving his head and would spin around with his head down, asking, “Is it even?”
  • For a Super Bowl Party, Al strategically arranged 3 TVs in the living/dining room so we could watch the game from every angle.

Lessons Learned –  To paraphrase Arrested Development, a much beloved TV show in our house, “Sunny was getting life lessons all over the place.”

  • Having had my own apartment in Detroit, I had to learn once again to deal with other people on a regular basis, even when I didn’t feel like it.  It’s no secret that I am very into “me time” and it was good for me to have to spend time with other people, step outside myself, and stop being so self-involved.  I tend to want everything to be my way, and this just doesn’t fly when three other people have plans too.
    Late one night, while a group of guests cavorted downstairs, I lay on my bed moaning as Miranda read on her side of the room, and I finally realized my stupidity and muttered, “I’m crabby.”
    Miranda laughed, “You think?”
  • This is what I appreciate most about living with others:  You learn how to get along even when you don’t want to, because these people know where you sleep.  It’s a favorite saying of mine that you should never let an argument last longer than the milk in your fridge (even when that milk has fermented beyond all recognition as belonging to the dairy family…hypothetically). Patience with others is not a virtue I keep in my back pocket, but I had to learn how to breathe rather than…ferment.  I think, by living together, we all learned to settle our differences in healthy ways.
    Also, this experience helped me learn how to deal with people I didn’t live with too.  Since my roommates and I had the same friend circle, some individuals I didn’t particularly care for were still around from time to time.  Pretending such individuals don’t exist doesn’t exactly work.  But the truth is, you aren’t going to like everyone, no matter how hard you try.  Some personalities are just different and will not jive.  Try as you might, you are simply not going to see eye to eye with some people.  The dance here is finding how to coexist without letting the lack of affection turn into dislike that turns into something darker.
    Then this hit me:  Saying you don’t like someone is pointless, really.  Where has not liking someone ever gotten you except somewhere bad?  So, to stop this before it gets bad, how do you resolve the tension of not particularly liking someone? I am convinced that even Christians (or maybe especially Christians, in my experience) are not always going to like each other.  What to do? Shake hands and part company? Or just be bland acquaintances with surface, casual relationships? Maybe.  (I can’t pretend to be the perfect adviser on the topic of interpersonal relationships.) BUT, we can’t let relationships get to the point of distaste, because, like I said, where does that get us? That chest-tightening dislike thing doesn’t work with that whole Christian love thing.  And it leads to ulcers.  “Fester, fester, fester.  Rot, rot, rot” may be my favorite Meg Ryan movie quote of all time.  No good comes of bottling anger.  But we shouldn’t blow it out, either.  It becomes easy to release tension by venting with others about the person you don’t like.  THIS IS NOT LOVE!  Even if the person you don’t like never hears about it, constantly bitching amongst ourselves is not going to help resolve tension.  It makes it worse.  It will still eat at you.  This resolves nothing.
    So where do you go? I guess the only thing you can do when there is no connection between people is to just let it go.  Ignore the dislike.  Forgive it.  Start over, or at least with a clean slate in your own mind.  Try.  At least be neutral in your opinion of this person.  Then, you might be surprised to find that there is something there after all, underneath the ignored and forgotten dislike.  You might never be best buds, but at least there will be some level of love there if you try.
  • Living with people, you get better at seeing what others need.  Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also brings understanding.  You become more sympathetic.  When one of my roommates might be hurting or struggling, I knew them well enough to know the kind of advice or encouragement they needed.
    It took me a bit of time to figure out how to help in some situations.  I tend to have a laugh-it-off approach to pretty much everything – the Somerville motto is “If we’re going to laugh about it later, we might as well laugh about it now.”  But this doesn’t work when people of other temperaments are crying or angry or hurting.  So, of course, to really help someone you have to know them.  Doing what would help you does not always help others.  So you have to find what works for them.  Living right with someone, you’d better know them well enough to help, or else what are you doing?

Quotes –

  • “I would date the cookie monster; we have similar interests.” – Rachel
  • “I want a sailboat when I grow up.  Not that I know how to sail, but that’s what the servants are for.” – Rachel
  • “23 and single is not the time to have stuffed animals on the bed.” – Racie
  • “True or False. Rolz Gold Pretzels give other pretzels penis envy.” – Racie
  • “Taste like something!” – Miranda, yelling at her taco
  • “Hide it under a bushel. No. Let it shine. That is my advice to you.” – Miranda
  • “If you sing arguments from now on, I will let you win them.” – Miranda
  • “No, you’re more pathetic because you’re self-aware!” – Miranda to Me
  • “You know, you pretend to be the normal one in the house, and then things like this happen.” – Me to Miranda
  • “I don’t want to marry a mongoose!” – Me
  • “Men are gross.  This movie is making me want one less and less.” – Me, of Rocky

Personal Quirks I Stole –

  • Thinking before speaking – Miranda
  • Not thinking before speaking – Rachel
  • Tapping my nose while thinking – Racie
  • Saying “-ity-doo” after every verb – Al
  • Because of Miranda I don’t immediately disregard folk music
  • Because of Rachel I read Steven King
  • Because of Racie I know how figure skating is scored
  • Because of Amber I appreciate that Paul Walker cannot act his way out of a paper bag
  • Because of Al, I developed an appreciation for Rob Dyrdek
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A few of our “Apples to Apples” cards. All true stories.

I suppose I should have some sort of closing point to all this, but really I just have to say that this whole time period at The Knapp House was a blessing.  It gave me time to chill out and enjoy where I was.  Who can ask for more than a roof over one’s head, friends to laugh with and learn from, and enough ice cream in the freezer to feed a small army?

People Who Get You

Here’s the thing I find most annoying about undergoing personal change:  Getting other people to realize it.  Why do people who knew you during one period in your life always expect you to be the same as they remember? Sure, not everyone has gone through the tumbling wash cycle of emotional/mental/psycho analysis that I did, but why do we hold people from our past in mental time capsules?  Everyone changes.  The hard part is that, even after you know you’ve changed for the better, you have to convince other people, and that is oddly more work.

Upon my return to Western Michigan from my experiment on the Detroit side, I’d mentally made a break from “growing up Sunny” and changed things about myself that I didn’t like, let other things grow out, and stopped letting myself wallow in behavioral ruts.  I felt better, healthier, freer, and more open and loving in general.

Then…  I happened to return to Grand Rapids around the time of an ACS Homecoming, so I immediately ran into people who had high-school-shaped perceptions of me.  I shattered them joyously.

“You did what?!” someone asked when I told them about my model scouting while in Detroit.

“You were always a shy, quiet girl,” another told me in bafflement.

“I can’t see you doing that.” This was said in a tone suggesting that, since she couldn’t see me doing it, that meant I hadn’t.

It may show just how much I grew to say that I smiled with nothing but love for these people. 

But as the months rolled on after my return, the differences between who I’d been as teenager and who I was as a nearly 30-year-old came up time and again.  People expected me to be snotty and cutting, which was really obnoxious because I found myself “obliging” in this regard and therefore reverting a bit. I suppose parents and family will always see you as you were as a child, but if they could accept that I drink on a regular basis, why couldn’t they conceive of the idea that I might now be happy and not sulking all the time? (That’s just my face!)  Even the person I was from college had changed, so people who didn’t even know me as a teenager often still thought of me as they perceived me in college.  My college friend Justin pointed out to me once that he had always assumed I was aloof and thought myself better than everyone else because he’d often seen me smirking during classes.   I explained that I smirk whenever I’m amused by someone or something.  Justin – God bless him – actually corrected his view and has been “in on the secret” behind my rather constant smirking ever since.

I can’t be the only one with this problem.  But, it has always bothered me when people don’t know me but think they do – this is actually my biggest pet peeve.  My roommate, Miranda, and I had a group of friends referred to as “Group Yay” (more later) who tended to lump Miranda and I together as one entity.  While I love M as one of my closest friends, we are NOT the same person and have significant differences.  I’m sure Group Yay thought I was being negative about M one night when I repeatedly pointed out that I was not her – I am not as conservative, I am not quiet, I swear, I like rap music, I have been drunk on more than a handful of occasions.  I also pointed out that M is a better person, so I tried to point out how she is her own person, too – she thinks before she speaks, she’s gentler, she knows more about folk music than I ever will.  Also, the issue went beyond simply being compared to M, because they had a very certain idea about who I was under the label of a “good, Christian girl” too.  I’m not a rebel or a badass or anything, but considering my upbringing and educational experiences, this label and the assumptions that go with it drive me nuts – especially when coming from these boys who should have known me better.

But what are you going to do?

I guess part of this problem is that we constantly realize new things about ourselves.  I am this.  I am this.  Wow, I’m way more that than I thought.  Do people see us better than we see ourselves, as outsiders looking in?  Are we all a little blind, or delusional?  I pride/bludgeon myself on being ridiculously self-aware, but why don’t other people see things about me that I think are essential and obvious?

On the flip side, there are those people that see you at every stage of your life.  No matter the lengths of time that go between your meetings, they know who you are and what you need and love you enough to be accurate, if that makes sense.

Enter the Andrus kids.

When I was 7ish, my mom wanted to earn extra cash by babysitting.  One wet Michigan day, a lady with her baby showed up at our trailer door and came in to interview my mom.  She was there only a short time before there was another knock on the door.  I remember our dog, Kat, barked with a mouthful of dog food and scampered over to greet a second woman who’d come to meet my mom about babysitting.  My mom was confused, but soon enough the first lady realized she was at the wrong address.  Thank goodness, because this second woman was the mother of an adorable little girl with a mullet named Kaly and a robust toddler named Luke.

My fondest childhood memories are of Kaly, Luke, my brother Christian, and me playing outside, drawing inside, and eating macaroni and cheese and baloney lunches.  When we played, “Mrs. Jackson” was for some reason always the name of the bad lady after us.  We played hockey on the frozen swamp behind our house in the winter.  We made the most awesome fort of all time – it had a working sauna, no lie.  They helped me create The Kota Series as we played Kota for hours and hours and hours – I was always dying, Kaly always had telepathic headaches, Luke always crushed things, and Christian was the wild card.  We became like siblings, really.  Kaly’s bloody nose stain on our house’s stairs was still there when we moved.

Fast forward a few decades.

At Kaly Andrus’s wedding, she chose me as her maid of honor.  I hadn’t really seen her in about four years, but when you grow up as the closest thing to someone’s big sister, I guess this is a job that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The strange thing was, though we’d both changed a good deal since we’d been kids playing Kota, I don’t recall even having a catch-up discussion.  It did immediately strike me as odd that Kaly thought she would still know me as well as she did way back when, and she also didn’t seem to think there was any reason I wouldn’t know her anymore.  I was worried about this at first.  Kaly said things like, “Well, I trust Sunny.  She knows what I like.” When you haven’t known someone since they were of legal age, can it really be said that you know or even can guess their taste in gifts, flowers, or colors of penis straws?

But here’s the thing: We did still know each other.  We could exchange wordless glances and get it.  Kaly knew enough not to attempt to match-make me at her wedding.  I knew when to help as a maid of honor and when she had it under control.  And I’ve never been prouder than the morning of her wedding as she chugged from a bottle of Pepto in one hand and then a bottle of Jack in the other.

And this lack-of-need-to-catch-up goes for Luke, too.  It helps that the kid is so laid back and just plain lovable in general.  When I was leaving Kaly’s wedding, I remember a very drunk Luke picking me up in a huge hug and saying, “I love you.  And that’s not just because I’m drunk.  I really do love you.”  He may not remember that, but it meant a lot to me.  Later, when Christian was in Luke’s wedding, I saw this same connection still existed between them too.  The funny thing here is that they’ve grown to have such different lives and interests – Luke stayed country while Christian had to borrow cowboy boots, for example.  But there’s still just that easy thing that exists between people who grew up together.

And that’s what the four of us have.  We’re almost-siblings.  We can change and grow up and go for lengths of time without seeing each other, but we’re still close enough to know each other at the drop of a hat.  We’ll be in each other’s weddings without hesitation.  We can roll with the changes life brings and accept each other

The FourSo.  There are people in your life – some whom you even love dearly – who will hold you in a time capsule. There are some who will refuse to see changes/growth.  This can be incredibly frustrating as you try to move forward, but it’s good to keep those other people around you, the ones who somehow know you and love you and recognize you.

Maybe that’s the test of any real relationship – no matter how much time and how much change has come along the way, who still knows you without having to ask?

From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Sunny M. Somerville

The problem with realizing that you spent your college degree on a hobby is that you have to figure out what to do with the rest of your life.  Vocational success not important?  Okay, then, what to do?  Life doesn’t exactly stop at 22.

After graduating from college, I took a year off.  Off – I didn’t work, I didn’t do much of anything.  I did watch a lot of movies.  I also worked on my next novels, being productive in that least productive kind of way.  But mostly I did nothing.  This downtime was mostly because I suddenly realized that, although I was no longer a mess as a person, I still had no direction.  I had no schedule anymore, no homework aside from what was self-appointed.  So, what to do?  Where to go?  What did I want – oh, yes, that old question still floats around, doesn’t it?  I was happy, but the longer I sat and looked around me, the more I realized that I was basically where I’d always been.

I get restless easily.  I hate ruts and the thought of settling.  As a kid, I’d always told myself that I would explore life and soak up as much as I could before getting married, having kids, and settling down in a “normal” life.  I think I always planned to have those things eventually – family, community, etc.  – but I have this thing deep inside me that always needs to be different somehow (think Claudia of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler).  I always knew I would want to go to college, live on my own, and experience Otherness first before I could be even mildly content with settling down.  I wanted some life on my own terms for a while.  Then, I would always have those memories and experiences that were different from those around me.  I could live perfectly normally after that, and be content. 

The problem was, Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids weren’t that different from everything else I’d ever known.  I hadn’t really experienced the Otherness that I felt I needed.  Here I was, already settling in one year after college, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever moved.

So, after a year of doing nothing, I made a break for it.  July 2005, I plopped myself down three hours away from every home I’d ever known and moved to the Detroit area.  Honestly, that is why I moved – it was an experiment of getting away from my comfort zone/bubble.  I needed change.  I needed drastic.  I needed surroundings that were fresh and new and completely disconnected from everything back home.  I needed something that was different which was just mine, my own experience.  I’d always said I absolutely did not want to live in Detroit, so naturally this seemed like the most drastic move I could make.  I wanted a place different in setting, feel, tone, and perspective so that I could explore and also maybe figure out what I wanted for the rest of my life.

On a Tuesday I had no life plans; by Friday I was living in the suburbs of the D.

I liked it immediately.  There was an artistic, creative energy about the place – Birmingham, Troy, Royal Oak mostly – that I loved.  I’ve never been heavily addicted to urban-ness, but the variety of places to go was great.  I liked how one city blended into another like a puzzle, and yet each city was distinct.  Birmingham is money, Troy feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up and so is focused around the mall, and Royal Oak is a little niche strip for hipsters and artsy types.  Detroit itself, let’s face it, was kinda clinging to life, but it’s still so big that even with half the city functioning it would be a force to be reckoned with.  There were concerts and art exhibits and restaurant openings and book readings and baseball games, etc. etc. etc.  And young people really seemed to be far more numerous over there, or maybe I just noticed them more because of the job I took as a model scout – youth were our marks, so of course I picked them out of every crowd.  The sheer volume of younger people somehow seemed to control what happened in a city, if that makes sense.  Events and places catered to young people to keep us entertained, to draw us in.  Our VIP status as model scouts (ha, what a joke…but anyway) didn’t hurt either.  I saw all the good sides of the clubs, bars, etc.  We never had to wait in line.  I never, in the 6 months I lived over there, paid for my own drink (this was for a variety of reasons, but it did make learning to drink easier).  And because my coworkers were a tremendous bunch of fun natives, they showed me the places to go, the people to meet, and the food to eat.  

Here’s another big difference I noticed about the east side of Michigan – people go out to mingle with people other than the people in their party.  There was a more inclusive, communal approach to being social.  It didn’t hurt that, as model scouts, we had to talk to like 50 people a night.  But, even when we weren’t scouting, I noticed this different approach to socializing.  I don’t know if I’d say people in Grand Rapids are less friendly, per se, but the most you get out of most people here is a reciprocal smile of acknowledgement.

Anyway, because the Detroit area is considerably less church-infested than Grand Rapids, I encountered people who had very, very different worldviews from the average person in my Cornerstone/Grand Rapids bubble. It was wonderfully refreshing.  I made friends with openly flamboyant homosexuals, one of whom was the best Christian I met over there.  My closest friend was a self-proclaimed “pot-smoking, experimental nymphomaniac.” I made friends with Buddhists, Catholics, and Kid Rock fans.  Overall, I liked the variety of people I met, and they forced me to question things I’d always believed but never been forced to questions.  I’ve always hated white noise and people who can’t think outside their box, so this gave me an opportunity to prove to myself that I was stronger than that.  While interacting with these people, I found I was able to hold to what I believed but maybe growing it a bit.  I found that all this interaction solidified in my mind that not everything that is Other is bad, and not everything that doesn’t agree with what I believe is to be hated or feared.  At the end of the day, you can fundamentally disagree with someone but still love each other.  Maybe that is what Detroit did for me more than anything – it widened my experience of humanity just a little bit.

Memories –

  • At the model scouting office, Diego was responsible for one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard: “Thank God you guys are back.  The most exciting thing that happened all day was when I walked by the mirror.”
  • When trying to get into my car from the curb, Sophie was responsible for one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen:  She fell and slid down the side of my car, making a smearing sound against the glass like you hear in a cartoon.
  • Sophie, as we walked past the nicest car I’ve ever seen: “Oh, f*** men.  Can that have my children?”
  • We ran into Chauncey Billups at a Mongolian Barbecue.
  • We accidentally scouted Jack Johnson’s barefoot drummer in a mall.
  • We accidentally scouted Mario and his friends/bouncers in a mall, and he was so amused that he invited us to his birthday party.
  • I literally ran into John Heffron, the second season winner of Last Comic Standing, in Somerset Mall.
  •  “Cheap Gay Layaway” at Old Navy.  Dominic found a man-purse he loved but could not afford, hid it behind a rack of clothes, and then 3 months later we found it in the same location.  When telling the checkout girl, she said, “That does not speak well of us, does it?”
  • Craig telling the story of when he’d drawn the perfect picture of Sonic the Hedgehog only to have the nuns at his school take it and throw it away.  This had been when he was in second grade; he was still bitter.  I loved him instantly.
  • Troy acting like “Sexy Little Drummer Boy” while walking by the door as we were trying to have a serious meeting.
  • Carmen calming saying like a GPS, “Head-on collision,” as Sophie for no reason drove straight at a van like a game of chicken in a wide, wide parking lot.
  • Various outings with Felix in his car because I liked the sound of his car’s blinker.
  • Once I quit scouting, I worked at People’s Pottery, a high-end craft store (if that makes sense) in Birmingham.  Sarah and I spent many hours playing “Hide the Duck” in the store when it got slow.  This is played by…hiding the duck, a figurine we didn’t like, somewhere in the store and then making the other person find it in a hot-cold method.
  • That girl who came in with her rich husband (it should be a given that there was an age gap of like 20 years) and pointed at things she liked until she’d racked up a bill of $850.  I contributed to $500 of this by convincing her that all the ugly stuff in the store that we were sick of looking at was totally awesome.
  • That semi-hot, constantly-drunk guy who came in repeatedly and one day wondered what the wine bottle stoppers were.  When I told him what they were, he looked at me in almost hurt disbelieve and said, “Why wouldn’t you just drink the whole bottle?”
  • The older Romanian lady telling me that I could get a job at Hooters.
  • The “homeless” guy I encountered in the store’s back alley who held out a bill and asked if I had change for $100.

 Gosh, it was fun.  I know most people (certainly those in my circle of friends) look back on college as the most exciting time of their lives, but for me it was this 6-month experimental period in the suburbs of Detroit.

But, as I mentioned in my “Spiritual Geography” blog post, I didn’t like Detroit enough.  I was so busy most of the time that I didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and think, and this was probably a good break from my usual mode of over-analysis.  But, once I slowed down and started reflecting on my life again, I knew that this experiment was over.  I’d gotten my time away, and now  I wanted to go back to be nearer to friends (whom I surprisingly really did miss), nearer to family, and nearer to whatever idea of “home” I had.  It was just time to get back to normal.  I’d had my “different” like Claudia from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

So, I moved back to Grand Rapids to start the next chapter.  I will always look back fondly on my time in the Detroit area because it gave me memories and experiences that are just mine. This will give me that sense of different that I need, and now I can be perfectly content living a normal life in white bread, conservative Western Michigan, if that is what happens.  (Also, I have the added fun now of knowing that nobody knows what I’m talking about whenever I say that I can never look at people the same again – I often slip into model-scouting mode when bored in a crowd, taking people-watching to a whole new level.  And, I like confusing guys when they talk about strip clubs and I say, “Yeah. I miss my old job.”)

French, The Protestant Nunnery, & Why You Should Put Batteries in a Camera

Senior Year – 2003-2004.

Ah, the homestretch.

By now I’d had enough of living on Cornerstone’s campus, and this final roommate hunting experience turned out to be the more wonderful turn of events of my entire social life.  Gloria, roommate from my Junior year, had two friends from the Honors Program who wanted to get an apartment a few miles from campus.  I agreed to join in.  Reluctantly.  Confession:  When I heard these two girls were from this Honors group, I admit I sucked in my breath a little bit.  To my knowledge I didn’t know either of them, but I knew of this group.  As freshmen, the Honors kids had been “those Honors kids” who we, as lofty sophomores, had been annoyed with because they were too loud, way too excited ,etc.  But, Gloria had turned out to be likable  and I’d had enough classes with a few from this group to know they were at least smart and interesting.  Plus, Prof Burghart at one point randomly stopped me in that stairwell that always smelled like sweaty metal to discuss my writing, and he’d suggested that I get to know some of the Honors kids because he thought I might like them.  Fortunately, that simple advice stuck.  I sucked it up, crossed my fingers, and agreed to join Gloria and her friends, Rachel and Miranda, to live in the apartment.

For some reason, I was the first person to move into the apartment, which meant I went to the apartment complex’s office to sign the lease. The office lady knew of me and, justifiably believing I was aware of who I was living with, said, “Oh, you’re one of Brooke’s friends moving into the apartment above her!  That should be fun.”  I fake smiled with a chipper “Yes!” although I had no clue who Brooke was any more than I knew who Rachel or Miranda were.  Anyway, I got the keys, and then my dad and brother suffered the joys of hauling my couch up three flights of stairs (this couch, years later, would be cathartically torn apart with hammers and steak knives by my enthusiastic father).

Rachel was the first roommate to move in with me.  I greeted her, her face registered as someone I’d had classes with a few times (and, yes, she was one of those Honors kids), and we kinda ignored each other as we went about settling in. Which was reasonable.  What was not reasonable was that for THE REST OF THE DAY we did not talk to each other but instead read books in different rooms until it was too dark and then we went to bed.  To this day, neither of us knows why we didn’t talk.

Then came Miranda.  Ah-ha, she looked vaguely familiar too! …Or at least the back of her head did from when she’d sat in the front of Religious Authors class the previous year. Again, however, little effort was put into getting to know each other for a while. (Which was incredibly stupid, considering we discovered A YEAR LATER that we’d both grown up in the same small town of Cedar Springs and had tons in common.)

Thus began two of my best friendships ever.

Despite the pathetic start, Gloria, Rachel, Miranda, and myself ended up getting along splendidly, which Gloria must have foreseen when she’d suggested the idea.  Seriously, it is a major accomplishment to say that four girls living in an apartment and sharing one bathroom never fought.

 197005_503730040321_4665_nFun times:

  • Rachel liked to think she was an excellent matchmaker, which resulted in a white-board drawing of a game of M.A.S.H. with stick figures labeled with our initials and terrifying numbers of stick children.
  • Gloria and I for no clear reason once posed for pictures all night.  One shows me afraid of a stuffed dragon which Gloria is about to save me from with nunchucks.
  • In a very tongue-in-cheek move, we nicknamed our apartment the Protestant Nunnery.

While I still wasn’t completely a part of their group, my three kind roommates grafted me into their circle of friends as much as both sides were willing, and I then came to know a few people I’d had multiple classes with over the years.  All around, my Senior Year I bothered to get to know people, probably because I realized I was about to leave college with only a handful of friends to remain in contact with for the rest of my life.  Fortunately I still had Becca, Adam, Aaron, and Pete from the year previous, so there were always people “my age” to hang out with between  classes, after classes, and on many a “Fabulous Fluger Friday.”  We swam in Pete’s parents’ pool.  Becca’s family took us to dinner at Mongolian BBQ for her birthday.  We for some reason watched Britney Spears music videos at Aaron’s.  We played tons of euchre.  Becca and I went to “Rent” which had Constantine, that guy who would later be on American Idol – he looked right at us too  (insert fake swoon)!  It was pretty good times.

Academically, I was also speaking up a bit more in class since I’d determined that I needed interaction – and, ahem, affirmation.   But for some stupid reason I took 19 credits that first semester, which was a bit much considering I was trying to finish my first novel at the same time.  (Hindsight: I wish I’d focused more on the book than ending college with a bang.)

199511_503730025351_3647_nFrench class in particular was enjoyable both semesters, and in a weird string of connections I ended up becoming friends with Christine, who turned out to be the wife of “Oh, that guy” who I’d had multiple classes with each semester. Christine and I struggled through the language together with mediocre little-to-no success, but it was great to stay after class and talk with the Prof for long periods of time about books, music, feminism, her time in France, etc.  She even gave us books to divvy up between us at the end of the year.  Christine and I never did learn to master the most difficult sentence we could come up with “I need a drink in the woods,” but it was fun.  And I’m pretty sure we both passed with As, so our sucking up must have worked.

Media Literacy was of my final Communications classes for my minor.  I was a little disappointed to discover that they’d pulled a switcheroo at the last minute and changed the prof to some new guy, but by the end of the first class period Prof Anderson had won me over – anyone who gets that excited about Disney is my kind of person.  And while I’m sure he was only impressed with my writing because I was being read in comparison to my Communication major classmates (don’t get me started), I did appreciate his comments on my papers of “This is OUTSTANDING work – I want to help you get this published!” and “Call me, email me, we MUST do coffee!” 

198935_503730020361_3270_nAmerican  Lit: Colonial with Prof Stevens once again resulted in numerous quotable quotes from the man.  This class also solidified my hatred of Moby Dick.  I mostly remember my new-found friends playing online quizzes and giggling all class period. And I’m still not sure how to take it that, when in one of my papers I mentioned being related to Emily Dickinson, Stevens wrote, “Why does this not surprise me?”

I’m not sure there is any way to explain Senior Seminar for English.  I will say that I enjoyed my final paper on Flannery O’Connor, even if I basically gave my defense presentation from the position that I didn’t really like her writing.  (I’m glad Prof Landrum agreed with me, even if Prof Stevens was aghast, which I think is unfair considering the whole time during my defense his kid ate French fries on his lap and stuck his tongue out at me.)  Anyway, my main memories are of sitting around that table and listening to some of the dumbest conversations I’ve fortunately mostly forgotten.  I kept no notes from that class.  The one REALLY good thing I got out of it was that it finally forever solidified my friendship with “Oh, that guy,” the one I’d had Weight Training, Religious Authors, and many other classes with.  Because he was in the group with my new circle of friends, I was fine by this point using his name “Buddy” in my head instead of “Oh, that guy.”  But still we never spoke.  We developed an odd understanding, though, and I don’t know what I would have done without him sitting across the table from me to receive my eye rolls and exchange looks of “What the hell is going on?  How have we been praying for cats for 20 minutes?” etc.  Telepathy would have been very handy, but you make do.

Then there was Editing and Proofreading, where I was the only person NOT on the school paper and I’m sure the Prof resented me for it.  I may have rubbed it in an little bit, actually.  I even wrote a paper on why I hadn’t done the job-shadowing assignment.  After talking with my aunt Sharon’s friend Julie, who was an editor, I realized that living a life with a red pen was not for me.  I got an A on that paper too, which is still funny to me.

Adolescent Lit was with another of Aunt Sharon’s friends from college – Prof Bell.  Talk about going into a class with pressure. Since Becca, myself, and another guy named Denver (who was a part of my new friend circle) all had to study Moby Dick that same semester, we bonded in this equally-exasperating class.  I remember Becca and I did some presentation where we showed a clip from “The Simpsons,” but I don’t remember why.  I also remember we made Prof Bell cry because we defended that Harry Potter was not satanic.

Over the Christmas break we had J(anuary) Term, and Becca and I took Science Fiction class with Prof Landrum.  This meant I was in heaven for about 2 weeks.  Now that my 19-credit semester was behind me and I had a breezy 12-credit semester ahead of me, I set aside large chunks of time to finish The Kota, my first novel that I’d been fiddling with to that point. Being in Sci-Fi class helped sharpen my focus.  We read Dune, Landrum sang the “Star Trek” theme, and we reminisced about the date and time that “Alf” had aired – I’m still impressed with that classmate who remembered where it fit in the NBC lineup in the 1990s.  The fact that there were about 6 of us in the class was great, and for the first time I actually bothered to pipe up in discussions (the fact that sci-fi was my favorite genre didn’t hurt.)

Finally, there was Postmodernism.  By this point I was happy calling “those honor kids” my friends, and most of them were in this class.  Plus Blond Abraham Lincoln, whom none of us liked, and we had a rotating schedule of who had to sit next to him.  The class was somehow fun, which I attribute to Prof Bonzo entirely.  He at least had the good sense to let us read an impossibly complicated book in groups and then come up with questions for the next class period.  My favorite was probably Buddy’s, “How does Derrida get any work done with Caputo’s lips fastened to his ass?”

Anyway, as my time as a college student came to an end, I finally published The Kota, which came as a surprise to my profs because I had NEVER bothered to even mention it.  Becca had been suckered into writing on the school paper, and she wrote a very kind article about how I was publishing my first novel.  Prof Stevens’ said, “Miss Somerville has always been an enigma, and I’m intrigued that she quietly wrote this full-length novel.” I’m pretty sure that this single-handedly earned me the 2004 English Award for Excellence.  (Side note:  At the chapel before graduation, Landrum, as the head of Humanities at the time, presented me with this award and presented the Communications Award for Excellence to Lydia, another classmate I’m gladly come to know by name.  As we both stood on stage and received our $50 gift cards to Barnes & Noble, Lydia side-smile-whispered to me, “Did you know about this?” so that I side-smile-whispered, “Nope.”  Apparently Landrum hadn’t bothered to tell us beforehand, but all the other division recipients had known.)

Then came graduation.  I remember thinking now different this was from my high school graduation.  I couldn’t wait to get away from ACS; I was sad to leave Cornerstone.  I was happy with what I’d accomplished, and I was thrilled that God had brought me so far from the mess I’d been.  Most of the ceremony is kind of a blur in my memory, but I did end up sitting next to Amber Smith, as we’d predicted would happen back as freshmen.  And it’s only thanks to Gloria that I have any pictures from my graduation at all, because my parents forgot to charge the batteries in the camera.

I remember going back to my apartment after the open house that my family threw for me.  I was the only one home, which was probably good.  I remember just feeling…blank.  I had no homework due tomorrow.  I didn’t have to be anywhere until my internship started in a week.  I’ve never been so hit with the feeling of being done.  The unknown stretched before me for the first time in my life.  It was kind of a relief, definitely terrifying.

Then my internship started in the media department at Cornerstone.  This basically meant weeks of making phone calls and writing random articles for the website that didn’t seem to matter to me.  There were some really wonderful “older people” who were willing to take the time to guide me in decisions for my future.  By the end of the internship, though, I basically once again realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with a red pen.  I didn’t want to work in an office, even if it had something vaguely to do with writing, editing, publishing, etc.  I had become, somewhere along the way, too creative to find that fulfilling.  I’d gotten a degree for my hobby.

So, after my internship was over and I officially had my diploma, I took a year off to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  It helped that all my roommates were still in college for another year, so I didn’t have a complete cutoff from all the wonderful things of college that I’d discovered.  This included my friends, and I now had the free time to get to know them better.  We got much closer, and I remember sitting in a room with Rachel, Miranda, Gloria, Brooke, Buddy, Christine, Denver, Chris, Andrew, Randy (Burghart), and a few other people and thinking for the first time in my life, “I like everyone in this room.”  That still touches me as an incredibly good moment, and it was then that I realized God had finally brought me to a place and to a people that fit.

Red Walls, Landrum, and Why I Love Eminem

Junior Year – 2002-2003.

My roommate situation Junior Year at Cornerstone proved to be a phenomenal turning point.  Mita (from the year before, you remember, who made excellent dumplings) and I needed a place to live now that Elise had decided to brave the life of a commuter.  So in one of those friend-of-a-friend moves, we signed up to live with Bobbi and her friend Gloria.  Bobbi had lived across the hall from me Freshmen Year.  I was told Gloria was on the track team.  That was all I knew.  Well, that and Bobbi’s assurance that “Gloria is cool.”

My first day back on campus, I took a small load up to our apartment in Babcock and dodged the others moving in.  Walking into our apartment, I found this 5-foot-plus-few-inches girl with long hair, Gloria, sitting at her computer.  She turned and asked if I needed help.  My immediate response to this question is always “no,” but I figured if she was willing it might be a good way to get to know each other.  So, Gloria walked with me back to my car to get the next load.  Then something happened that bonded us instantly.  A guy I knew from the years before had parked near me and started unloading, and he commenced chatting away at me so that I went into my obvious (at least I think obvious) humoring voice that also is meant to imply I’m not interested.  With one sympathetic glance from Gloria, I knew we were going to be friends.

Gloria, Bobbi, Mita, and I got along extremely well.  We were all a little bit country, a little bit rock-n’-roll, funny, and not above being a little nuts from time to time to let off steam.  Bobbi came up with the idea of painting plastic bright red and hanging it all around the living/dining room, and I’m told people in the parking lot looked through our windows and thought we were Goth and angry all the time.  Mita and I would often pretend to be napping rather than answer the door when a certain visitor came a-callin’.  Gloria once came up behind me in the student union and asked if I would help her get lunch; I turned around in confusion and found her to have both her arms in slings from a pole vaulting attempt gone horribly wrong (this may have been the next year, actually, but I can’t remember – the girl got injured almost as often as me, which was another bonding point).

So, yeah, good roommates = check.  Elsewhere, I was also finally realizing that I kinda liked people.  But by now, the normal people had all established their friend circles, and I realized I didn’t really have one, largely because I seemed to have a talent for befriending people who transferred out.  Then, on one of the first days of 20th Century British Lit, I sat by one of Elise’s friends that I knew but for whatever reason we’d never been close friends before.  Thus entered Becca.  She invited me to lunch, and I soon found myself with Becca, Pete, Adam, and Aaron.  They adopted me, lost puppy that I was.  These were also really the only people in my own year that I was friends with, because along with my ability to befriend transfers I also through Gloria knew her sophomore friends (more on that later).

Odd things I remember:

  • Becca – Mostly I just remember sitting around in the student union between classes, goofing around or helping each other with English homework.  Ours was just an easy friendship, which was a relief.  But we did have really good talks too, and I remember one in particular where we discussed how we needed deeper connections on spiritual grounds with people in our lives.  Immediately after this, Pete came up and asked if we’d seen some TV show the night before, and Becca and I both rolled our eyes but broke out laughing.
  • Pete – dragged us to at least one Shane & Shane concert, and I witnessed my first platonic man-on-man crush. Pete was a goofball but could also switch gears in an instant to help people, which I always admired.
  • Aaron – We once were left in the student union for like 3 hours between classes, he doing homework on something about fish and me working on a paper for Stevens.  I’m not sure we actually spoke until Aaron wanted me to go help him pick out Thank You Cards in the bookstore.  To my surprise, he picked very flowery ones.  (I really don’t know why I remember this.)
  • Adam – Okay.  I took this group up to the Haymarsh for an outdoorsy field trip during the spring, as Adam and Aaron were both very into environmental biology.  Driving my dad’s truck out in the back 900 acres somewhere, I should have known better than to drive through a soggy area – HayMARSH, after all.  I got the truck stuck.  More in annoyance than embarrassment (shame on me), I left my friends in the truck and went to chase down my dad, who was on the tractor not far away.  As this was my first ever “Are ya busy?”  (code in our family for being stuck and needing help) I was kinda amused with myself, and Dad laughed and drove the tractor to pull out his own truck where I had lodged it in knee-deep mud.  I, assuming Adam knew what he was doing, left Adam behind the wheel while I helped Dad hook the truck to the tractor.  Dad pulled and pulled on the tractor while I assumed Adam was in the truck trying to steer it out. Once the truck finally got free, turns out Adam had left it in park the entire time.

Back in the classrooms, I was still enjoying myself and gobbling up all I could.  I had a lot of Prof. Landrum that year.  He was probably my favorite professor because he flat out said that he didn’t care what grades we got, that the main point was that we get something out of it, and that that was up to us.  He had a very lecture-style of teaching, and it reminded me of Mr. T back in high school.  He was also the most eclectic of the profs I had, so that didn’t hurt.  Anyway, I had Landrum for Shakespeare (we watched many movies), 16th Century Brit Lit, Literary Criticism (where people on either side of me played solitaire on their laptops the entire time), 20th Century Brit Lit, and he was one of the three profs for Love & Friendship (sort of like a real class except that the profs clearly got bored and wandered in and out of the room to get handfuls of cookies from the office across the hall).  I also had Christian Theology with Duff, American Lit with Stevens (“Does it scare anyone that I have scissors in my pockets?”), Public Speaking (in which I got an A+ for a speech on my name, thanks parents), and a few others that I’ve mostly forgotten.

Academically, I started to realize that, whether I tried or not, I was still a pretty good student and was going to get noticed for it. Classmates wanted help with their papers; profs clearly remembered who I was outside the classroom and sometimes even told me on the sidewalk that they’d liked my last paper.  So on the one hand – oops, guess I couldn’t avoid the Golden Child problem entirely.  On the other hand – affirmation is a nice thing.  It definitely encouraged me that I actually could write after all.  It wasn’t just something I liked doing; maybe I was actually good at it.  (Although I still think Stevens missed the point of my “extremely good” anti-Fussell poem that he HANDED OUT TO OTHER CLASSES, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Because of this boost, I started to seriously start working on my hobby project – The Kota Series.  It’s not a coincidence that my journal entries significantly dropped off during this time, for all my free-time writing now shifted to The Kota.  (Brief explanation:  The Kota is a sci-fi story that my brother and our friends Kaly and Luke made up when we were little and played every day.  Over the years, it had grown into a short-ish story of 4 “books” that I’d written based off of what we’d played.  Now, I started to flesh them out with the goal of making them real books at some point.  I was never aiming for “ooh, I want to be a big published author” or anything.  I just wanted this story that had meant something to me for over a decade to actually be in print, in book form that I could have forever.) I don’t think that I told anyone other than my roommates what I was doing cooped up behind my laptop all the time, but I’d finally found my creative release and kinda dove into it during this time.

Then “8 Mile” came out.  I connect crap all over the place anyway, but “Lose Yourself” really hit home with me as I was branching out in my own creative project, and the song felt like a kick in the butt so that I decided I was actually going to publish this thing.  For that, I will forever be thankful to Eminem.

Anyway, the rest of Junior Year for some reason is a blur, probably because I actually enjoyed myself but I was still in a place where I only held onto the bad times (baby steps…).  But really, by this point, I was pretty happy.  I liked my friends (a new concept, but delightful).  I liked school (and the renewed affirmation).  And I had my own thing that I could work on in the background, smirking and scribbling down notes for my book whenever something inspired me.

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.

The Era of Mother Superior

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  It will forever be – knock on wood – as close to hell as I’ll ever come.  But it was really only the white, middle-class, angst-y poetry, Fiona Apple kind of hell, which I guess proves it wasn’t that bad.

Senior Year at Algoma Christian School started with promise.  There is an indescribable, largely unjustified feeling of pride and elation that comes with being a high school senior.  You will never be more on top of the world, and my tiny class of 11 came as close to abusing the moment as we could.  For instance:

  • On the annual camping retreat for the entire high school, we hid coolers full of water balloons until we ambushed absolutely everyone during free time.
  • We threw a tantrum because a particularly uppity middle-school teacher had taken our radio from the kitchen where we served lunch, and we were rewarded with a field trip to Chicago.
  • There was a little unsupervised experiment that resulted in an explosion which probably would have gotten someone expelled if we’d pointed fingers. No one ever repeated the experiment, especially Tim.
  • We locked people in the kitchen cooler.
  • We spent an entire night in the dark gym building a full-length castle for Homecoming.
  • We filled a kiddy pool with water and fish and put it in the math teacher’s classroom.
  • The Night of the Spoon will forever live in infamy.

I played basketball that year, though I’d never been on a team before and wasn’t a particularly competitive person when it came to anything organized.  I did try to get out of it before practices started, but everyone had been bugging me to play for so long that I finally consented and gave in to what everyone expected of me – a pattern, I’d realize later.  I can’t say I ever really tried that hard, though I was proud of being the fastest person on the team – not the quickest, that honor went to Felix, but I was fastest.  I did enjoy fouling.  At our last game, I finally decided to ignore everything my coach had ever told me and played hard because I was so frustrated.  I was left in for three straight quarters, and I remember mouthing, “Take me out!” to our coach, who just smiled and continued watching the game.  I didn’t even notice the score as I took a charge and shot my free throws – it was only after I’d tied the game that I realized what was going on.  We lost in overtime.  I remember going into the bathroom and nearly collapsing – I SHOULD have been pulled, and self-diagnosing now I know I was dehydrated and probable hyperventilating.  But, it was over, and I was relieved.  I have never since been that physically exhausted since.  It felt terrible, and good. I think I was starting a spiral into depression at that point, actually, and my body was trying to tell me something.

Why? The biggest aspect of my senior year that makes it so memorable was the fact that I had to change my role.  I was always involved in student government through high school, but mostly I managed to sit in the background and contribute while staying out of the lead.  Then came senior year.  Unfortunately, the president of my class moved away and so I had to step in by default.  (I must stress that this was in no way a grand accomplishment – class of 11, remember.) Teachers, staff, parents, etc. expected me to be excellent – pressure, pressure, pressure! – because I was responsible, I had a good head on my shoulders, I was smart, blah, blah, blah.  So, I took charge, again largely to please everyone and because it was expected of me. Honestly, I did have natural leader-ish tendencies, so I took up the reins and enjoyed being organized, scheduled, etc.  I learned to thrive on a job well done…and on stress, on having demands and deadlines.

But, being a leader is hard on the social life.  I really didn’t want my classmates to hate me as their pseudo-authority figure, so I tried to be softer and let them get away with more.  And more.  And more.  This, I think, led them to treating me like a mom, or a doormat.  They didn’t do their work because they knew I would pick up the slack.  (I shouldn’t really blame them – I mean, you’re supposed to be somewhat irresponsible in high school, so I hear. And I have to give credit to about four other people from my class who actually did give a hoot.) Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice – the job had to get done or it would reflect poorly on me. No! I had expectations to meet! I couldn’t fail! I couldn’t make a mistake! …Anyway… Because I shouldered all the labor, I became more resentful and took it out on my classmates.  Self-righteousness is a bitch.  Josh #1 even went so far as to dub me with the nickname “Mother Superior.” And I completely deserved it the time Tim actually handed me a broom and said, “Go home.”

It was around this time that I seriously considered tossing away the idea that my classmates were my friends, and I began to feel very grateful that I lived fifty miles away.

Here’s where the angst-y poetry comes in:

acs“What am I to you
What are we
I wish to thank you for this misery
and these raspberry seeds
I once feared our circle’s break
Now I fear its stay
So I thank you for this misery
And these raspberry seeds
I will remember your sweetness
But hope to pick you from my teeth”
– My Raspberry Friends

During this time, there were several situations where it was clear God was trying to get my attention.  Many times, I worked myself into such a ball of stress that I ended up getting sick.  I mean sick.  I’d had a crappy immune system since I could remember (Ethiopian poster child, remember), and I didn’t even get over colds for two weeks.  I often saw being sick as a blessing because it meant that I got a break.  Also, being sick has always been a time when I hear God more clearly.  While I lay in bed miserable, God usually checked in and reminded me of the whole little “be still and know that I am God” promise – I say promise because it was comforting to know that I could refrain from holding the universe together.  Once I would realize this, I would then snap out of my control-freak tendencies so that – a week or so later – I would be healthy again.  Sadly, the lesson usually didn’t last long.

Things got worse when one of my guy friends showed signs of liking me.  (Here lies the reason I hate getting flowers, btw.) I could have been flattered and left it at that as friends, but unfortunately he decided that I now was just the same as every other vagina girl he had ever chased after.  It was as if our friendship of eighteen years meant nothing.  I cannot begin to explain how much this hurt and how it would affect so many friendships to come.  At the end of a very long drama, let’s just say that we stopped being friends because it was the only thing I could do. But, unfortunately, rumors spread like wildfire in a small Christian school, and I had to deal with a lot of crap from people who didn’t understand what was really going on.  There were a few who really did know, and it was really here that I learned who my true friends were – even if I was barely capable of trusting anyone anymore.

I think that, by the end of senior year, I was broken.  I felt as if every last one of my emotional straws had been snapped.  I was beyond ready to leave it all behind, and yet I was scared of the New at the same time.  I had had so much externally going on that I honestly hadn’t done the usual high school “finding myself” stuff.  I didn’t know who I really was when not performing for everyone else’s benefit.  I didn’t know what I wanted from the life to come.  Most certainly I knew I was a mess, but it was all so jumbled that I didn’t yet know how I was a mess.  I was numb, disconnected, and broken while trying to put on a show of being perfectly happy, hopeful of the future, and loving.  All I had left was my relationship with God, which had grown immensely during this time because I’d been forced to lean on solely him – maybe this was the good that came out of all of the bad.

High School Graduation – So, at last.  My valedictorian speech was prepared, my ridiculous hat was pinned to my hair, and I had my tall boots on so that I felt I had something different about me – I don’t know why this was necessary, but it helped.

We had to stand in the side wing while the gathered mob of family and friends assembled and seated themselves in the gymnasium.  I remember inspecting my classmates with something like love and something like loathing – but, somehow, mostly like love.  Hope was the first in line.  She was oddly the nearest to tears, although she was only a member of our class by force.  Adam was nearly as alien – although he fit in, he had only joined our class that year from a lower grade.  I was next.  Appearing completely calm, Tim stood quietly.  Cat was jittery, but she talked to everyone.  Tiffany was giggling.  Easily the most distractible, Rusty was joking around and had to be shoved back into the line.  Good Josh was grinning from ear to ear.  Holding the folds of her gown so as not to reveal her mini-skort, the Hawaiian goddess Felix fumed inwardly because she should have been salutatorian.  Bad Josh stood laughing.  Alicia was in the rear, trying to appear calm, but she was worried about the slide show she had spent all year putting together for this event.

“Let me take a few pictures quick,” my mom said as she entered the narrow hall.

I admit I rolled my eyes as she fumbled to work the camera.

“Smile, Sunny,” I heard Bad Josh say as the flash went off.

I silently scowled at him and reached up to adjust my sliding cap. I exchanged an annoyed glance with my jittery friend as the Hawaiian goddess’s soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (and much, much later husband) brought us the flowers we had to carry down the aisle.  We took them and nervously argued over the best way to carry them.  Deciding that I no longer cared about the whole event, I realized that my four Tylenol had just kicked in for my headache.

Soon enough, we walked down the aisle to the traditional music, which Alicia’s sister played on a piano.  The girls carried calla lilies; the guys focused a little too hard on walking at the right speed.  We sat in our seats, slightly stiff and sleepy.  After Cat had given her salutatorian speech, I remember thinking, “I can beat that.” Mr. C, as our administrator, basketball coach, Family Living teacher, and group therapist then introduced me by saying, “And now, speaking of our leader…” This made me cringe. I remember walking up to the podium, taking a firm grip, and looking out at the crowd.  It occurred to me that half of the people had never heard me talk before, so I felt a smirk of satisfaction in knowing that they had to listen to me now. But I stuck to my script.

The rest of the ceremony was traditionally long and somewhat interesting.  When we were finally released from the blinding cameras, a few of us enjoyed ourselves.  We each had our own table of baby pictures and plaques.  We got really good at smiling and saying, “thank you,” not to mention hugging people we didn’t know.  I spent most of my time watching everyone else.  Mike V. hugged me but then pushed me aside when he saw my table had candy.  Bad Josh stood by my table with his glaring girlfriend, and I was stuck there awkwardly. I’m pretty sure Good Josh saw this, because he came over and hugged me, which I needed badly.

For the next couple of weeks, I went through the necessary pleasantries of open houses and greeting my friends’ families.

Then something happened.  The board of ACS got their panties in a bunch because Felix had worn a short skirt and Cat and I had gone sleeveless UNDER our graduation gowns.  (If that sounds ridiculous, it should.  While I loved most of what that school stood for, we were there during a “growth period” and the leadership was infuriating. It made mountains out of molehills and focused on the trivial while ignoring issues that really mattered like prejudice, sexism, hypocrisy, etc.  I am glad to report that ACS has grown in leaps and bounds since this time, and now boys are even allowed to have facial hair!) …Anyway, it was at this point that I felt like every good aspect of graduating from high school had been sucked out of me.  I remember crying and crying and crying, not because I felt guilty or angry but because I had been so close to escaping and now was thrust back in.  What ended up happening was that our class and our parents were called to a meeting to discuss whether or not we deserved to go on the senior trip we had spent all year earning.  We were basically told that we were the scum of the earth and not capable of making good choices, even though ACS was supposed to have taught us now to make good choices. We weren’t trusted.  We were not adults after all.  We were failures.  Even now, I think that meeting was the low point in my life.  I have never seen my dad so livid, and I have never loved him so much as when he argued for us.  Fortunately, somehow, we won our case and they decided to let us go ahead with our senior trip.

Then something else happened.  It is not really my story to tell, but basically Cat and Tim confessed that they were pregnant.  The thing that hurt the most was not that I was disappointed in them – it was that Cat had been afraid to tell me.  I cried and cried then too.  Cat and I had become very close that year, and I think we both bonded to each other because we had so little else.  We’ve been over my drama, but Cat’s dad had had cancer and she’d had a host of other, real problems.  Plus, we were both trying frantically to find God in our lives during this tumultuous time, and we strengthened each other’s hopes that we were not left to flounder on our own.  I still think to this day that I could have done more for her or been there for her more that year, but I’d had to take care of myself at some point too.

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Senior Trip – Despite the sucky situations leading into the trip, the time in West Virginia was awesome and wonderful.  For some reason, I decided to be a vegetarian for the week and eat Felix’s diet. Rusty developed a strange relationship with the campsite moths.  And, the whole group randomly went for a hike one day and followed a bubbling stream, not at all knowing where it would lead. We fell on the slimy rocks, Felix and I hid in an overlooking cave on the bank, we found a crashed car in the middle of the mossy stream, and then finally we arrived at a waterfall. Pounding water from forty feet overhead slammed into jagged rocks below, and sunlight fought its way through the trees on the cliffs all around, illuminating the murky pool between a gigantic boulder and the waterfall.  The whole scene is definitely in my Top 10 Most Memorable Things I’ve Ever Seen.  It was like a gift.

However.  When we were leaving, Mr. C pulled over the van and asked us if we wanted to go north to home or south to the next destination.  We were confused.  He then said that the camp owner had seen us sneaking away in pairs, apparently making out when some of us had significant others at home. We vigorously denied this, and finally he pulled his head out of his…seat and kept driving.  Later at our next stop, he pulled me aside and asked what I thought, and I came very close to telling him that what he had done was unacceptable and insulting, especially after everything that had happened with the ACS board meeting. Fortunately, I remembered just in time that he did not respect my opinions as my father would have, so I kept quiet.  But this was the last thing I needed at the time, and much of the recouped joy I’d felt drained away again.

Then came Myrtle Beach.  Up until Wednesday was great.  The condo was gorgeous, as were the beach and ocean. It was worth all the year’s financial work to see them laughing in the surf – for many of them, it was their first experience with an ocean, and maybe I did feel a bit like their happy mother as they enjoyed themselves. I still think it’s funny that we girls played on the beach while the guys went shopping at the mall.

Our 3:00 am beach walk was another Top 10 thing.  Good Josh, Adam, Felix and I picked our way across the street in our bare feet, and we arrived on the sand to join the few other vacationers who were out so late.  The wind was so strong that I remember jumping up and being blown backward in my “Shrimp Happens” T-shirt.  The lapping of the waves was soothing, even though you could only see the very edge of the water in the dim light from the condos.  We found a beached puffer fish.  The storm out at sea was cool, too – and rather symbolic now that I think of it.  I honestly don’t remember much of our conversations, but it wasn’t important.  Just walking was good.

Then, Wednesday night.  Ever had a dream three months in advance where you see the scene of when a friend is going to hurt you?  Ever forget about that dream until its reality is suddenly upon you?  I did.  In both my dream and reality, I was sitting on the balcony of our condo, my feet on the railing.  I was looking at a bright light across the street and slightly to my right.  Then, a friend (this turned out to be Good Josh) came onto the balcony.  I remember recognizing the scene then and thinking, “No, it’s okay.  He’s on my right.  In my dream, he was on my left.  There’s a table in the way so that he can’t get to my left, so maybe the dream was wrong.” Sure enough, however, Good Josh stepped over the table to lean against the wall on my left.  He did this for no explainable reason.  That was when I knew something was coming.  I’m not even really sure what happened.  All I know is that he lied to me.  We didn’t have a fight or anything, but I just knew something changed right then.  The next morning, we didn’t speak to each other.  We only made eye contact once for the entire rest of the trip. (I did figure out why, but it involves petty teen girl crap and doesn’t really matter.) But, because of that weird dream/premonition, I in some way felt okay with it, like I’d been prepared for this final, awful thing. And I wasn’t ever mad at Good Josh – which is saying something, if you know me. Maybe I was just numb, but I really didn’t hold anything against him, and I think it’s because he had been such a support up until then.

Riding back to Michigan in the van, I found myself in a strange state of peace.  I was still hurt, I was still scarred, but it was time to leave ACS behind.  I resigned myself to just let go, make a clean break, and move on.  This was maybe not the healthiest approach, but it was the best I could come up with at the time.  I needed time away.  (I got that time away in college, but more on that later.)

Five Years Later – One post-college night as I lay in bed thinking, it dawned on me that I was all right.  Adjusted.  I felt closure from my worst ACS issues, and nothing but time had triggered this feeling.

It was only then that I remembered something. Back during the ACS dark times, while I was praying one night, God told me, “Five years.”  I’d had no idea what this meant at the time, but I’d felt immediate peace that it involved something good.  Skip back to me lying in bed five years later and I suddenly got it – God had been telling me that, in five years, I would finally be okay and would recover from everything that had happened at ACS.  I know five years seems like a long time to get over traumas from high school, and it was.  But God knows how I work and how much it all hurt me, and I think he was meeting me on my ground.  He brought me through five years of healing, like an extended version of the scene in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” where Aslan peels the dragon skin off Eustace.

So now, 10+ years later, what does ACS and The Era of Mother Superior mean to me? I’ve rekindled some old friendships that have changed with time; other friendships I’ve let go.  But I try at least to check in.  Maybe it’s masochistic, but I don’t want to forget perhaps the most shaping era of my life.  Whatever its faults, I did spend over a decade of my life at ACS, and that means the school is an important part of my past.  A home.  ACS will forever be my own private “Winesburg, Ohio” where I grew up and where I had to grow out of.  And I think it’s good to remind myself that even when I was at my worst, I wasn’t alone.

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Why I Hate Hugs and Anne Of Green Gables

My life really hasn’t been interesting enough to fill a whole novel.  Or even a novella.  Maybe a sonnet.  Probably a limerick.  The most interesting time period was spent in Algoma Christian School, for a variety of reasons.  I’ve explained earlier how small the school was – I ended up graduating in a class of 11.  There’s an oddness about growing up this way that is hard to explain to anyone who went to a large public school.  It’s kind of like being from a family with lots of kids, only you have to love family and you don’t necessarily have to love classmates.

My overactive memory has been both a blessing and a curse, but here are some tidbits from my schoolgirl memories:

2nd Grade – My mom had home-schooled me through first grade so that I could get a jump start and learn to read while other kids were learning to take naps in kindergarten.  I think she also did it so that I could have a healthy superiority complex by the age of 7…I may be wrong on that. Anyway, for second grade, my parents wanted to send me to a private school so that I could have a Christian education.  ACS welcomed us to come for a tour, and I remember my first time entering the old building, which was constructed of double-wide trailers and smelled of old carpet. I remember peeking through the windows to see students whose names I would later learn – Andy, Mark, Sara.  I remember it seemed huge.  Official.  While my parents went to talk with the administrator, I was taken to an empty classroom where a girl was playing with her My Little Ponies.  Her hair was crimped.  Her pants were tucked into her socks.  She asked me to play, and I said I would rather color.  This girl – Cat, or Kathy as she was known then – would become one of my best friends for the rest of our lives.

Memories from that first year are mostly of sound and color.  My first teacher’s name was Mrs. Brown, and I remember I was afraid of her at first because she hardly ever smiled – ironic, considering I was often accused of this myself.  But we got along splendidly because, back then, I was eager to please and share my wealth of knowledge.  I remember class pictures and recess.  I looked something like the Ethiopian poster child – sickly, gaunt – because I had strep throat at least 3 times that year.

3rd Grade – This was when I really hit my stride.  Mrs. Tasma is still my all-time favorite teacher, though I can’t put my finger on exactly what made her so cool.  For this year, I have a vivid and horrific memory of being chased around the desks by a classmate who was trying to hug me.  I haven’t liked hugs since.  I gave a ten-page paper presentation on Corrie ten Boom and lost my voice by the end.  I also remember that we each took turns having a display table about ourselves; I brought in horse figurines. (Seeing Mrs. Tasma years later, she told me she’d found a stack of old papers, and one had been of a story I’d written about a horse. She laughed and said I’d written nearly everything about horses that year.)

4th Grade – Miss Steed never got the memo that you can only show Anne of Green Gables to kids so many times.  Every time we did something good, we would get a star on the blackboard.  At four stars, we would get a movie, which meant we would watch A of GG and get popcorn.  Let’s just say that we got so sick of the movie that we started being purposefully bad so that we could get stars erased off the board.  Not that I was trouble.  In fact, if anything I grew quieter this year.  I chose to become introverted and instead observe others. I wanted to see if my classmates could answer the questions I normally would have – I remember consciously making this decision one day as I lowered my hand to refrain from answering a class question.

It was also during this year that I developed my first crush on Matt, who borrowed two dollars from me and did not repay me for several months.  However, Randy thought I was cute, and all my friends thought Randy was cute.  So, shrugging my shoulders and not really caring one way or the other, Randy and I ended up being boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever that can mean at the age of nine.

Also during this year, I got my tonsils out and stopped looking like the Ethiopian poster child.  My whole class made Get Well cards for me, and I still have the poorly drawn horses and dogs with greetings of “Hope Yuo Get Beter Soon” stenciled across the tops.  It was really nice that Miss Steed actually came to my house to deliver these to me.  (Several other people from school and our church came as well.  I remember receiving strawberry-flavored Nestle Quick from our pastor and nearly throwing up because the smell reminded me of the anesthetic they had used to put me under. To this day, my gag reflex kicks in when exposed to artificial strawberry flavoring.)

5th Grade – Thinking of this year makes me laugh.  We thought we were so cool.  Swearing.  Talking about sex even though we barely understood the mechanics.  Playing sports.  Playing sports is what ended up being the most traumatic event that year – I was hit in the chin with a baseball bat by my friend Chad.  My chin swelled immediately, but I didn’t know what I looked like or why my friend Carissa was so freaked out.  I went inside from recess, and my teacher upon seeing me swept me up in an enormous hug.  I’ve already explained that I don’t like hugs, but having my swollen face buried in her bosom terrified me and I started crying.  She thought I was crying because of my actual injury.  I was sent to the bathroom with A FROZEN SPONGE IN A PLASTIC BAG, which was the school’s equivalent of a First Aid Kit.  I then saw my chin, which was by this time the size of my fist.  I went to sit in the school office while the ladies called my mom, and they all told me how brave I was and then went back to work while I pressed the frozen sponge/bag to my face.  My mom showed up at last, and I remember how calm she was as the ladies fluttered around and she made sure my jaw wasn’t broken, which no one else had bothered to check.

Well, time mends all wounds, but I did have a blue-and-purple goatee for about five weeks.  And, I’m convinced that this is where I developed my inability to get over bitterness towards people who’ve wronged me, because Chad never apologized.  (Years later, we reconnected on Facebook and I might have mentioned this… Okay, I know I did.)

6th Grade – It was during this year that we moved into the new school building.  It was big and didn’t smell like old carpet, just mortar and drywall.  I had a bowl haircut.  We had Miss Steed again as our teacher, still on her Anne of Green Gables kick.  This time around, we were a little cleverer about getting out of seeing it.  Because Miss Steed favored girls, we would act like we were having a fight amongst our little clique, and she would send Pam, Kathy, Tara, Cat, and myself out into the hall to talk things out.  Miraculously, by the end of the movie, everything was always resolved.  She would come out and give us candy, telling us not to let the boys see it.  So what did we do?  We would go back inside the classroom and chew on our candy as loudly as possible, causing the not-as-clever boys to glare at us and wish they had thought of something so brilliant.  (Over a decade later, when talking about this with my then-classmate Ben, he still remembered these days with a bit of a grudge. Totally fair.)

One day at recess while playing soccer, Matt B. and I went for the ball at the same time and he kicked my ankle, breaking it.  That was my first broken ankle.  Matt, like Chad, never apologized. (Again via Facebook, my reconnecting tool of choice, I reminded Matt of this, and he had absolutely no memory of the event. Why must men hurt me so? Am I just that forgettable?)

7th and 8th Grades – We were finally out of elementary school and starting to change classes every period.  Typical middle school stuff went on.  Some girls started being cooler than others; I don’t remember where I fit.  Miss Lovell was my favorite teacher because she taught us how to color-code our folders and I thought that was the most ingenious thing I’d ever heard of.  She also had a pet snake in the classroom, although it was really only a glorified worm.  We went on the best field trip ever to a simulated space program where we had to land on the moon – I was the communications officer.

During this time, sadly several of our classmates moved on to public schools and we lost all contact.  New people came in, and the shuffle added some spice to the monotony that had settled into our small, confining school.

And for the record, I did not have a crush in Kevin.

9th through 11th Grades – The majority of my early high school years are a blur.  There was an occasional field trip that was exciting, or a particular teacher I really liked, or some tidbit of knowledge I actually found worth knowing.  I do remember a drug scandal that rocked and nearly toppled the perfect-bubble-world illusion our parents had fought for and believed in so desperately.  It’s safe to say that I broke my ankles at least three more times during high school, though these were my own fault and I take full responsibility.  I remember Sam W. wrote me a note with one of those “Will you be my girlfriend? Check yes or no” boxes, and I wadded it up and threw it back at him while our history teacher, Mr. T., watched this whole thing and laughed.  Sam then un-crinkled the note and gave it to my friend Tara, who was also repulsed.

Then came 12th Grade, but that’s a whole other story that will take a post all its own.  For now, I’ll just say that the 2nd through 11th grades are what I remember fondly from my schoolgirl days.

The important thing to remember about childhood, I think, is that the people who shared it with you are not to be cast aside or forgotten.  We help create each other, for better or worse, and it’s good to just accept the odd, goofy, and even hurtful things these people did to you.  Personally, I’ve found it a surprising pleasure to reconnect with these people 10+ years later, and I’m always delighted when someone has turned out well.   These people are all a part of what shaped me, and it’s quite freeing to love them for it. I’ve even managed to forgive the bone-breakers, and I don’t cringe anymore when people hug me.

Living on the Fringes of an Amish Community

Another part of growing up on the Haymarsh was that many of our neighbors were Amish.  I don’t know the history of how they came to settle in the area, but they definitely added a unique flavor to the community.  I respect their devotion to their way of life and faith, even if I don’t find it necessary.  But… There are definitely a few things/stories that stuck in my memory:

Omelets

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point my brother and I started calling Amish children omelets.  I think it may have something to do with the fact that often one house will have a dozen children.

In summer, the omelets play outside much like my brother and I used to do, and I imagine there is a similar aspect of their mother wanting them out of the house.  They will always be barefoot, but in this community clothing is never optional.  The omelets will be dressed from head to shins in black doll’s clothes with the cutest (and probably most uncomfortable) straw hats and bonnets you’ve ever seen.  There is always a puppy.  People drive by slowly to see the herd of little omelets playing, and it’s hard to say whose curiosity is more entertained – those in the cars or the children.  But I do know that the puppies always enjoy the children’s attention being diverted, because they always jump at the chance to run for it.

Once, I saw three little omelets standing by their pasture, staring open-mouthed and pointing as a bull had his way with a cow.  That must have been Biology class for the day.

Deer in a Barrel

Not everyone enjoys having Amish neighbors.  Especially around hunting season.  One family went so far in their plans to “outsmart” their Amish neighbors that they built a 25-foot tall fence along their entire property line to keep deer from running off their property onto the Amish property.  It was a wall Nehemiah would have been proud of, even if the motivation was a little different.

When deer season came around, however, the Amish were ready.  They got up at 4:00 a.m. and sat along their side of the fence, waiting.  The deer, probably confused, ended up being funneled by the new fence into the Amish property.  Trapped, the deer ran along the fence like those shooting games at a carnival while the Amish men shot at them for 45 minutes.  Deer tried crawling under the fence to no avail.  Thirteen deer died that days, some so small they still had spots on their little haunches.  As my Dad found out later, “The boys enjoyed some sport.”  By mowing down Bambi’s as they tried to crawl under a fence?  Very sporting indeed.

 The Sunday Morning Game

My family played a game on the way to church every Sunday: Guess Which Way The Amish Went To Church.  You play by swerving around the horse poop in the road, trying to decipher which direction the horse-drawn buggy had been traveling.  Are the poopy trails leading to the Yoders?  Or the Adams?  Then our family car would make that one turn to our church, and we’d see a pile of plop going in the other direction.  Yes, it was the Yoders that Sunday.  (We found odd things to be competitive about in my family, but poop tracking was one of them.)

The Amish Diet

At the local grocery store, I always found it exciting to pull into the parking lot and see a horse and buggy tied to the lamppost.  One day, my mom and I entered to find a young Amish couple (you knew they hadn’t been married long cuz his beard was thin yet) shopping around.  I’m not alone in finding this exciting, because I distinctly remember seeing several other customers also looking in the couple’s cart, wondering what they were buying.  I lost track of them in the store but was fortunate enough to end up right behind them in the checkout line.  What did they pull from their cart? A frozen pizza and eggs.

Two thoughts went through my head:
1.) Shouldn’t they have chickens?
2.) How did they cook the pizza?

 Business Moguls

Oh, they’re crafty, those Amish.  They helped themselves to all the maple syrup they could carry from our woods two years in a row.  We would drive by our land and see the trees reflecting back at us like they all had rear-view windows – the syrup collecting bags were silver.

Not only did they relieve us of the burden of harvesting from our land, but they were also so generous as to plant…special herbal crops on our land. My grandmother was shocked by the DEA one afternoon when they landed a helicopter, knocked on her door, and asked if she was responsible for about 20 marijuana plants on her property.  Honestly, I can’t really blame the DEA – which is more ridiculous, that my grandmother would be growing weed or that the nice Amish boys would be planting weed? (To be fair, the true culprits may have been my aunt and uncle’s employees, but I have my reasons for suspecting the Amish boys. We had always wondered what was in those plastic bags when they would come out of our woods.)

More as a kind way to interact with the Amish boys than as an actually wise business move, my dad decided one summer to buy pigeons from them to hunt on the Hunt Club.  They were delighted (he would later say because they’d known a sucker when they saw one) and sold Dad over 100 pigeons at a time that they caught in their barn.  Now, fun fact about pigeons:  They will return home to roost, even after the betrayal of being sold into a slavery where they’re shot at.  So, by the end of the summer, my dad was pretty sure he’d bought many of the same birds at least three times.

 Riding lessons

By the time I actually had horses of my own, I was over my girlhood horse phase. It didn’t help that our appaloosa was an idiot.  Gorgeous, but an idiot.  “He” (and I use the term loosely, if you know what I mean) needed training desperately so that he would calm down and stop bucking. My grandfather had an old Amish friend who reportedly worked wonders as a horse whisperer, so we took our appaloosa to this exorcist and let him see what he could do.

After looking the horse over and agreeing to keep him for a while, this kind older man turned to me and asked how I liked riding him.  I said, “Fine, but he bucks a lot.” He then gave me the most valuable advice I’ve ever received, and it can extend beyond horse riding to all areas of life, I believe.  He said, “Well, if you’re going to fall, be sure to land on your head so you don’t hurt your ass.”  This was the first time I’d ever heard an Amish person swear.

So, anyway, living on the fringes of an Amish community wasn’t a drastic influence on my life, but it certainly added a unique flavor.  These people are mostly known for buggies, bonnets, beards, and hand-crafted furniture.   They often seem un-relatable.  But they’re faithful, they’re funny, they are not perfect.  At the very least, living so close to them taught me that you really can’t judge a person by their cover.  Or what’s in their shopping cart.

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