I wanted to stay home, letting my voice crack and limbs stretch and zits grow in solitude, but that wasn’t an option. I was drafted to keep Dad company during his drive to Ohio, where the Air Force was moving him. We spent days, sweaty in the summer sun, in his late-nineties, well-used, tan-but-also-brown Chevy Cavalier, driving through the endless and nondescript midwestern states…
I remember leaning back in my seat, feet on the dashboard, listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the radio; poking fun at my dad for his small bladder every time we had to slow down to visit a rest stop. I remember being too far from any restaurants and attempting to tide myself over with ketchup packets I dug out of the glove compartment; I remember parking amongst the immobilized eighteen-wheelers so my dad and I could nap. I woke up first, got out of the car, and sat on the hood. Underneath a traffic light, I watched the sun set.
I’m walking around on campus, but then little Ms. Gleeful with a tray full of Dixie cup smoothies stops me and demands that I take one of her small beverages.
“Want some Jamba Juice?”
And I do want some, and I take a cup from her tray before I even have a chance to consider the fate I’ve subjected myself to. As quickly as I picked up my cup, I’m asked if I’d be willing to take a survey for the psychological services department on campus. In this moment, my mouth is full of tasty blueberry goo, and I’m in no position to refuse.
“Damn,” I think to myself. I should have suspected this outcome after having been duped hundreds of times—as a CU student, it’s really hard to avoid these traps, because they’re everywhere. She can tell that I don’t have anything really urgent to do, so when I finally swallow the blueberry goo and my assertiveness, I say, “Sure. I’ll take the survey.”
Travis starts laughing. This is bad for those of us unlucky enough to be facing his burly gentleman spraying liquid metal. The psychopathic crusader with the big gun is a character that Travis has crafted specifically to make us squirm in our seats around his kitchen table. Our characters, lovingly given life stories and equipment for these sorts of altercations, are in grave danger. Composing himself, Travis looks at the person to his right.
“How many armor points do you have on your chest?” he asks me.
“Uh, three,” I respond, checking my character sheet to be sure. I haven’t been playing role-playing games very long, so I’m self-conscious about my character, my actions. “Am I dead?”
Up until my walk home, it had just been another dull day at Panorama Middle School. I read good poetry, I wrote bad poetry, I ate lunch, I tried to do math, I stared at cute girls, and I played my euphonium, reading music from a stand spray-painted “PMS.” The school had an oddly low number of windows and thick, brick walls, so I had no idea it had started raining until my last bell rang and I was ready to leave.
Colorado Springs had been in a terrible drought for months. Sand Creek, just down the road, finally lived up to its name. Everything in the city seemed to be dry, dead, and one color—an orange brown that is as boring to see as it is to describe. Even the lightest of rains were welcome; big storms, like this one, were beloved as much as they were necessary. I, however, forgot to bring an umbrella or a jacket to school that day.
Looking through the window in-between the doorways, I said to myself, in the way that I did: “It’s raining cats and dogs out there! I sure hope my school books don’t get damp!”
I took a deep breath, thought momentarily about Bruce Lee for inspiration, and dashed out of the school in my t-shirt, my torn-up pair of camouflage cargo pants, and my mismatched Chuck Taylors.
Before I show you this essay, let me give you some background on why this piece exists.
This was part of an exercise I was given in my “Best American Essays” course. Last week, our class went outside to look around, and to write down what we saw. Then, we were all sent home to write a two-page essay with our notes. Finally, we workshopped each others’ pieces on the following class day.
This is my essay, hardly changed from its original form. In my word processor, it just barely fits on those two pages.
I am in awe.
I’m watching my fellow students speak happily to each other about rock climbing and fashion and frozen yogurt and the most recent sporting event, each one of them nestled in the seemingly immutable brick-reds and jade greens of the campus. The summer sun is shining through the towering and leafy trees as the scholars look out at the lovely little pond. They are all laughing jubilantly, thrilled to be enjoying the company of their peers. If I had my camera with me, I could snap a photo that would deserve the words “University of Colorado at Boulder” emblazoned across its top in big, friendly, bright-yellow letters.
Once I find myself again after getting lost in the hypnotic loveliness of it all, I come to realize that I am not a part of the image at all. Instead of basking in the sublime scene before me, I am sitting on an old stump in the mud, writing the opening frame of an essay.
There is just enough weight in Professor So-and-So’s words that I pay attention—I know I’ll regret it later if I don’t. However, there is not enough weight that I’m crushed by it. Sitting in this little seat, using my small fold-out desktop to hold my notebook, sitting between two people I don’t know, I’m certain that I can carry all of these words and come out on top of things.
I can climb up the mountain of reading assignments without tripping over any phrases. I can write these responses and get on top of my doubts. I can write short stories without cliché sequences based on a played-out mountain-climbing metaphor. Probably.
I can do this. I’ve got this. Just a few more classes today, and then I can catch the next bus home.
The spider in the shower panicked as I turned the water on. I didn’t notice him before that, since I was without my glasses. Even without my spectacles, it was easy to see this little arachnid scramble across the wall to get away from the water. I’m glad the spider didn’t end up wet—I like my showers to be really hot, and there was already steam picking up in the room. He wouldn’t have had a chance.
From there, I started to consider my potential routes of action. I could easily smush the spider and toss him out. Given my roommate’s somewhat arachnophobic tendencies, I thought about it. But that’s the plan my roommate would want me to follow, and he was asleep at the time. Me, I would rather try and pick the spider up and put him outside.