(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
When I headed off to college, I had recently turned eighteen. The school I chose was 1,350 miles from home.
I was wide-eyed, book-smart, and pretty darn innocent. I had attended public school, yes, and wouldn’t have called myself particularly ignorant or prudish, but I was, realistically, very inexperienced in the “ways of the world.”
Because what that means will vary dramatically based on your own history, I’ll spell it out a little more clearly for you all:
::I had smoked a cigarette, but never done any kind of drug.
::I had tasted a wine cooler in my best friend’s basement, but never been even close to drunk.
::I had kissed a boy, but never slept with one.
Fair enough? Maybe that gives you a little better idea where I was at, mentally and emotionally, going in to this whole “college experience.” Hopefully, that wasn’t too much information for any of you– if so, my apologies.
So, I attended this small liberal arts college that operated on a 4-1-4 schedule. Basically, that meant that we had two semesters and one term each year. During the three week “term”, we took one class and studied a particular subject intensely. For sophomores, juniors, and seniors, this was a “winter term” that took place in January. For freshmen, it was an “autumn term” (<– misnomer) that took place in August. This system allowed for freshmen to arrive on campus early and get acclimated before all the upperclassmen arrived. It also meant that freshmen got a six-week Christmas break. It made a lot of sense, to be honest.
Anyway, I arrived with the other freshmen and got settled. There weren’t many upperclassmen there, but there were some. There were resident advisors. There were representatives from various activities. There were a few whose work study programs ran through autumn term.
I went to college on the gulf coast of Florida. It was beautiful. The beaches were very, very close. And, with all this novelty, we of course had to explore them.
Very few freshmen had cars on campus. Still, it wasn’t hard to find a ride. And, so, one night, three of us did. My friend Amy had met a junior guy named Keith and he drove the three of us off to the beach.
We all sat on a blanket and talked and laughed. The other two girls got a little catty with one another and started bickering. I rolled my eyes. Keith asked if I wanted to walk down to the water.
I said, “sure.”
We ambled down toward the waterline, then turned right. We kept walking along, slowly, chatting about random things– our majors, what languages we spoke, if we had pets. You know– all that little stuff that comes up when you’re just meeting someone.
It was all very innocent and I felt very safe. Eventually, he wandered up closer to some reedy dunes and sat. “Come here,” he said, “have a seat.”
I did. I kept a good couple feet between us, but I sat.
And it was then I realized how far we had wandered. I peered over his shoulder and realized I could no longer see my friends. I glanced down at the water and saw… no one. I could hear the waves break and could see clearly. The moon was just shy of full that night.
I could feel my pupils dilate. The salt stung the inside of my nostrils. The sound of crashing swells pounded in my ears.
He pushed a lock of auburn hair behind my ear. I met his gaze. He whispered to me.
And I stood up.
“We should get back, Keith,” I declared. “Amy and Julie will be waiting and, really, with the way they were fighting, I’m sure they just want to get back to campus.”
He tried, briefly, to persuade me to stay, but took it in stride. He walked me back to the blanket and the four of us drove home.
No harm done.
But, see, there could have been harm done. Even given the fact that, really, Keith was a pretty decent guy, that night could have ended totally differently if I’d been under the influence. If I had been drinking or experimenting with something else, I’d likely have ended up doing a whole lot more that night.
My innocence and inexperience resulted in my landing in a potentially dangerous position. My sobriety and gut instincts helped me get myself out of it.
That was the night that I vowed I wouldn’t be one of these freshman girls who went out and got carelessly drunk. I wouldn’t try to “fit in” or “feel comfortable” through a haze of alcohol.
It was a promise to myself that I kept. And I’m grateful to Keith both for helping teach me it and also for being a pretty stand-up guy, all things considered.
Other people who’ve made me who I am: