My Freshman Experience

by Joel Young

Chapter 2

Did You See My Eyes?

I woke up Sunday morning on the orange sofa in the pit. I heard people starting to come in and go out of the building. I was still tired. My back and neck muscles were stiff from the uncomfortable positions in which I had to sleep. I decided it would be best if I got up before anyone asked me why I wasn't sleeping in my room.

I cleaned up as much as I could in the men's room by the front desk. Then, I went to the cafeteria for breakfast. I had a few hours before I needed to be at the mandatory service at the chapel.

Since it was so early, there were only a few students eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I got my food and looked for a place to sit. I saw a rather cute girl sitting by herself. Her head was down, and I got the impression that she was a bit shy.

"You'll never make friends, or find a girlfriend, if you don't talk to people," I told myself.

I approached the table where the girl was sitting. I stopped, and she looked up at me. I smiled. "Hi. I'm Joel," I said. "Is it okay if I sit here?"

The girl nodded her head. "I'm Darlene," she said as I sat down. "Are you new here, too?"

"I got here yesterday. And like everybody else, I'm just trying to meet people and make some friends," I said.

"That's cool," she said. "Where are you from?"

"Detroit," I answered. "And let me try to guess where you're from." I slowly looked her over, pretending that I was picking up clues about where her home might be.

"You'll never guess!" she said, smiling at me.

"Humph?" I said. "Well, your speech pattern sounds Midwestern, but I'm not sure. I might hear just a hint of a southern accent. I don't think you're from the northeast, and you're definitely not from Boston. I don't hear anything that would make me believe that you're from Texas or the southwest. Your clothes are very stylish. That probably means you come from a large city. Chicago? Atlanta? No. I think somewhere more exotic. Let's see. I'll guess - you're from - Hawaii!"

Darlene laughed, and she seemed amused by how I had tried to guess the location of her hometown. "Oh, don't I wish!" Darlene said. 'I've always wanted to go to Hawaii! But, I'm not from any place exotic. Quite the opposite. I'm from Gary, Indiana."

"Ah," I said. "Steel mill country! Part of the industrial Midwest; just like Detroit. So, here we are – both trying to escape the rust belt."

"Yeah," Darlene said. "I mean, Gary is my hometown, and my family is there. But, I don't want to live in a dreary, manufacturing town anymore. I want to get a job in a city that's growing; where there are lots of new opportunities and young, optimistic people."

I liked Darlene. I wondered if I should ask her out sometime later that week.

As I was starting to ask about her major, a tall guy – maybe 6'4" - stopped at our table. "May I join you?" he asked.

"Peter!" Darlene said. "Of course you can join us. Have a seat." Peter put his tray down on the table and sat next to Darlene.

"Peter and I are both in the Marching Band. We got here a week ago to start learning our drills," Darlene explained.

I introduced myself to Peter and took a closer look at him. He had dark hair and blue eyes, and he wore glasses. He had a warm smile, but he seemed just a little hesitant to talk to me. "He's either shy, or he's interested in Darlene and thinks I might be hitting on her," I thought to myself.

Once Peter joined us, he and Darlene talked mostly about music and the Marching Band. I listened politely, but I didn't have much to contribute to the conversation. I finished my breakfast and got up to leave. "I enjoyed meeting you, Darlene," I said. "You too, Peter."

Darlene looked away from Peter. "It was nice to meet you, too, ah …"

She had forgotten my name. "Joel," I reminded her. "You both have a good day. See you around."

I went back to my room to get out of the clothes I had slept in and to get ready for church. Andy was still asleep, and fortunately, the girl was gone. Unfortunately, my roommate had thrown the covers off of himself, and he was naked – giving me an unwanted view of his hairy butt.

Annoyed, I got my stuff and went to the bathroom to get ready. I looked closely at my face to see if I needed a shave. I was somewhat embarrassed that, even though I was eighteen, I still only needed to shave about once a week. I didn't need a shave that day, so I took a quick shower and went back to the room. Andy was still passed out. I put on a light blue dress shirt, khakis, a burgundy belt and penny-loafers.

"Too preppy?" I wondered. But, I decided not to worry about that.

It was a chilly morning, and there was a light fog. It almost felt like autumn. I enjoyed a quiet walk around campus before going to the late service at the church. I arrived just in time; the pews were filling up fast. I asked the usher if I could sit near the front of the sanctuary. He walked me to the third pew from the altar. As soon as I sat down, I realized what a creature of habit I had become. My parents and I always sat near the front of our church at home.

I read the 'Order of Worship' while waiting for the service to begin. I hadn't looked at the guy sitting next to me. But when I finished reading, he asked, "May I see that when you're done? I forgot to get one."

I took notice of the guy's voice before I saw him. It was a soft and almost melodic voice. I turned to look at him, and I was startled by the immediate sense of connection I felt. The guy was good-looking, but not in the 'drop dead gorgeous' sense. He had a peaceful aura of maturity about him, and his smile reflected kindness and warmth. I also sensed that he was somehow vulnerable.

He was sitting down, so I couldn't tell how tall he was. But, he certainly was taller than I was. He had broad shoulders and an oval face. His hair was dark blond, and he had very long eyelashes framing his blue eyes. I think I looked at him a little longer than I should have, and I forgot to hand him the bulletin.

He smiled at me. "The Order of Worship?" he asked. "May I read it?"

I gave it to him without speaking. A few moments later, the organ music began.

I didn't understand the connection I felt with the stranger sitting to my right. I tried to ignore it and concentrate on the service. The worship at the Oberlin Chapel was very similar to the services at my home church. Feeling this mysterious connection with the guy next to me, and enjoying hymns and Bible readings with which I was familiar, I felt as if I were starting to belong at Oberlin.

The sermon turned out to be just a welcome to the new students. We were encouraged to attend services regularly and to participate in college activities. During the closing announcements, the minister said that there would be a student talent show on Saturday night in the campus theater. He told us that there was a sign-up sheet in the Narthex if we had a talent to share.

"Do you mind if I keep your bulletin?" the guy next to me asked.

"That's fine," I said. Then, I saw him use it to write down the information about the talent show. "Are you going to enter?" I asked.

"Maybe," he said. "Will I see you there?"

"Well, I don't sing or dance or anything. But, I might come to watch," I said.

The ushers began excusing people from the pews, starting with the front rows. I left the church and headed toward the cafeteria for the luncheon we were all required to attend.

I sat with a group of new students during lunch. I met a few more people, and I had a good time. The food was great, much better than I expected.

The orientation sessions in the afternoon were not very informative, nor interesting. Much of the material presented was in the college catalog or the orientation packet, both of which I had read. I found the meetings repetitious and quite boring. By the end of the afternoon, I was tired of sitting and anxious to get out of there.

I saw Mitch on his way back to Pilgrim Hall. "Mitch," I hollered. "Wait up." He stopped, and I caught up with him.

"Oh, my God!" he said. "That was the most boring afternoon of my life!"

"I know! I almost fell asleep." I said.

"Hey, stop by my room," Mitch suggested. "You can look for your wallet - if you haven't found it already."

I should have told Mitch that I had found the wallet – the one I had never lost in the first place. But, I didn't want to go back to my room. "Okay," I said. "Thanks."

Mitch and I went into his room, and I saw a guy whom I assumed was his roommate. The guy was packing up his things!

"What's going on, Sam?" Mitch asked. "You sick of rooming with me already?"

"It's not that," Sam said. "I'm not moving to a different room. I'm going home. I don't fit in here."

"But classes haven't even started! Give it a chance, Dude!" Mitch said.

"Don't try to talk me into staying," Sam said. "I don't want to be here, and I'm going home."

The three of us just stood there for a while; nobody knew what to say. "Okay," Mitch finally said. "You need some help?"

"No," Sam said. "My dad's parking the car. He'll help me finish up. I'll leave my key on the desk."

"Well then," Mitch said. "It was good knowing you, Sam. I hope everything works out the way you want." He paused a moment. "I think Joel and I will get out of here and give you some space. Take care, Man."

Mitch and Sam shook hands. Sam went back to his packing, and Mitch and I went up to my room.

'A. Tool' wasn't there, so Mitch and I could talk freely.

"Wow! I didn't see that coming!" Mitch said as we sat down on my bed. "Can you even imagine giving up on college that quickly?"

"I wish it were my roommate that was moving out!" I said. "I don't think I can sleep in the pit again."

Mitch looked at me and frowned. "Whaaaaaat?!?" he asked.

I had spoken without thinking. Mitch didn't know anything about how I'd been thrown out of my room the previous night and had to sleep in the pit. So, I told him the story.

"Fuck that shit!" Mitch said. "Pack your stuff. You're moving in with me."

"Really?" I asked. "That would be awesome!" I was thrilled with the idea of getting away from my obnoxious roommate and sharing a room with a nice guy like Mitch. But, I wanted to be sure Mitch wasn't just being nice because he felt sorry for me.

"Don't you want to think about it first?" I asked. "I mean, are you sure you're okay with that?"

"Of course," Mitch said. "Let's get you out of here before frat-jerk comes back. Sam will probably be gone before we start carrying your things downstairs."

"Don't I have to request a transfer first?" I asked. "I'm not sure I'm supposed to change rooms without someone's permission."

"Joel," Mitch said. "Just do it! Oberlin's not going to make you move back into this room once you've left. Besides, even if there is some rule you're breaking, it's easier to apologize and ask to be forgiven than it is to get permission in advance."

I had never thought of that strategy for getting what one wants. But, I found Mitch's suggestion to be quite convincing. "You're right!" I said. "Damn the rules!"

We started packing up my things. In less than an hour, I was moved in with Mitch - and much happier about being at Oberlin.

We both stretched out on our beds once we had finished the work of moving. "Can I ask you something, Joel?" Mitch said. "Did you really lose your wallet last night? Or were you looking for a place to stay?"

"I lied about the wallet," I admitted. "And, I was looking for a place to stay. But once I knocked on your door, I felt like I would be imposing on you. I didn't want to wear out my welcome. That's why I made up the wallet story. It was an excuse to change my mind and leave you alone."

I heard Mitch chuckle. "So, interrupting me while I was jacking-off had nothing to do with it?"

I was too embarrassed to answer, and my silence spoke for itself.

"Dude," Mitch said. "If we're going to room together, we're going to catch each other doing it. I'll make you a deal. Let's just be cool about it. We'll come into the room whenever we need. If something is going on, we'll just excuse ourselves to the bathroom or something. That'll give the other one a few minutes to finish up. And, we'll never talk about it. Agreed?"

"Agreed," I said.

Later, I treated to pizza, clearing the debt I owed from losing at cards the night before.

On Monday morning, Mitch and I got up for the first day of classes. We both had an 8:00 o'clock class, so we got up about 6:30 a.m. We walked to the showers together. I took only my towel and Caddy – no more fancy stuff that my mother bought.

The bathroom was almost full. We took the last two shower heads that were not in use. When we saw each other naked for the first time, I think we were both a little bit embarrassed.

We finished up in the bathroom quickly. We each wrapped a towel around our waist, and we exited the bathroom. There was no one else in the long hallway. We both looked straight ahead as we went back to our room.

When we'd taken a few steps, Mitch said, "You've got some big balls, Dude."

"Yeah," I said. "Do you like being uncut?"

"It's okay," he answered. "How do you keep your pubes trimmed like that?"

"Very, very carefully!" I said.

"Would you show me how to do it sometime?" Mitch asked.

"Well, I would," I answered. "But you'd probably chub-up and embarrass yourself."

"I wouldn't be the one who chubs-up," he said. "That would be you!"

"I would not," I said.

"Would too!" Mitch insisted.

"Would not!"

"Would too!"

"Would not!"

When we were nearing our door, I heard someone walking behind us. I had thought we were alone in the hallway. Mitch unlocked the door with the key he'd stashed in his caddy.

The guy who was walking behind us went to the exit and pushed the door open. Then, he stopped and turned to us. "You'd both chub up, and you know it!" he said.

Mitch and I quickly went into our room and closed the door. Mitch started laughing first. Then, I lost it and fell on my bed, laughing hysterically.

I quit laughing when I realized that my towel was on the floor, and I was semi-hard. I looked up to see if Mitch was watching me. He was, and I saw that his towel was tented.

"Dude," he said. "I think we should get dressed."

"Good idea," I replied.

I liked all of my classes that first week. The professors were engaging, and some were funny. Most of them seemed to be sincere in their offers of assistance any time during the semester.

My Chemistry class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since I had taken Chemistry in high school, I wasn't allowed to take the introductory course at Oberlin. I had to sign up for Chemistry 201. When I read the class syllabus, I was a little concerned. I didn't see anything familiar. And when I heard the professor's first lecture, I realized I might be in over my head.

On the second day of my Chemistry class, we were told to pick lab partners. I had noticed that Peter, whom I had met in the cafeteria with Darlene, was in the same class with me. I saw him looking around for a partner, and I went over to him.

"Peter," I said. "Joel. We had breakfast together last weekend with Darlene. You need a lab partner?"

'Yeah," he said. "You want to work together?"

"That'd be great. But, I should probably warn you; I'm a little lost already," I said. "I may need some help."

"Shouldn't be a problem," Peter said. "I'm majoring in Chemistry, and I like helping people."

The Professor left the room to get some lab supplies, and he said that he'd be right back. That gave Peter and me a chance to get to know each other a little.

"So, you're in the Marching Band. What do you play?" I asked.

"Baritone Horn," Peter answered. "Do you play an instrument?"

"I wish I did. I had a few years of piano lessons when I was a kid. I wasn't very good," I told Peter.

Peter didn't comment, and I realized that leading the conversation was on me. "So, Darlene seems like a sweet girl. You guys going out?"

Peter looked very surprised. "No!" he said. "Why would you think that?"

"Well, she obviously likes you. As soon as you sat down at our table, she couldn't take her eyes off of you," I said. "And, she totally ignored me. She even forgot my name. I was going to ask her out, but I think she'd rather go out with you."

"You've got that all wrong," Peter said. "Besides, I don't have time for dating. Science majors have a tough row to hoe, and with Band, there's no time left over. If you want to ask her out, go right ahead. Believe me; I'm not going to be competition."

When the Professor got back to the room, we started on our first experiment. I had picked the right lab partner; Peter understood all of the directions and took the lead. I learned a lot just following along.

The next day was Friday, and I saw Darlene in front of me in the cafeteria line. "Darlene," I said. "Have lunch with me. There's something I want to ask you."

Darlene got her food and waited for me before we picked out a table. We sat near the large windows facing the college square. We had a beautiful view of the trees showing their first signs of fall color.

I looked down at my lunch, and I noticed it didn't look appetizing – at all! The processed lunch meat in my sandwich was gray; the guy who made the sandwich had drowned it in mayonnaise, and the chips beside the sandwich were mostly broken into small bits. "I don't know what's happened to the food around here," I said. "The lunch after church last Sunday was great. This food looks awful!"

"There were still parents here last Sunday," Darlene said.

"You mean they do this on purpose?" I asked. "They try to fool the parents into thinking the students get good quality food all semester. And once the parents are gone, they start serving the crap food?"

"That's what I hear," Darlene said. "But that's not what you wanted to ask me, is it?"

"No," I answered. "I was – well – wondering if you wanted to go the talent show tomorrow night."

Darlene was quiet for a moment, and I could see her trying to formulate an answer. "Come on," I said. "It could be fun watching everyone singing and dancing - trying to impress their new friends."

"Could we ask Peter to go with us?" she asked.

That was not the response I expected – nor the one that I wanted. Sure, I liked Peter. And he seemed like a great guy. But grabbing a show with some buddies was not what I had in mind.

I've never been one to shy away from being clear about what I wanted. "Darlene," I said a bit impatiently. "I'm asking you out on a date."

Then, to lighten things up, I said, "I was planning to ask Peter for a date next weekend."

My joke worked, and Darlene smiled. "Okay, I'd love to go."

Darlene lived on the women's side of Pilgrim Hall, so we met the next day in the lobby at about 7:00 p.m. We walked to the campus theater for the talent show. We had both dressed up a bit, and Darlene looked beautiful.

It was nice walking across campus with Darlene. It felt very collegiate. We saw chipmunks scampering across the square, and the Oberlin flag was flapping overhead in the breeze.

"I'm glad you asked me out, Joel," Darlene said. "It was a long week, and I really need to relax and have some fun."

"I need that, too," I said. "Thanks for coming with me."

The theater was mostly full, but we got seats in the middle of a row near the front. We both began reading the program. "I don't know any of the performers," I said. "Do you?"

Darlene pointed to a name on the program. "That's a girl from my Music Theory class. It looks like she's going to sing."

The Emcee began the program with the usual welcoming remarks, after which he went straight to introducing the acts. Most of the performers were female singers who accompanied themselves on guitar. There were some good singers, but none that stood out.

One guy attempted a stand-up comedy routine. It was pretty corny.

The second to the last performer was a pianist whose 'Flight of the Bumble Bee' was outstanding. She got a standing ovation.

I looked at the program to see what the last act would be. I saw that a guy named Adam Criss was going to sing "You're a Big Boy Now," by John Sebastian. I knew the song, but it wasn't one of my favorites. So, I tuned out and started thinking about whether or not I should ask Darleen to go the campus coffee shop after the show.

I saw the last performer, Adam Criss, walk onto the stage, and I recognized him immediately. He was the guy I had sat next to in church last Sunday – the one with whom I felt such an intense and mysterious connection. He sat down on a stool and adjusted the placement of his guitar. The angle of the stage lights on his face illuminated his long eyelashes. He looked innocent – and once again, I sensed something very vulnerable about him.

When he started singing, however, everything changed. He had a beautiful voice. He sang with confidence, and I think the entire audience gave him their full attention as he sang, 'You're a Big Boy Now

I know there's things
You never thought before
That have to do
With walkin' out old doors.
You've been prepared
As long as time allowed.
Well, I don't know how…

I was really getting into his performance, and I was listening intently to every word. And then, Adam looked directly at me as he finished the line:

But you're a big boy now.

I felt a shock go through my body. I thought I actually saw electricity traveling from Adam's eyes into mine – and then back to his. I sat stunned, and I had no idea what had just happened. But, I did know that I hadn't imagined it.

Adam finished his song, and he received an enthusiastic round of applause. Then, all of the performers came back out on stage and took a bow. The audience clapped in appreciation for a good show.

Darlene and I walked up the aisle with the large audience leaving the auditorium. When we were in the lobby, Darlene saw some members of the Band. She stepped away to speak to them.

I saw Adam near the exit door. His guitar case was leaning up against the wall, and he was putting on his jacket. I decided to go over and tell him how much I had enjoyed listening to him.

"Hey Man," I said as I walked up to him. "You were great!"

"Well, thank you," he said humbly. "I wondered if I'd see you here. Do you want your 'Order of Worship' back? I think it might be in my guitar case."

I just smiled and shook my head.

"So, you liked the song I picked?" he asked.

"Yeah. John Sebastian is one of my favorite singers," I said - stretching the truth a little.

"Mine too," he said. "Tell me your name."

"Oh, sorry. I'm Joel – Joel Young," I said.

"Did you see my eyes, Joel?" he asked. "When I sang to you?"

I started feeling flush, and I knew I was blushing. How could I answer Adam's question? I couldn't tell him how I had reacted. I didn't know what to say, so I just stared at him.

He gave me a knowing smile. "Yeah, me too," he said.

Darlene came over to me. "Joel, some guys from the Band are going to the coffee shop. Come on, let's go with them," she said as she took hold of my hand.

Adam saw Darlene take my hand. Then, he looked up at my face. I could tell he was wondering if she were my girlfriend.

"Let's talk sometime," I said to Adam as I was being pulled back into the crowded lobby.

"I'll find you," he hollered.

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