My Freshman Experience

by Joel Young

Chapter 20

That's What Friends Are For

Adam and I stood outside of my room, staring down at the red paint on the floor. We had just heard that someone defaced the back wall of the dorm with graffiti in the same color.

"Something strange is going on," Adam said.

"It sure looks like it," I responded. "What do you think I should do?"

"There's no way we can clean up this paint," Adam said. "It's going to leave stains no matter what we do. I think we should report it – while the police are still here."

Of course, Adam was right. Even if people are innocent, trying to cover things up can make them look guilty - and get them into big trouble.

I folded up the note we had found taped to my door, and I stuck it in my pocket. "I'll go see Reverend Stuart tomorrow," I said. "I'm sure he's pissed that I expanded the part of my speech he doesn't like. But, you know what? Screw him!"

Adam and I went outside. I wiped the paint from the bottom of my left shoe on the grass. We found the police officer behind the building. He was taking pictures of the graffiti.

I went up to the officer and introduced myself. "Someone spilled red paint in front of my dorm room," I said.

The officer looked at me with suspicion. "Show me," he said. He followed Adam and me to the side entrance of the building. I showed him where I had wiped my foot. The officer took another picture, and the three of us went into the dorm. I pointed to the paint in front of my door.

The officer looked up at me with an accusatory expression. Then, he looked at Adam. "Who is this?" he asked me. I introduced Adam as my friend.

The officer took some pictures and asked lots of questions. It was obvious that he suspected that Adam and I were involved in the vandalism. "Open the door to your room," the officer commanded. Then he added, "If you don't mind."

I stepped over the paint and opened the door. Mitch was not in the room.

The officer went in and looked around. There was no paint on the floor inside. "May I look around?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. "You can look wherever you need."

The officer poked around inside of the closet that I shared with Mitch. He looked under the beds, and he opened all of the dresser and desk drawers. Then, he began writing in his notebook. "I'll need some pictures of your room," he said. I told him to go ahead.

When the officer seemed to be finishing up, I asked, "Should I talk to the Resident Advisor and get the hallway cleaned up?"

"No," the police officer said. "I'll take care of that. Captain Gaines may want to come over and take a look. You guys will just have to step around the mess for now. I'll get a caution sign up here before I leave."

When the officer left, I changed my shoes. Adam sat down on my bed. "This whole thing just keeps getting worse and worse!" he said.

I had held my emotions in check while dealing with the police officer. But now, I felt my anxiety taking over. I sat next to Adam, and my eyes teared up. Adam put his arm around me.

My anger about the whole situation exploded. "I hate this place!" I yelled. "I wish I'd never changed my mind about quitting school!"

Adam pulled me to him, and he cradled my head against his chest. "Joel, listen to me," he said. "You'll be fine. We'll get through this - together." He kissed the top of my head as tears rolled down my cheeks.

"You need to get control, Babe," he said. "If someone hears you say that you hate Oberlin, they'll use it against you. They'll say that's why you wrote 'Oberlin Sucks' on the back wall."

I was lucky to have Adam looking out for me, and I knew he was right. I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down.

"Joel," Adam said. "I think someone is trying to set you up."

It was at that moment that I realized what was probably going on. "Sean!" I exclaimed.

"That's what I was thinking, too," Adam said. "But, we'll have to be able to prove it."

"How do we do that?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," Adam said. "But, give me a day or two. Let me see what I can find out. In the meantime, watch your back!"

Adam suggested that we go to dinner. I told him I was too upset to eat. "If I eat anything right now," I said. "I'll throw up."

"You've been looking awfully thin, Joel," Adam said. "Are you okay? Should you see a doctor?"

"It's just stress," I said. "As soon as this thing with the police and my problem with Reverend Stuart are over, I'll be fine. Right now, I just need to rest."

Adam said that he was starving, and he left to get something to eat. A little later, I heard Mitch opening the door with his key. I was on my bed, trying to take a nap. But, I couldn't sleep. As soon as Mitch saw that I was awake, he asked, "Why is there red paint on the carpet in front of our room?"

I sat up and told Mitch about what had been happening. I explained about the graffiti on the back of the building, finding the red paint in front of our door, and reporting it to the police. Then, I told him about being pulled out of class and interrogated. When I said it all out loud, it sounded so ridiculous that I started laughing.

"Wow," Mitch said. "You've really had a lot of bad luck today. What'd you do? Donate your fingernail clippings to a voodoo fundraiser?"

After we stopped laughing at Mitch's joke, I started to feel anxious again. "I'm sort of scared, Mitch," I said. "I feel like I should be doing something, but I don't know what."

Mitch came over to me and sat on my bed. "Don't get the wrong idea," he said as he put his arms around me. "This is just a friendship hug – because I care about you."

I finally was able to fall asleep around 10:00 p.m. After all the stress that Monday, I was surprised that I slept straight through until 6 o'clock the next morning. I decided to go to the cafeteria for some breakfast. Mitch was still sleeping.

Only four people were eating breakfast that early. I saw Darlene at a table by herself. I hadn't talked to her since early last semester when she told me she didn't want to date me anymore. I approached her table anyway and sat down.

"Hey, Joel," she said. "How have you been?"

I decided not to talk about all the bad things going on in my life. "Good," I said. "How are things with you?"

"Actually, not so great," Darlene said. "A guy I was dating broke up with me last weekend."

I was so tempted to say, "Well, now you know how it feels." But, I refrained. "I'm sorry to hear that," I said.

"He was a real jerk," Darlene complained. "I never should have gone out with him in the first place. But, what can I say? I have a thing for tall, muscular blond guys – especially when they have big dimples and a cleft chin!"

"Well, duh!" I thought to myself. "Who doesn't?"

"Hey, can I ask you something?" Darlene said. "Are you still friends with Mitch Ferris?"

"Yeah," I answered. "He's my roommate."

"Is he dating anyone?" she asked.

I looked at Darlene, and I felt a pang of jealousy. She had dumped me and apparently started dating a jerk instead. Now that he had broken up with her, she was interested in my roommate – who wasn't tall, muscular, or blond!

My reaction to Darlene's question surprised me. I was in love with Adam, and I had no interest in going out with Darlene again. I wondered why I was I feeling jealous. I quickly figured out the reason - I just didn't like being rejected.

"Yeah, Mitch is dating a girl named Beth," I said. "You might know her. Beth Saunders; she lives in Pilgrim Hall."

"Oh wow," Darlene said. "I do know her. I wish I were as pretty as she is."

I decided to be kind. "Beth is good looking," I said. "But, you're not too bad yourself."

"Thanks," she said. "Joel, look. I know you like me, but I'm not interested in going out with you again. I mean, let's face it. You're not the best-looking thing on campus." Darlene paused before adding, "But, you've got a nice personality."

I was pissed! I hadn't expressed interest in dating Darlene again! I was just trying to say something nice to help her feel better. She had no reason to insult me! Yeah, I knew that there were much better-looking guys at Oberlin. But still, Darlene didn't need to rub that in my face – especially when I had just tried to pay her a compliment!

I forced myself to take the high road. "Can't blame a guy for trying," I said while attempting to smile.

"I've got to go study for Sociology," Darlene said. "We're having a test on social etiquette in different cultures."

"Study hard," I thought to myself. "You might benefit from learning more about social etiquette!"

Darlene got up and said, "Bye, Joel. Have a good day."

"Yeah, you too," I said. Darlene took her tray to the conveyor belt for dirty dishes, and she left the cafeteria.

I felt like a total loser as I finished my breakfast - alone. Then, I remembered that I had to go to the chapel and talk with Reverend Stuart. "Jesus Christ!" I thought to myself. "I guess what they say is true. Life's a bitch - and then you die!"

After breakfast, I headed toward the chapel. I was hoping I could get there before Reverend Stuart arrived. That way, I could just leave a note saying that I had tried to see him. I knew that wouldn't solve my problem, but delaying the next fiasco in my life seemed like a good idea at the time.

"I just can't catch a break," I thought to myself as I saw Reverend Stuart getting out of his car and going inside the chapel.

I entered the building and approached Reverend Stuart's office. I was about to knock, but I stopped when I saw him kneeling on a prayer bench, facing away from me. I assumed he started every day with prayer, and I didn't want to interrupt.

I heard him praying out loud, starting in the same way as he always began Sunday services. When I realized that his prayers were becoming personal, I stepped back. I really didn't think it would be right to eavesdrop on his conversation with God. But when I heard my name, I couldn't help but listen.

"Lord," Reverend Stuart said. "I need your help with an Oberlin student – Joel Young. I ask for your guidance in leading him toward the path of righteousness. Youth is one of the many blessings you bestow upon each of us, as fleeting as it may be. But, the young are easily distracted from your teachings. Joel is a gifted and articulate boy, but he has a rebellious streak. He has defied my direction. He insists on publicly defending those who act upon their most lascivious desires."

I was shocked! I couldn't believe Reverend Stuart was telling God that I was rebellious!

The Reverend continued his morning prayer. "Lord, be with me as I try to help this student understand and accept your will. Yes, Lord. I confess again to struggling with those same inner thoughts and desires that are an abomination to you. Somedays, I wonder if you test my resolve by bringing beautiful boys like Joel to me for guidance. Still, I remain your humble servant who pledges never to succumb to the sinful and forbidden desires of the flesh that you find offensive. Amen."

I stood frozen. What I had just heard was totally unexpected – and deeply disturbing! I couldn't believe that Reverend Stuart desired young, good-looking boys, apparently including me! I knew in my heart that he deserved compassion and understanding, just like everybody else. But that morning, I was too freaked-out to muster any sympathy for him. Just the idea of Reverend Stuart having sexual thoughts about me was disgusting!

Reverend Stuart's phone rang. He got up from his prayer bench and picked up the receiver. I heard him talking to someone about student attendance at Sunday services.

I turned around and left the chapel as quietly as I could. There was no way I was ready to look Reverend Stuart in the eye. I'd have to talk to him about my oratory later – like after I'd had a couple of long showers!

I walked back across campus toward Pilgrim Hall. I thought back to my high school play when Ben, the director, was looking me over and telling Jennifer, the makeup lady, how he wanted to change my appearance. That had creeped me out. I felt the same way this morning. Darlene had said that I wasn't 'the best looking thing on campus,' and Reverend Stuart had said that he thought I was a beautiful boy. Insults or creepy compliments, I didn't like people judging me on my looks.

I arrived back at my room and got ready to take a shower. I really needed to feel clean again.

I stayed in the shower so long that I had to hurry to get dressed and leave for my first class. On my way, I saw Peter coming back from breakfast. "You got a minute?" he asked. "I want to show you something." Since I was almost late for class, we arranged to meet up in his room that afternoon.

"I found something in the Oberlin Student Handbook," Peter said when I went to his room later that day. "I put brackets around the part you need to see."

I read the policy that Peter had found. "Oh, my God!" I said. "This is fantastic!"

"Yeah," Peter said. "Reverend Stuart can't change your grade. It's too late. Unless he accuses you of plagiarism, he only has four weeks to change the grade he gave you."

I smiled at Peter. "Thank you!" I said. "You are a lifesaver!"

"Hey," Peter said. "That's what friends are for."

"Yeah, and you are a really great friend!" I said.

"Damn right!" he teased. "Who else at Oberlin has saved your butt – twice?"

Peter and I talked until dinner time. He loaned me the handbook, and I promised to return it. I almost told him about what I'd overheard Reverend Stuart say, but I didn't. That would have just creeped me out all over again. I took the book to my room, and we rounded up the first floor Pilgrim Hall gang to eat dinner in the cafeteria.

Adam and I were both loaded up with homework that night, so we each studied in our own room. I was sort of relieved that we weren't getting together that night. We hadn't made love in over a week, and I knew he would be super horny. I, however, wasn't in the mood for sex. The whole thing with Reverend Stuart was a real turn-off.

The next day, I knew I had to do something about discussing my oratory with Reverend Stuart. I didn't want to go to his office, but I had to respond to his demand that I see him. Then, I had an idea.

I went to Ms. Sanborn's office to see if she would go with me to meet with Reverend Stuart. After all, she was the one who had arranged the deal that got me into the oratory contest in the first place.

Sandy said Ms. Sanborn was in meetings most of the day, but I could get an appointment at 4:30 that afternoon.

I had lunch with Adam, and I told him everything I had overheard Reverend Stuart say. "I'm not sure which upsets me more," Adam said. "His hypocrisy, or that he's lusting after my boyfriend!"

"I know it seems hypocritical," I said. "But, I've thought about it. If Reverend Stuart does have attractions to men, but he doesn't act on those feelings because he believes gay sex is wrong, is that hypocrisy? I mean, people may be tempted to steal, but it isn't two-faced if they decide not to steal because they know it's wrong."

"You're too nice, Joel!" Adam said. "That man is threatening to fail you in religion – just because you're standing up against the persecution of gay people. He didn't say anything about that part of your speech last semester. Now, he's trying to control what you say so that the university can win some stupid contest. In my book, that's a hypocrite!"

Adam also had a strong reaction when I told him how Darlene had insulted me. "Don't listen to that Bitch!" he said. "She just wants to be dominated by some blond, muscle-bound gorilla that treats her like crap! She's too stupid to appreciate a smart, cute, boy-next-door type who oozes kindness and integrity! That's her loss – and my gain!"

I loved how supportive Adam was of me. "I'm so lucky," I said. "You're a great boyfriend!"

"Yes, I am," he said. "And you should thank me – tonight!"

Adam and I finished lunch and went to our afternoon classes. At 4:30, I was in Ms. Sanborn's office. I had the handbook Peter had loaned me.

After the usual, business-like greetings, I showed Ms. Sanborn the university policy on changing grades. "I think that means Reverend Stuart can't go back and change my grade in Religion 101. It's too late, right?"

"It certainly appears that way," Ms. Sanborn said. "I've read the Student Handbook several times, but I must have skimmed over that part. I'm glad you looked it up."

"Actually, my friend Peter remembered reading it," I said. "He looked it up for me. He's a real Brainiac!"

"So, are you going to show Reverend Stuart the policy first?" Ms. Sanborn asked. "Or are you thinking that you'll only use it if he tries to change your grade after the contest? I'm assuming you're still planning to include the part that seems to be problematic for him."

"I'm not taking anything out of my speech, and I think I should show the policy to Reverend Stuart first," I said. "That seems like the fair thing to do."

"I agree," Ms. Sanborn said. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Yeah," I said. "I'm not comfortable talking with Reverend Stuart by myself. I was wondering if you might come with me."

"Part of my job is to mediate disputes between people on campus," she said. "But, I can't take sides without a full investigation. I'll go with you in the role of an unbiased mediator, but not as your advocate. And, Reverend Stuart will have to agree that I can be at the meeting."

"That sounds okay," I said. "I'd really appreciate any help you can give me."

"May I ask why you're concerned about meeting with Reverend Stuart by yourself?" Ms. Sanborn asked. "I've always found him to be a good listener - and a straight shooter."

The irony of her choice of words almost made me laugh. I considered sharing with Ms. Sanborn what I had overheard Reverend Stuart say about his desires for young men, but I decided against that. I was afraid she would think that I'm paranoid when it comes to dealing with the clergy.

"Well," I said. "You know what the deal was about me participating in the contest. If you're there, you could clarify if things start to change."

Ms. Sanborn agreed to attend the meeting, and she called the chapel to speak with Reverend Stuart. After talking with him briefly, she put the call on hold. "Joel, can we meet tonight? He'll be out of town for the next couple of days," Ms. Sanborn said. I agreed, and she resumed the call with Reverend Stuart. The meeting was set for 7:30 in his office.

I arrived at the chapel about the same time as Reverend Stuart; Ms. Sanborn was late. The Reverend attempted some polite small talk with me while we waited. That was very awkward – for both of us.

"Where would you like to begin, Joel?" Reverend Stuart said after Ms. Sanborn arrived. I was surprised that he asked me to start the conversation. After all, he was the one who had demanded to see me.

"Let's talk about the edits you want me to make in my oratory," I said. "I know you feel strongly about what I wrote concerning the persecution of gay people. I feel strongly about it, too. And maybe, some of the judges in the competition will find my opinions offensive. I'm pretty sure I'd find their positions offensive as well. What I don't understand is why I am not free to talk about my own faith journey – as I have experienced it. As far as I'm concerned, if I win the contest, I win. If I lose, I lose."

"I think your resistance to my guidance goes deeper than that, Joel," Reverend Stuart said contemptuously.

I wasn't sure what he meant, but the comment and his tone of voice made me nervous. It crossed my mind that he might be referring to my relationship with Adam.

"I don't follow," I said.

"Your attitude is arrogant, Joel," Reverend Stuart said. "And, you are defiant. I gave you good and sound advice about winning - - I mean improving your oratory for the competition. Not only did you refuse my direction, but then you expanded on the objectionable parts! That is immature and insolent behavior."

Ms. Sanborn looked surprised. "Did you do that, Joel?" she asked. "Did you purposely expand the parts or your oratory that Reverend Stuart asked you to take out?"

I had a 'deer-in-headlights' moment before I could speak. Then, I tried to pivot away from being viewed as just a defiant teenager.

Turning toward Ms. Sanborn, I said, "I gave Reverend Stuart's suggestions serious consideration. As he requested, I rewrote the ending of my oratory to include my thoughts about prayer now that I'm in college. But I just couldn't, in good conscience, edit out my belief that the persecution of homosexuals is wrong. Yes, I expanded that section."

I turned toward Reverend Stuart. "I resent your attempt to control the story of my own faith journey. I admit that I expanded that part of my speech on purpose, but only to reflect the strength of my convictions!"

"Spoken like the self-absorbed, obstreperous adolescent that you are!" Reverend Stuart said while glaring at me.

"Please. Let's not forget the purpose of this meeting," Ms. Sanborn said. "I thought we were here to see if we can resolve the issue at hand, hopefully in a way that everyone can accept. While I respect each of your perspectives, I think both of you need to bring the level of your anger down a notch. Joel, do you think you can you do that?"

I wanted to protest that Reverend Stuart was the one stooping to name-calling. But, the stern look I was getting from Ms. Sanborn told me that wouldn't be a good thing to do.

"Yes, Ma'am," I said.

"Reverend Stuart," Ms. Sanborn said. "With all due respect, I'd appreciate everyone refraining from the use of labels. I don't see how we're going to have a productive meeting unless we try to understand each other's positions."

"Fine," Reverend Stuart said. "Let me be sure that you both understand my position. It's quite simple, and it won't change. Joel either changes his oratory as I have directed, or I will change his grade in Religion 101."

Ms. Sanborn and I looked at each other. I could tell she was just as frustrated with the Reverend as I was.

"May I?" I asked her.

"Joel," she said. "It's not the role of the Oberlin staff to tell you what to do."

I smiled at her comment. I knew she was subtly implying that Reverend Stuart shouldn't be telling me what to do.

"What you say is your choice," Ms. Sanborn continued. "But please, be respectful."

I decided the fewer words I used, the better. "The Oberlin Student Handbook says that grades cannot be changed after four weeks, except in cases of plagiarism." I opened the policy book to the relevant page, and I set it down on the conference table.

Reverend Stuart reached for the handbook and picked it up. He read the part of the policy that Peter had bracketed. Then, the Reverend snorted.

He turned to the front of the handbook and read out loud. "Section I - Faculty Rights," he said as he adjusted the glasses on his face. "No part of this handbook shall be construed as limiting the rights of any member of the faculty or administration to ensure the development of the Christian principles of honesty, discipline, integrity, and accountability within the student body."

I realized that Reverend Stuart thought that section of the policy allowed him to change my grade if I didn't do what he said. I played the only card I had left.

"If you change my grade," I said. "I'll have to ask the Academic Committee to review the matter."

"That certainly is your right," Reverend Stuart said. "We meet at noon on the third Wednesday of each month in the main floor conference room in Carpenter Hall. As Chair of the Committee, I'll make sure any written request you file is handled in a fair and expedient manner."

At that point in the meeting, I knew I was defeated. Revered Stuart held all the power. It was his way – or the highway. I chose the highway.

"I wish Oberlin luck in the oratory contest," I said. "I won't be participating." I got up and walked out of the room without even saying goodbye.

I had to find Adam. My head was spinning with thoughts of all the ugly things that might happen now that I had broken my commitment to Reverend Stuart. The one thing that scared me the most was the possibility that my parents would find out that I had failed my religion class because of my beliefs about homosexuality.

"Joel!" Adam said as he opened the door to his room. "I'm glad you're here. I have got something to tell you."

I entered the room. "I need to talk with you, too," I said. "I just quit the oratory competition and walked out on Reverend Stuart."

I sat down on Adam's desk chair; he sat on the bed. "You go first," Adam said. "You look like you're about ready to burst a gasket!"

I talked a mile-a-minute as I told Adam everything that had just taken place in the chapel. "I didn't lose my temper – well, not really," I said. "But when he told me that he is the Chair of the Academic Committee, I almost lost it. He was so smug about it! It was like he knew he was holding all the cards – and I was going to lose no matter how right I am. I had no choice. I just had to get out of there!"

"You did the right thing," Adam said. "I used to respect Reverend Stuart, but now I know he's just another two-faced jerk! I feel like going over there and punching him in the face!"

"I'll go with you!" I said, indulging in some childish and idle threats. "I'll find some red paint and throw it in his face! Maybe then, the police will arrest him!"

"Yeah!" Adam said. "And, you could file assault charges against Reverend McAllister. Then, both of their asses would be in jail!"

"Oh, I can just imagine the headline in the next Oberlin Observer!" I said. "BOYFRIENDS JOEL YOUNG AND ADAM CRISS TAKE DOWN RELIGION DEPARTMENT!"

By that time, Adam and I were laughing hysterically. It felt good to relieve some of our stress by thinking of all the outrageous things we might do to defend ourselves. Then, Adam took a deep breath. "I need to tell you something," he said.

"Okay," I told him. I was trying to stop laughing, but I guess I was still giggling a little.

"No, seriously," Adam said. "This is important."

The muscles in my abdomen were still hurting from laughing so much, but I took a deep breath and regained most of my composure.

"Joel, I found a can of red paint in Sean's room," Adam said. "And, he has some audiovisual equipment that I think came from the Art Building."

"Oh, my God!" I said. "Was he there when you saw it?"

"No," Adam said.

I looked at him with a puzzled expression.

"I broke into his room," Adam said.

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