Aurora Borealis, Ghosts and Promises of Marriage–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–November 1991

Promises of Marriage

Here, find a full treatment of the nonverbal learning disorder I keep mentioning.  It will soon become a major player in the story.

On November 1 in my 1991 day planner, I wrote that it was three years and six months until graduation, which was the earliest Peter and I could get married.  I have written that he and I were already talking about this.

We felt that we were meant for each other, and planned to make it official shortly after graduation.  We even discussed what we’d do at our wedding.

I was accustomed to Nazarene weddings, with a reception in the church basement or fellowship hall with people sitting around, eating cake and drinking delicious, non-alcoholic punch, and chatting away.  Rarely, there might even be a meal.  This is what I expected, even wanted, at my wedding.

But Peter said that in his family, weddings were huge affairs, with dancing and all the family members gathered together.  I wasn’t so sure I wanted a big wedding, but probably figured I had to go along with it.

Peter dreamed of me wearing a wedding dress in the turn-of-the-century style with leg-of-mutton sleeves and a heart-shaped neckline.  When he told me, I said this was the kind of dress I always wanted to wear!  We saw this as another sign that we were meant to be together.

(The funny thing is, when I did get married, my dress was in the Jane Austen style.  But for years, I wanted the turn-of-the-century style often seen at 80s weddings.)

So on November 1, I told Peter that we had to wait only three years and six months, not four years, until May 1995, when we could get married.

After this, whenever Peter said good-bye to me, he cried, “Three years and six months!”  I sometimes did this, too.  As the months passed, we would say, “Three years and five months,” then “Three years and four months.”

I had heard that men were afraid of commitment and marriage and even the words “I love you,” especially if their girlfriends mentioned them first.  But here I had a man who not only said “I love you” within the first several weeks and expected me to say it back, he also wanted to marry me as soon as possible!

My dreams were reality.  I had found the One at last, without going through a bunch of boyfriends first.

Peter and I also discussed where we would live.  He, a computer major, said it was his dream to live in Silicon Valley, which was in California.  I had never heard of it and couldn’t find it on the map; he assured me it was there, and he knew where it was.  He said it wasn’t dry like Southern California; it was warm, well-watered and beautiful.

(I have since discovered that it’s the area around San Francisco, not marked on a map because it’s a nickname for a region, not a city.)  He made it sound like a paradise in which we both would be happy.

So every day when I watched The Weather Channel for the local forecast and South Bend’s weather (usually 10 degrees warmer), I also kept an eye on California, my future home.  Candice said she did the same thing: She kept an eye on the weather in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where her boyfriend went to school, since she sometimes drove up there to visit him.

I discovered in 1999 that Silicon Valley was far too expensive for most people to live in, too crowded with small houses and minuscule yards, cold even in the summer, and overrun with spiders, so I would have been unhappy there. Not that it mattered, because Peter lives in the Midwest to this day.

Peter and I could not be formally, officially engaged yet, complete with rings and announcements and engagement dinners and registries and a wedding date: Our wedding was still too far away because we wanted to finish school first.

But we had an “understanding.”  If we’d known about promise rings, which signify a promise to be engaged, I would’ve had one.  These days, it’s often called a pre-engagement.

***

With the approach of winter, our room began to freeze.  My roommie and I didn’t know at the time that it was because Candice had pillows lining the bed which were shoved right up against the heater, blocking it.

We thought it was because the school had an inefficient heating system.  Well, it did, but that was only part of the reason.

I was so glad I brought my flag afghan, which my grandma McCanmore had made; I often wrapped myself in it.  When I crawled into bed at night, the afghan lying over the sheets, I would spend several minutes shivering before patches of warmth began to crawl up around my legs and body.

This was an awful time, especially when the days got colder and the room began to freeze even more.  I believe that at some point, I brought another blanket to school so I wouldn’t be so cold.

***

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 3, as I read an article on Buddha for my Freshman Honors class, Peter slept beside me.  (Fully clothed and on top of a made bed, you dirty-minded people.)

I don’t read out loud, and wasn’t marking my place in the article.  But Peter started talking in his sleep, reciting lines or phrases right as or right after I read them!  He later told me that he was reading the article in his dream.

Some time soon after I arrived at Roanoke, I began reading one of the books I’d brought with me.  It was Wideacre by Phillippa Gregory.  My mom’s sister had given her this and the sequel, The Favored Child, for Christmas or her birthday (which were the same day).

They looked interesting, and Mom didn’t show much interest in them, so I took them with me to school for something to do when I had spare time (which did happen a lot).

(Unfortunately, the third book in the series, Meridon, wasn’t with them.  I don’t know if it had come out yet when Mom got them.  It took me at least four or five years to find it, and that was by ordering it through Waldenbooks.)

I had no idea when I started Wideacre that the heroine of this strange book, Beatrice Lacey, slept with her brother and did all sorts of unscrupulous things just so she could secure the estate for her own.

(This was in the days of entailments, when women weren’t supposed to inherit property when there was a man in line for it.)

I had to skim over the sex scenes, just as I did with the Earth’s Children (Valley of Horses, Mammoth Hunters) books.  They made me uncomfortable, and I felt they weren’t appropriate for an unmarried Christian to read.

It surprised me that Beatrice went and slept with a boy at fourteen, when she hadn’t really done anything else with him before.  How can you just jump into bed with someone before you’ve even gotten to second base?  Don’t you have to build up a level of comfort and lust first?

I wasn’t sure what to think of the book, but it did hold my attention until the very end.  I believe I finished it over Christmas Break.  I told Peter about it, and he teased me about the racy book I was reading.

****

This vague memory keeps haunting me but never quite takes shape: Nine years have passed since it happened.  It seems that it happened in Peter’s living room one day while his parents were out, in the late fall or early winter.

I remember the little dog Petey being there and maybe even involved somehow.

Peter was at his mom’s computer, which had a printer.  Her computer was probably as old as Peter’s.  Peter sat there doing something, and I believe I tried to get his attention.

He got angry with me.  The next part is shadowy.  He may have raised a hand to me, though I don’t think he hit me.  Or he may have threatened to hit me.

I remember being very upset.

But this is all I remember, which concerns me.  Could I have blocked something out?  I would be certain that he never hit me, except for this shadowy memory.

****

One day at his house, for some reason I now forget, Peter showed me a piece of paper printed by this printer, and said something about a black ribbon.  I looked at the print and said it was gray.

He said no, it was black, because it was a black ribbon!  But I looked at it, and it was a definite gray.

It may have been a black ribbon, but the ink had faded away.  When black fades, it turns gray.  It’s just the way the light spectrum works.

But he got mad at me for contradicting what he said, and then said as a sort of apology? that he gets mad whenever people try to tell him things are one way when he knows they are another way.

But, well, maybe I do, too: I knew that it was gray, yet here he was yelling at me for what my eyes told me was the truth!

His “apology” basically accused me of lying, basically blamed me as if I were deliberately trying to annoy him, when all I did was speak the truth!  What is this, gaslighting?

Aurora Borealis

On Tuesday, November 5, we were supposed to go to a Bible study at church, but there was too much snow.  I had just put Peter on my nightly prayer list for protection; on Tuesday, the snow caused him to have a near-miss with his car.  He was fine.

***

During late fall or early winter, I saw my first-ever shooting star.  Actually, I only saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Peter and I were standing outside his car in the gravel driveway to his parents’ farmhouse.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shooting white light.  Before I could turn to see it, it was gone.  It was beautiful and seemed almost supernatural.

Peter faced me, not the star.  He sensed it, and knew it was there because he read my mind, but he missed it.

On November 8, a gorgeous aurora borealis surrounded us as Peter drove us through the night countryside.  I had never seen one before, and asked, “What’s that?”

Once, it was very red.  Another time, it was red, yellow or orange, and blue.  Peter had never seen one like that before.  He had to stop the car and get out and gaze at it because it was so beautiful.

****

At 7:30 on November 19, Dave Wopat (brother to Tom Wopat, Luke on Dukes of Hazzard) played some good and funny songs on his keyboard.  From what I gather from a Google search, he’s still doing the college circuit to this day.

The concert was in the Muskie.  There weren’t a lot of people there, but there were enough.

One of his songs is “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl.”

Our favorite was about sadomasochism; it went, “Hurt me, hurt me, whip me, chain me,” and he moved his arms as if he were being chained up.  This became a popular catchphrase between Peter and me, even though we weren’t into that stuff.

Ghosts

As they did for every break, Peter’s parents invited me over for Thanksgiving Break, which was November 23 to December 1.

After class on Friday afternoon, the 22nd, Peter drove over in his mom’s black Volkswagen bus rather than his Mercury Lynx, because it could hold my valuables (word processor, TV, etc.) as well as my luggage.

This thing was from the 60s or 70s, and looked it.  It had few amenities, no tape deck and maybe even no radio, and I think the seats only had lap belts.

I laughed, and when we drove out, I put my jam box on my lap to play a Newsboys song.  This song, “One Heart,” was from a 70s-themed album released in July of 1991, Boyz Will Be Boyz.  That’s the closest I had to 70s music at that time.

I was put in the spare room; a space heater was put in there to keep me warm.  I barely felt the warmth, which only came out when it heated up, and the noise of it starting up was so loud that I had trouble sleeping.  But at least I had a comfortable double bed with lots of blankets.

I put the jam box in this room.  98.5 FM came in very well there, so I cranked up my current favorite dance songs: “Live for Loving You” by Gloria Estefan, “Too Blind to See It” by Kym Sims, “Change” by Lisa Stansfield.  (I was later unable to listen to these songs for a few years, because they reminded me of this time and made me sad.)

We could never close Peter’s bedroom door or spend time together in my room: house rules to keep Peter chaste.

I put my Brother word processor on a table next to the computer table in Peter’s room.  One afternoon we sat there working, Peter on a word processor program for the Coco 2 and me on my desert island novel Jerisland.

I had already written the manuscript by hand, and was now typing it up, so I was typing away fast and loud, probably at least 50 words per minute.  (In 1995 I was clocked at about 70 words per minute.)  Peter’s mom came in with an astonished smile and exclaimed about “all that pounding!”

Peter and his parents told me that when they moved into their house, it held a ghost.  They figured he was the man who built the house, so they called him John.  Occasionally things would turn up missing; they would call out, “Okay, John, put it back,” and then find them again.

Once, they had been sitting around complaining about the way the house was built (for one thing, the spigots in the bathroom were backwards).  Soon after, they discovered a big hole in the wall of the stairwell down to the basement.  Peter’s parents thought Peter did it in a fit of rage, but he insisted it was John, not him.

They knew a family with a ghost named Elizabeth.  One evening, the two families went to a restaurant together, and left two extra seats for the ghosts to sit in.  They told people that their ghosts John and Elizabeth were sitting in those seats.

Finally, Peter’s family fixed the roof, which involved taking off parts of it; I think they may have replaced the whole thing.  After that, they had no more trouble with John.  Peter’s mom figured that raising the roof released his spirit at last.

During this time, Peter’s family took me to Green Bay and the mall in a suburb of Milwaukee.  This may have been Mayfair in Wauwatosa.  In Green Bay, Peter’s mom took us to a thrift store, where she found me a book written in Old German letters.

The racks of books in that thrift store made my mouth water.  As for Green Bay, it looked like a big city, but I believe the population at that time was only about 50,000.  This surprised me because I had always thought it was big, like Milwaukee or Chicago.

Peter and his mom told me that Green Bay was the Florida of Wisconsin, with lots of retirees.  It had a really cool mall with five wings, like a star.

We visited Peter’s aunt and uncle.  The house was surrounded by lush, beautiful greenery.  We sat in the living room, which had a beautiful clock on the wall.  We went out to see the uncle’s baby, a Corvette Stingray which he was restoring.  Peter’s mouth watered, and he kept saying, “I’ve gotta get my Charger fixed!”

This Charger was a pretty little car, white with a thin, pink stripe along the side, but at the time it wasn’t driveable.  That’s why Peter drove the Lynx instead.  I think he bought it really cheap because of its problems, and had always meant to fix it, though he didn’t get around to it until January or February.

As we drove through the outskirts of Milwaukee, I noted that the houses were spaced together so closely that you could practically reach out from a window in one house and touch the wall of the next.  I wondered how people could live so close to each other.

These houses also looked different from the ones I was used to; I believe it was the coloring and the German influence.

Peter and his mom showed me a little shop run by nuns near K–, where you could get things for dirt-cheap prices.  I got several good Christmas presents there, including a tin with cat pictures on it and cat toys inside, for my cat Hazel.  Peter found a glass nativity set, which he bought for me.

One evening over Thanksgiving Break, they told me stories of John, and Peter’s mom told me with an impish grin that her painting of a horse (on the wall of the stairs) would sometimes come to life.

I knew it wasn’t true, but late one night as I went up those stairs to the spare room, it freaked me out anyway.  I believe I heard a strange noise, as well.

Once, Peter’s family introduced me to Cornish hens.  I first saw these in the surreal movie Eraserhead:

On the last day of school for seniors in June of 1991, a finals day, my art teacher showed the first half of this movie.  When the protagonist Henry cut into a Cornish hen, it started writhing and bleeding.  Since I’ve always been squeamish, I kept having to remind myself that my hen was thoroughly cooked.

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

 

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