My New Life Begins

In my diary, I referred to the Old Group and the New Group.  The Old Group was made up of some international students I’d sat with during dinner in fall semester and Winterim.

I never felt connected enough with them to stay with them, though, and Spring Semester, I joined the New Group.  This was Sharon, Pearl, Cindy, Catherine, Rachel, and whoever else happened to come along and sit with them, such as Tara, Carol, and Sarah.

But for a while, I still sat with the Old Group for some meals.  Gradually, by sophomore year, I felt so much an outsider with them and so much an insider with the New Group that the New Group became my main group, and I stopped sitting with the Old Group entirely.  I wonder if they even noticed.

I now had Persuasive Writing with Bill.  This guy was obsessed with maps.  I don’t remember if he brought them into Persuasive much, but he did in Sophomore Honors.

He had also written a book about the Lincoln Highway, which got published, and loved to talk about that.  He passed it around one day; there were a lot of pictures, and the map showed that the highway went through or around South Bend.

Persuasive was no longer the bugaboo it once had been, the tale to scare young freshmen with.  I liked this class, which was quite different from the horror Candice and her friends thought it was with Christina as teacher.

In this class I learned how to write persuasively (of course), that there was a Donner Party who got stuck in the snowy mountains of California in the pioneer days and ended up eating each other, how to research papers, and how to summarize the research you find.

The main objective of the class was to write a long, persuasive paper which would be turned in near the end of the semester.  All semester, you worked on researching it, and in April you did a short presentation on the subject.

My paper was on ESP, since Peter had sparked my interest in it.  I tried to persuade that it does exist.  It was such a relief to turn the paper in late in April; after that, I just had to revise it, which wasn’t nearly as time-consuming or nerve-wracking.

A young Maura O’Hara was in that class with me, a pretty redhead with cat eyes who was maybe a couple years older than me.  Her mother may also have been in that class, also a Maura O’Hara, but much stouter.  I would get to know these two women better in about two years, when I became engaged to Phil O’Hara.

The Great Zipper Caper

My adviser, Counselor Dude, taught my Poetry class.  We workshopped poems.  This meant that we each had to write about twelve poems over the semester, turn in enough copies for the whole class in Counselor Dude’s mailbox, and then later go and pick up a completed poetry packet for the next class period.  Then we sat at the table, the writer of a poem read it, and we made comments on it.

As for Counselor Dude, he used cuss words I had never heard before (such as “jack sh–“).  Many times each session, I had to think of the euphemism for a cuss word he used.  If I didn’t do this, the memory of the word he said would keep playing through my brain; if I did do this, I would lessen the chance of slipping up and using the word myself one day.  I still use this trick, and it works.

To Counselor Dude, it seemed, every poem had something to do with sex.  When he talked, it would be slow and low, even drawling the f– word.  Julie loved the “classy” way he said f–.

When choosing poetry books to read for class, we weren’t supposed to read anything by Jim Morrison or Bob Dylan because they were “lyrics,” and Counselor Dude didn’t consider them poetry.  Catherine, who loved Jim Morrison, disagreed, thinking that Morrison wrote poetry, not just lyrics.  As I saw on a Morrison documentary several years later, this was true.

Catherine sat next to a guy named Christopher, a non-trad, probably in his thirties, with a non-conformist, joker attitude.  He was also very nice.  The following year, he was in my astronomy class, and sat cracking jokes the whole time.  (I loved that because the class was very boring).  He had a jean jacket, shaggy brown hair, and glasses.

His poems amused us and became infamous; some people called him Penisman.  He did “The Great Zipper Caper” about a guy who got his penis caught in his zipper and had to go to the hospital, one merely titled “8-5-91” which described a demon onslaught, and “Montezuma’s Revenge” about the “demons of the toilet.”  I’d copy them for you, but don’t have the rights to them.  I think I can copy this part of “Montezuma’s Revenge,” however:

Demons of the toilet,
Leave my a– alone. 
I just came here to take a sh–, 
Not for my sins atone. 

One day during class, Counselor Dude picked up a pen, pointed it upwards, and said, “Talking about the male member….”  He said it slowly and drawled the last word, as was his wont.  The pen, pointing up like that, appeared to represent–well, the male member–but he didn’t do it on purpose.  He didn’t even realize it until everyone started laughing.

When I first signed up for the Mirror Practicum course, which basically was an hour of credit for working on the Mirror newspaper staff, I expected to have particular duties.  Peter and I wanted to be on the staff together, and I was going to be the darkroom assistant, getting credit now for what I had done for fun before.

Counselor Dude asked if I wanted to be a reporter.  I didn’t want to because I had very little interest in journalism: Being forced to write nothing but facts about other people bored me, and I was too shy to go out and interview people or find news.

But Counselor Dude grabbed Bill and asked him if I could write articles without being a reporter.  Bill said, “Yeah, she can be a newswriter, and get stuff that comes through the wire instead of doing leg work.”  I didn’t know what “through the wire” meant, but it sounded good to me, so I agreed.

The Mirror Practicum class and Mirror staff met in the Mirror suite every week.  Peter was in there, as were Dan, Julie, Pearl, and others.

In one of these first meetings, while Peter wasn’t around, Darryl said, “I know about you and Peter, and if you don’t want to be his darkroom assistant anymore, I understand.”  (Darryl and Julie were the editors and “in charge.”)

I was stunned that Darryl already knew about the breakup, the first week in February.  I still wanted to be Peter’s assistant, and I expected I would be since the Mirror staff was set up that way.  That didn’t have to end just because we broke up, since this was school, not a relationship thing.

In one of the following meetings, Peter announced that one of his friends was now the darkroom assistant.  I found this extremely distasteful and insulting.

For one thing, Peter never asked me if I wanted to give it up; for another, it insulted my abilities as a darkroom assistant.

This sudden switch basically said I was darkroom assistant not because of my abilities but because I was Peter’s girlfriend, and that I couldn’t hold the job on my own merits if we were to break up.  That was humiliating.

No one ever gave me newswriting assignments or told me where this wire was or how I was supposed to get stories from it.  They knew I had signed up only on condition that I wouldn’t be a reporter, so they didn’t assign me stories from around campus.

I no longer was darkroom assistant.  So now my main duties were helping out wherever I was needed.  Julie said I could be a typist; since I loved to type, that would be perfect.  I went to the library, bought an Apple disc at the main desk, and typed up articles on one of the Apple computers on the first floor.  (In those days, we still used 5″ discs; the 3 1/2″ discs for my word processor were newfangled.)

At least once, I also helped the Layout staff by proofreading.  I was told to highlight every mistake I saw while reading the proofs, and write the correction above it.  I had wanted to do this for a long time, since the Mirror‘s typos were legendary, and nonverbal learning disorder heightens your attention to detail.  But to my dismay, none of my corrections made it to the final copy.

As for Peter, he missed a lot of meetings, and stopped being listed in the paper as Photo Editor as early as March.  So Mirror meetings got much less stressful.  One semester was enough for me, however: My career aspirations did not include newspaper work.


According to Counselor Dude, my Roanoke placement (SEED) tests had shown problems with reading speed and comprehension, though I was skilled at reading/understanding individual words, spelling and punctuation.

I didn’t know then that this is a common problem with nonverbal learning disorder.

Counselor Dude recommended that I take Reading Workshop at some point.  (According to a test I did in Reading Workshop, I read 286 words per minute–which a little Googling shows to be average for college students.  So apparently I wasn’t as slow as everyone told me I was.  I just didn’t have a “good” reading speed.)  So I signed up to take it Spring Semester.

When I told Candice and Peter, they were surprised, wondering why I would need such a course when I did so well in other ones.  Now, when I began to take it, Sharon said that even if I was a slow reader, it didn’t really matter because I did so well in my courses.

When I first walked into class, I saw that nearly everyone in it was an international student, trying to improve their skills in English as a second language.  (I don’t remember Counselor Dude cussing so much in here; maybe he didn’t want to teach the international students the wrong vocabulary words.)

I felt uncomfortable, since it seemed like the class was more for non-native speakers and people who didn’t do as well in school as I did.

As for the material, it often seemed below my skills.  For example, at least two of the books were on vocabulary building, and I had just come out of three years of AP English classes teaching college-level vocabulary.  After two or three days of classes, I decided Reading Workshop wasn’t for me, and dropped it.

Mystery Science Theater: 3000 helped keep me going during this time, too: It was an oasis I could go to every weekend, someplace that had nothing whatsoever to do with Peter.  Not only had I never watched it with him, but he didn’t even get the Comedy Channel.  It was my own thing; it was a cool thing.  The Comedy Channel, by the way, would be renamed Comedy Central early sophomore year.

Early in February I thought of transferring to Adrian College in Michigan.  That had been my second choice of colleges.  Mom knew someone who went there and loved it.  I would be able to build my own major; though there was no Writing major (just Journalism), I could take English and Literature.

They sent me a letter saying if I had second thoughts about the choice I made, they would love me to transfer there.  The letter also included a business card for the college.

I pondered and pondered it, and told my parents.  I wondered if this other college, which was Christian, would be more along the lines of what I had expected a Christian college to be.  I wondered if the guys would be nicer, the people less likely to make fun of my beliefs, the dances more likely to play Christian music.  I had chosen a Christian college because I didn’t want to go to a secular college.

One day, I told Julie how I felt.  She said the college president had just addressed the students about problems on campus.  He wanted to improve the school and make it more Christian.  I decided to stay and give RC another shot.  I gazed at the beautiful campus as I walked around; I did not want to leave it.

As it turns out, my parents wouldn’t have let me transfer anyway: They didn’t want to change financial aid.

On February 24, I wrote in my diary everything I’d want to say if Peter ever came back to me.  And it is full of NVLD traits–and reminds me that I knew about NVLD before I knew what it was called:

I think there are some things about me you should know so you’ll stop this nonsense about me doing so many insignificant things [one of my friends called his breakup reasons “so petty!”], and cut me some slack, as they say nowadays.  

First, for so many of my school years I felt ostracized.  I made friends easily [or so I thought, though looking back I didn’t], but still people would tease me about the way I walked, or being weird, or playing with my hands until about the end of the fourth grade, or whatever.

Even my best friend from down the street ended up treating me bad.

This is probably why I closed off around fifth or sixth grade and had to go to a psychologist (who, by the way, was the first person to hypnotize me).

I’ve never fully recovered from a sense of weirdness, even though I’ve made great progress.  I actually felt “not weird” for a time senior year, until those guys in art class shot me back down and humiliated me.  I still get this sense of insecurity every once in a while.

Second, part of the reason for my “ostracism” was probably the type of child I was.  I’ve read about it in the newspaper.  

There’s a type of child that never picks up on all of the rules of body language, and their peers think they’re weird because they can’t relate to each other.  

That was me.  I was, in a sense, in my own little world.  I never even learned the basics of social interaction and common courtesy, which I didn’t start to pick up on until I was going to my psychologist.

Even saying “hi” was foreign to me.  I finally got myself saying “hi” and eventually “bye” whenever someone said it to me, but I’ve only recently been able to start saying it first.  I’m still studying my peers to see what you do in certain situations.

Also, just ask my mom, she always had trouble getting me to say “thank you.”  As I said, I was in my own little world, and I didn’t learn these things, not even when my parents tried to teach me.  I’m still often uncertain what to do.

Third, I don’t always know why I do things.  I don’t know for sure why I refused to go up to Becky’s house that night [when I was with Peter in South Bend].  I think maybe my subconscious was afraid her parents would think, “What in the world are you doing out at this hour?  And who’s he [my boyfriend]?  Becky’s not even here.”

Actually, it’s quite simple: I figured social conventions would be against me showing up late in the evening unannounced, especially if she didn’t know I was in town.  Here, the boyfriend was probably the one in the wrong about social rules.

… I don’t know for sure why I’m so afraid of driving.  Maybe I’m just afraid of cars; I don’t know.  I also don’t know for sure why I didn’t want to go “midnight sledding” with my friends last Friday night.  I guess I’m just not one for spontaneity.

If I’ve already planned or expected my day or evening to go one way, a sudden change is unwelcome, no matter what it is.  If it’s a dance not announced previously, I probably won’t go.  If it’s a change of plans for a date, such as rollerskating instead of the movies, I’ll probably choose the original plan, no matter how much I like rollerskating.

I don’t even know why this is.  Maybe I just like to know what’s going to happen.

This is who I am, and you’ll have to take me this way.


One of Candice’s friends lost her own roommate somehow.  The school gave her a list of new roommates to choose from so she wouldn’t have to pay for a single room (double price).  Unfortunately, she either didn’t know or didn’t like anyone on it.

Since she was a senior and didn’t want major disruptions, she asked Candice to room with her.  Candice didn’t want to move, but wanted to help her friend.  By the way, just before she left, Candice said I was a good roommate.  So don’t think it was me.

To the shock of me, Candice, and probably everybody else in the suite, E– began visiting Latosha’s room–and she didn’t turn him out.  I don’t remember if they argued, which they probably did.  Latosha often giggled.

Sometime during Spring Semester, on a Sunday, I turned to Masterpiece Theater on PBS.  The movie that night came from what they called a Gothic novel from the 18th century, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but wanted to check out those old Gothics, after reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

Unfortunately, I only caught the second half of Clarissa, a two-parter, so I didn’t understand everything.  Alastair Cooke explained in the beginning what had happened in the first part, so at least I wasn’t totally lost.  One kind of Gothic novel, especially in those days, dealt with a girl being locked up, and that’s what happened to Clarissa.

The movie enthralled me; the ending almost brought me to tears.  This movie, by the way, was British; Lovelace was played by Sean Bean–now known to many as Boromir in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

And this book was referred to in the notorious French novel Dangerous Liaisons.  There are many similarities between DL and Clarissa, though Clarissa was not married and never, ever gave in to Lovelace’s desires.  Clarissa inspired DL.

Sophomore year I read the (abridged) book; in 1996, I finally found my own, unabridged copy in Barnes and Noble, and read all sorts of things which I missed the first time.

The story of Clarissa–paragon of virtue but treated as undutiful by her family for not marrying a lout with money, and then mistreated by a man who claimed to love her–touched me deeply.  She became my favorite heroine of all time.


In the New Group, life centered around meals, at least for us.  We’d meet at the cafeteria or go there together.  We’d sit around chatting until we all had classes or got tired of sitting in the cafeteria, so after dinner we could be there for quite some time.  It was a fun group, too, often breaking out in uproarious laughter.  Rachel and Catherine soon joined this group, bringing their own demented humor to it.

The jocks sat together at a long table near the doors, acting obnoxious.  They were usually the ones who clapped when a glass was dropped–this we didn’t mind–but also, at least once, one of them burped loud enough to carry across the room.  “Oh, lovely,” I muttered.

Pearl often talked about a friend named Dave O’Hara.  I may have met him once freshman or sophomore year.  I think he was skinny, with blond hair and blue eyes.

We didn’t talk much–Pearl was talking to him in passing–but I remembered him because he was also Peter’s friend.  I don’t know what half truths and lies Peter might have told him about me.  I hoped Pearl would tell him the truth.

Early in the Spring Semester, Sharon and Pearl began talking about joining a sorority.  They finally decided on what I thought were the Phi-Dells.  (It was actually “Phi-Delts,” Phi-Delta-Omega.)

Then Sharon and Pearl went through pledging and Hell Week and getting initiated.  I’m not sure what “rush” means at other colleges, but RC sororities had nothing called that.  You just came to a little party and decided if you wanted to pledge.

Pledges were people who wanted to be members; actives were members.  Hell Week was when pledges of frats and sororities had to act like “evils” (members of the opposite gender) didn’t exist, and do whatever other forms of initiation the actives wanted them to do.

Shawn Makes his Move

On Leap Day, I dreamed that Peter and I were talking amiably, but he kept trying to get me to go somewhere else.  Eventually, a beautiful blonde holding a drink walked into the room.  She was the reason he wanted me to go elsewhere: He didn’t want me to know they were dating.

In real life, a short time later, I discovered that he had a new, blonde girlfriend.

On Leap Day, things turned weird:

It all started at lunch.  I sat with Julie and Dan, and we were soon joined by Shawn and Steve (the guy who dressed like Satan for Halloween, but normally looked like Jesus with his long, brown hair).  We all had lots of fun, then Julie and Darryl left.

Shawn asked if he could eat some of my fries because the cafeteria had run out of everything he wanted before he got there.  He chatted with Steve for a bit, then we all left the table.

We were supposed to put our trays in a window to the dishwashing room.  It was closed by then, and I stood pondering whether or not opening it would cause Steve’s tray to fall on the floor.

Shawn walked up and saw me.  He led me around into the dishwashing room and put his tray down on the other side of the window, then started walking away as I put mine down.

I turned around to leave: He’d turned to see if I was coming.  I thought he just wanted to make sure I found my way out.  Maybe he did, but he also wanted to find out what happened between Peter and me.

We started talking about it, and ended up standing at the bottom of the Campus Center stairs for a while.  As I watched his blue eyes, I detected a tenderness, though I wasn’t sure what kind.

He asked me if he should talk to Peter if he ever slowed down from all his busyness, and I said, “If you think it would help.”

He said he would tell him, “I got you two together.”  He asked me how I was doing; I said I still cried every now and then.  He offered a listening ear if I wanted to talk more in some private place, which I didn’t at that time.

He asked if I needed a hug, and I said, “Every once in a while.”

As I smiled at him, he said that with my big brown eyes, I reminded him of a deer caught in headlights.  I laughed.  He was about to go, and spread his arms, but I glanced at the lounge doors, and he said someone could walk in on us.  We said good-bye, and I went to pick up a Mirror (which I’d helped lay out), feeling good.

I decided I wanted to talk to him again later, in my private room, since he had a roommate and Candice had already moved out.  I thought about this as I swept up all the dust bunnies under Candice’s recently vacated bed, and about things I wanted to tell him about.

An earlier fantasy probably came to mind, even though I didn’t plan on such a thing ever happening: A few weeks earlier, I imagined Shawn coming to my room to talk with me and comfort me, and kissing me.

I didn’t dare expect him to make a pass at me.  All I really wanted was to talk to a guy about the whole thing, and especially him, since he was the devoted Christian I’d admired all year.  I wanted a guy’s perspective, especially a Christian guy’s.

After dinner, I hesitated.  I told myself, “I’m sure his offer still stands.”  I called him up and asked him to come over.  He said he’d be over in a few minutes.

I hung up and prepared the room for a visitor.  I decided against chewing gum just in case it would look suspicious; after all, how could I talk with gum in my mouth?

I had so much to say, but when he came in and sat on a corner of Candice’s old bed and I sat hunched over on mine, I began to blank out, not knowing where to begin.  The discussion started out slowly, Shawn constantly looking at his watch and making me wonder if he was pressed for time.  That only increased the pressure on me, which made it even harder to think of words or to speak.

He finally had me sit beside him, which made it somewhat easier for me.  We had a much better discussion, me finally discovering what kinds of things could’ve been going through Peter’s mind.

All of a sudden, Shawn had me sit in front of him, me facing out, with his arms around me.  “This is an interesting position,” I said, trying, unsuccessfully (I thought because of his silence), to make a joke.  He said certain kinds of physical contact make it easier to talk.

I talked about the misgivings I’d had about Peter.  There were still a few silences, especially when things got stranger:

Shawn began to stroke my hair and nuzzle the top of my head with his chin.  Once he asked me if I was ticklish, and proceeded to find out where.

Shawn asked if I knew how to give a back rub, said he’d been looking for someone to give him one, and then gave me one.  He even rubbed my neck.

He asked if I was blind without my glasses, and took them off.  He took off his own glasses, looked through mine, and said, “You are blind!”

He said he’d like to know how I’d look in a fishtail or bun, and piled my hair on the top of my head.  He bent to look at me, said “Nah,” and let it fall back down.

He began to stroke the lower side of my cheek and chin.  Was my fantasy coming true?  To encourage him, I said I wondered if I should start dating again.  He began rubbing his cheek against mine.

“Who would you date?” he said.

“Anyone who’d ask me, I guess,” I said, then, “With discretion, of course.”

He bent down to the right to look at my clock, which was set on military time, taking me with him.  He moved his head so his lips were closer to mine.  I turned my head toward him slightly.

He moved the fingers of his right hand around my mouth, touching my lips on the right side.  I was nervous.  He said, “What would you do if I kissed you?”  I said, “I don’t know.”  He kissed me then–for a long time.

I was so stunned that this was actually happening, that I could barely remember to kiss back.  He kissed me at least once more.

I didn’t know what to think of things.  If ever I looked like a trapped deer, it was probably then.

He said he was being flame-broiled by the heater, and the bar at the head of the bed bothered him, so we moved to my bed.  He said he didn’t want to be serious, and I said, “It doesn’t have to be serious.”

(I was thinking of the various dating relationships: dating but can see other people, serious and can’t see other people.)

He laid half-on and half-off the bed, and tried to get me on top of him, but I kept rolling off to one or side, and once or twice pulled my legs up so I was, as he termed it, in a ball.  He said once while I was still on him, “Now you kiss me,” but I couldn’t.  He said once, “Am I that grotesque?”  I said, “No!  I’m just used to Peter.”

I was right!  Shawn had a crush on me!  And I had a crush on him!  But he was moving way too fast!

He sat on top of me and began massaging me all over, telling me to relax.  I expected a Christian guy to stop before touching my breasts, but he didn’t, so I tried to block him.

He kept saying, “Relax, don’t worry,” and asking why I tried to stop him.  I thought a Christian should know why; I was too embarrassed to explain.

There was more massaging, more kissing, and more of him trying to touch or kiss me in that area.

Then he began doing other things, which are explicit in my diary but I won’t describe them here, you voyeurs–

“What’re you doing?” I cried.  I told him I had to go to the bathroom.

He sat up.  He tried to pull up my shirt, but my hands flew down over it.  I got up and smoothed my hair, then fled to the bathroom.

I sat there a few minutes longer than I needed, putting my head in my hands.

When I came back, he seemed to have vanished.  I looked around; he walked toward me from the corner by the closet.  I closed the door.

We sat on the bed, apart this time.  He lamented not being in control; he said he screwed up.

“What did you think it meant when I kissed you?” he said.

“I thought it meant you liked me,” I said.

“I do like you.”

We talked for a bit; we both had conflicting thoughts about each other.

I described mine as being attracted one day, then wanting to be friends the next.  He thought we were just “playing around,” “blowing off some steam,” that he was making me feel more attractive.

“You should have explained your reasons before you acted,” I said.  “When you said you didn’t want to be serious, I thought you meant you didn’t want to date exclusively.  Not, you don’t want to date at all.”

“I don’t deserve you,” he said.  “So what are we going to be: casual acquaintances, friends, or a one-night stand?”

We laughed, since “one-night stand” was a joke.  (No, no sex–don’t go there.)

We finally decided to be prayer partners, meeting every Saturday for about half an hour.  We shook hands, agreeing to be friends.  We agreed to keep this whole thing a secret.  Then he left.

March 1992
Life at Roanoke: My College Memoirs–September 1991 through May 1995

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: