Meet the Suite

The story begins in September 1991 in a little college in Wisconsin by a little town called H–.  Roanoke College is officially by the small city of S–, but H– and unincorporated A– are much closer.

1991 was a great year for me: My generation saw its first war, but we beat them bad; I graduated; my eighteenth birthday was on June 22; and now I would have a new life in a state I first visited in February.

I came from South Bend, Indiana, which is twice the size of and a different world than S–, Wisconsin.

I was a writing major with a Fessler Writing Scholarship, a naive young girl who thought that I would support myself with a novel writing career and German translation, and not need the internships or resumé writing classes.

I also thought that “Christian college” meant a college full of Christian people.

There were roughly 1600 students at Roanoke (the size of my high school)–around 400 on campus, the rest commuters and Lifelong Learning (night class) students.

This was a campus in the middle of cornfields in a state that has two seasons: winter and under (road) construction, as it is said, when the orange signs are in bloom.

The comedian during freshman orientation week said that, no matter what befell you there, you could console yourself and others by saying, “At least it’s not snowing!”  Despite how vulgar he was otherwise, this one phrase stuck in my mind throughout my time at Roanoke.

In the October 1991 issue of the campus newspaper was a cartoon: A car marked “New Student” is driving down a road with nothing but cornfields and signposts on either side.  On the left-side signposts you find: “Out there –> ,” “The corn –> ,” “<– The old tree,” “Roanoke College –> ,” “Absolutely nowhere –> ,” “Millers Farm,” and “Over there –> .”  On the right-side signpost you find, “H– Pop. 14.”  A speech balloon pointed at the car’s driver reads, “I guess the college is just down this road?”

I arrived on Labor Day, 1991.  There were a couple days of orientation before classes began.  The earliest class was at 9:15 AM!  For someone used to starting school at 7:45, this was luxury.  As I told my roommate, I liked this better than high school, which I had loved.

I saw this guy in February on SEED Day, a day of testing and orientation for high school seniors who were about to become Roanoke freshman.  He had blond hair and sky-blue eyes, joked around, and smiled at and flirted with me.  The rare eye color of sky blue was my favorite, and I figured my future husband probably had them.

Where was this guy?  He’d said he was a junior; I should see him again.  (Once or twice I thought I spotted him during the fall semester, but wasn’t sure.  Finally, I saw him again, and his name was Ned.  He was in his mid-20s, I believe.  More stories about him to come.)

I was a Nazarene girl, so I didn’t dance or drink alcohol or smoke or cuss or go to movies, though the denominational restrictions on movies and dancing had recently been lifted.

I had royal ancestors–Duncan of “Macbeth,” Saints Margaret and David of Scotland–and folk-hero ancestors–John and Priscilla Alden of Longfellow and Mayflower fame.

I had been in (as a teen magazine termed it) a love drought–plenty of crushes but all unrequited–since sophomore year of high school.

I took German for three years; French for two. I wanted to continue in German and learn Latin, as everyone at college always did, I thought.  But there were no Latin classes at Roanoke.

I would be living in the German suite, an honor only now opened to freshmen.  Only one other freshman lived in the two suite buildings, Friedli and Hofer.  Hofer was mostly fraternity suites, day care and the commuter suite; Friedli was language and honor suites.

In between was the main suite lounge, a little building with a lounge, couches, chairs, TV, bathroom, a microwave and a pop machine; half of the building was even a living area for a campus official.  That part was closed off to us.

Though suite usually means luxury, here it did not.  We got four tiny bedrooms (mine was largest), a bathroom (two stalls, two sinks, two shower stalls), shelves, no air conditioner, little heat from an ancient steam heater, and a little lounge that got compared to a waiting room.  This insulted Heidi, who said she tried to make it look more liveable with plants, a German flag over the couch, and posters.

In this lounge was a TV (a neat digital one, provided by the school) and furniture with no arm-cushions. We would take the cushion from another chair to make a comfortable neck-rest when lounging on this couch.

On our doors were little, Swiss mice next to cheese bearing our names.  Heidi, our German suite mentor, made these cute mice out of construction paper.  I still have mine.  But then, that’s hardly remarkable, considering I put most of my college memories into boxes when each year ended, and never got rid of the boxes.

Since it was tacked up against a concrete-block wall, the flag would often fall down.  My freshman year boyfriend, Peter, thought it had something against him, since it often fell on him as he sat on the couch.

Also living in the suite were my roommate, Candice; Latosha, whose door faced ours; and Tom.  Yes, the suite was co-ed.

Heidi was a German-speaking Swiss miss of twenty-five.  She had a birthday in the fall semester, I believe, that made her twenty-six.  Frank, a balding, non-traditional freshman, was twenty-five and became good friends with her.

Heidi seemed so old to us, and once complained about that.  But once I got to my mid-twenties and thought back, she didn’t seem quite so old after all.

I believe she once tried to get a license which would allow her to drive in America.  Her Swiss license wasn’t enough to drive here, and international students were often trapped on campus without cars or American licenses.

Heidi’s sandy-blonde hair was distinctly European: short, longer on one side than on the other, no perm.  (As a girl in my high school German class had said after going to Germany, over there nobody got perms.  They just cut their hair in different ways.)

Heidi arrived at this school the same year I did, with a strong Swiss accent and frequent trouble with the language.  Lots of words she didn’t know, like sassy, I looked up for her in the pocket German dictionary I carried for her benefit.

She lived in a room at the back of the other end of the suite, near the little balcony with its iron railing.  Each upper-level suite had a tiny, back balcony.  I believe some people put grills on their balconies.  The lower-level suites just had little porches, if anything.

I had thought the suite mentor in a Christian college would be a fellow Christian and a potential spiritual adviser.  I had expected to have many profound discussions with her about following God.  The reality was that I didn’t know what she was.  The French mentor, Nicole, didn’t even believe in God, though she liked to go to church for the ceremonies and the values.

Heidi amused my ears with her accent.  My favorite of her sayings was, “My GOOD-ness!”

I got along well with Nicole.  She was sweet and fun to talk to.

As for Heidi–we had some sort of personality clash that I never understood.  I’ve heard that European cultures look down on shyness; maybe it was simply a culture clash, worsened by my nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD, to be explained later).  Or maybe being chronically late like I was in those days is considered a grave offense in Switzerland.

Considering both she and my German teacher, who was Swiss, had problems with me, while most teachers liked me, it could very well have been a cultural issue which I did not know about.

In any case, I was grateful to Heidi for helping me polish my German, such as when she taught me that nicht was supposed to be said as one syllable, not two.  (It is difficult and takes practice.)

I enjoyed reading the 19th-century German story Undine (Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué) with her.

She told me that when you don’t know a language totally fluently, you can’t let yourself get hung up during conversation on words you don’t understand.

This surprised me because, when she said, “Now when I first came here, did I run for a dictionary every time I didn’t understand a word?”  I said yes, because I had the impression she did.  She often seemed to want my help with words, and I looked them up in my German dictionary.

But she said that no, she didn’t always run for a dictionary.

Heidi knew both French and Italian, since in Switzerland both were spoken along with German and a special Swiss dialect, Räto Romanisch.  She had conversations in French with Nicole.

One day, while sitting with me and somebody else at a meal, she reflected that our generation didn’t seem to drink coffee, while hers did.  The younger people didn’t seem to like the taste, and at best drank cappuccino, with its various flavors.

As many of the international students did, she had a problem with American sarcasm.  I’d thought sarcasm was universal, but non-English-speaking international students had a hard time understanding sentences with the opposite meaning of what they seemed to say.

Also, while watching TV, there would be commercials roughly every ten or fifteen minutes.  For the rest of us in the suite, this was normal and expected.  We read something, went to the bathroom, got something to eat, or just sat there bored as the commercials played.

But Heidi would cry out, “So many com-mehr-cials!”  In Europe, the commercials were only aired between programs, not in the middle of them.  (When do Europeans go to the bathroom during movies?)

Another of Heidi’s phrases was, “What is that?”  She didn’t just use it when she heard or saw something unusual; she would say it when talking of somebody’s inexplicable behavior.  For example, she might say something like, “And then when I came over, he was rude to me.  What is that?”  (This is not a quote, by the way, just an example.)

Another phrase was, “It doesn’t work.”  This applied to all sorts of things, not just mechanical devices.  For example, she might look at an improperly constructed German sentence and say, “It doesn’t work.”  Or she might look at an intended solution for a situation and say, “It doesn’t work.”  She also had an accented way of saying “It doesn’t matter” that made it, too, seem like a Heidi-ism.

Nicole, also about twenty-five years old, was her best friend.  Late in the school year, when visiting our suite, their friends would sit and count how many times they kissed each others’ cheeks when saying good-bye, because Nicole and Heidi didn’t bother to keep track.  The count once got up to ten.  Nicole was a fun one to talk to, and I liked to try out my sparse French on her.

Heidi was impressed those first few weeks by what German I knew, like the slang terms toll and Mensch.  She also told me that Ach Mensch was dated, and now people generally said only Mensch.  But “Ach, Mensch!” is so much more fun to say when you’re upset.

My first day at Roanoke, I went up to Heidi–the lounge full of Heidi’s international friends–and asked her when we were going to dinner, thinking everyone in the suite naturally would go at once.

In those first few days, college seemed like summer camp.  And in summer camp, everyone in a cabin went to meals together, so this is where I got the idea that everyone in a suite in college would do the same.

We all went to dinner together, Heidi and her friends and me, and I impressed myself with my outgoing, cheerful demeanor–such a contrast to my shy, high school self.

Not that I came out of my shell for good.  But at dinner I kept laughing and talking and showing off my German and French.  I felt like a new me.

Another time that week, Paul showed up at the suite door, asking for Heidi and saying he wanted to go to dinner with her.  I asked if I could go with them, and he said okay.

I felt so outgoing; I was very proud of myself.  Paul seemed like a nice guy, too.  He was, or soon would be, a Zeta.

Once I sat in the Spanish suite and taught the phrase “not just yet” to Nicole and a girl from Costa Rica.  That’s also when Nicole told us she doesn’t believe in God, but believes in the values of church-going.  I took the opportunity to witness to her in a simple, non-intrusive way by saying I do believe in God.

I had been told that everyone in the German suite was supposed to be taking the language, and speak in only that language with each other for an hour every day.  But my roommate Candice only took German once, back in high school.  The other students didn’t know German at all; Latosha was taking French.

Candice was a talkative, pretty sophomore with auburn hair.  She was on the tennis team, which practiced on the court right outside our window.  Her boyfriend, Jeff, went to Roanoke over the summer with her, but now went to UW-Lacrosse.

Latosha was an African-American sophomore from Kansas City, MO.  She always seemed confident, strong, and mature.  I greatly admired her and respected her advice.

Latosha had an ex, E–, who’d been her boyfriend for three years.  It was a crushing blow when he fooled around and left her for another girl, but he was the possessive one, following her car when she went on dates and calling her up all the time from his new college in Chicago, even though he’d broken up with her a year before.

We all wished he’d leave her alone, especially when he called her at three in the morning and she cussed him out: Those suites had concrete walls, but you could hear everything.  Plus, her door faced ours.

As for the new girlfriend, she was in a class with Latosha–and was very afraid of Latosha.  This made things difficult for either of the two girls when they had to do class work together (I think it was a science class, and they had to do labs together).  Latosha called her E–‘s ho, at least when speaking of her to us.

This E–, by the way, was the grandson of a famous black man.  If I told you who, I’d probably be subject to a libel suit for accusing this man’s grandson of stalking, even though what I tell you is true.  Through E–, Latosha met other famous people, and even got a tour jacket which only band members or roadies could get.

Tom was a flirtatious first-year senior and a football player.  He had two roommates that year, Tim first and then Stefan.

The immaculately clean Tim took one step into Tom’s smelly room and sprayed air freshener with a loud “hsssh!”  The next day, he was gone.

Stefan came later in the semester; he was a German lawyer, here in America until the end of Winterim.  Somehow, he survived Tom’s room.

Tom and Stefan seemed to get along pretty well, and whenever Stefan came in the suite while Tom was in the lounge, Tom cried out, “Roommie!”

Stefan was tall and sweet, and always seemed to be happy.  He was from K–, Germany, and my boyfriend was from K–, Wisconsin.

Stefan and a short, pretty young woman became great platonic friends.  It had to be platonic because she was married.  No, I never heard of a scandal.

One day, Stefan said goodbye to my boyfriend and me in the lounge as he left the suite, and one or both of us said, “Auf Wiedersehen!”  He practically fell over in his surprise that we knew some German, and cried, “Whoa!”

Tom had a crush on Candice the year before, not returned by her.  She’d known about it.  Her best friend would have taken him off her hands, if only Tom would’ve let her.  I heard Tom and Candice argue about this once.

Tom constantly went into Candice’s mini-fridge in the lounge and drank her milk without permission.  One day, Candice told me she was getting him back.

On a friend’s suggestion, she put shampoo in her milk.  Tom came into the room and asked if he could use her milk for a mixed drink he was making.

She said okay, then confessed to me that she felt really bad about putting shampoo in it.  Tom didn’t even seem to notice or get sick from it, so that eased her conscience a little bit.

Each suite had two outside doors, one to the balcony and one as a main entrance.  The upper levels doors led to the balcony-like walkway and stairs, with a railing along the side of the walkway.  The lower levels doors led to a walkway along the side of the building, and to the courtyard.

The suites had no set visiting hours.  If your suitemates decided on special rules, that was your business.  But it was different in the other halls, which did have visiting hours and quiet hours.  I heard that visitors after hours were to go to the Main Suite Lounge, but no one ever followed this, and the RA’s (Resident Assistants, or the people in charge) didn’t care.

Heidi talked about quiet hours and such, but said that rather than conform to the rules of quiet hours which applied to the other dorms, we should all be adults and ask each other to please turn it down if someone played a TV or radio too loud.

With two stalls with working doors in the toilet area, two shower stalls with curtains, and a man (sometimes two) living with a bunch of women in the suite, we thought nothing of men and women using the bathroom at the same time.

During the warmer months, probably September or October when yellow jackets are really bad in Wisconsin, we discovered a hive of them living right outside Heidi’s window.  They tormented us until the cold finally killed them.

With the TV on the same wall as the outside window showing the head of the stairs, you’d sit on the couch watching TV, and people could see you as they came up the stairs.  And people would invariably look, whether they were coming up the stairs or just walking by.  It made me uncomfortable.

The best thing about the TV: it had cable, basic but better than nothing.

Besides the suites, we had Krueger Hall (women), Muehlmeier Hall (co-ed), and Grossheusch Hall (so-called hall of men, as the RA wrote beside a chalk drawing of a Playboy bunny on the front window that year).  Krueger is pronounced “KROO-ger,” Muehlmeier is “MULE-my-er,” and Grossheusch is “GROSH-iss” (otherwise known as “Grossh”).

Gross “Grossh” was disgustingly kept by its inhabitants (some would even pee in the hallways), noisy, and frequented by high school girls on weekends, a.k.a. “pop-tarts.”

Also, the cleaning crews hated cleaning Grossh, especially when they did major cleaning over holiday breaks.  So we girls laughed when the hall director drew a Playboy-style bunny in chalk on a window near the entrance, and wrote, “Hall Of Men.”

Muehlmeier looked like Grossh structurally, having been built about the same time, and both had carpeting in all the rooms.  But Muehlmeier was a little less scary and had women living on the top floor.

Both halls had two floors and a basement; Krueger had three and a basement.

Krueger, the oldest, also had huge rooms, compared to the cells in the other dorms.

Certain floors in each dorm were alcohol-free, probably based on where most of the upperclassmen and underclassmen lived.  The suites had more lax alcohol rules: basically, no underage drinking.  One improvement the next year: all the dorms went alcohol-free, excepting the suites, which mostly held upperclassmen.

But wait–they’re not dorms, they’re residence halls!


There were three days of orientation.  The first was Labor Day, which, of course, was a Monday; classes began on Thursday.  The suites’ RA, Daphne, and two guys awaited the freshmen on chairs set out in the courtyard, to help us move in.  I thought they did this to every freshman every year.

I now met my suite-mates.  It seemed like they had all been there for a few days already, though this was supposedly the move-in day.  It seemed that non-freshmen moved in earlier than freshmen did, so I expected to be able to do this myself the following year.  Tom had been there for at least a week or two because of football training.

It felt like summer camp.  I went to orientation events with the theme “diversity.”  The orientation speaker told us that all of us freshmen were new here.  Outgoing or shy, we had our friends at home whom we had made over the years at school or wherever else.

But now we were all newcomers with no friends and probably anxious.  She said that though we were diverse, if we talked to each other we’d probably find something in common with everyone.

I met people, went to their rooms to visit and get acquainted, and saw how people unlike me were like me.  I began to adjust.

This is when I met Julie, a sophomore and Muehlmeier RA.  She and her boyfriend, Darryl, loved many of the same things I did: Monty Python, Doctor Who, Black Adder, and other sci-fi or British comedy shows which I either watched or would soon discover.  They were also writers.  Both worked for the school newspaper.  More about them later.

The Muskie was the mascot.  “Go fish!  Muskies, Muskies! Eat ’em up, eat ’em up!”  the cheerleaders would cry as they moved their arms up and down, apart and together, like the jaws of a fish.

On Saturday I went to my first and last RC football game, with some new friends.  I had this erroneous idea that at college everybody would go to the football games, unlike in high school, because there was nothing else to do.

There were so many fumbles and so few points on our side that we left at half-time and didn’t return, Mona and I feeling bad about leaving.

In Mona’s or Jennifer’s room we talked about accents.  A guy asked if I’d ever heard of a “brat” (bratwurst on a bun) or “bubbler” (a drinking fountain).  I hadn’t.  He laughed.  One of the girls said I had the “TV accent.”

One day, Tom relayed a message from Daphne: “There’s an orientation party at ten to two.”  Ten to two?  Huh?  It was from ten o’clock to two o’clock?  Finally, I said, “Oh, ten till two!”  It was at 1:50.

“Didn’t I say it right?”  Tom said, confused at my confusion.

The S– dialect took some getting used to.  More about that later.

Oh, yay, a Christian college!  No more cussing, no more dirty jokes!

People probably wouldn’t like my devilish Christian rock.  When students from Olivet Nazarene University visited my church or sang at church camp, they seemed to prefer Christian Contemporary or Southern Gospel.

For a shy person who had trouble getting dates, period, let alone Christian ones, here I’d find Christian men galore!  Therefore, plenty of men here would be good husband material–I only needed to pick one.

There were probably no dances, only Christian entertainment.  Even if there were dances, they would have Christian music and certainly no dirty dancing.  There’d be no more boasting about kegger parties or how much alcohol somebody drank or how many girls somebody bedded.

I used to hear this all the time in art class senior year from the guys who sat across from me.  As I tried to ignore them, I kept thinking how wonderful college would be, that in a short time, I wouldn’t have to listen to this sort of thing from anyone anymore.

Most of the college students would be virgins saving themselves for marriage, they certainly wouldn’t be drinking underage (if at all) or going to wild parties, and they wouldn’t be making dirty jokes.

Teachers would pray before classes just like at Olivet, and they and suite mentors would also be spiritual advisors just like at Olivet.  They would help me to stay on the right track and to deal with the tough questions.  And on Sundays, I would go to the local Nazarene church.

Yeah, right.  It only took a day or two for these illusions to crash down around me like shattered glass.  I cried myself to sleep one night.

I often hear about Christian colleges that match what I’d expected, but Roanoke was not one of them, being only loosely affiliated with the U.C.C., a church I’d never heard of before.

I was spending all this extra money for a private Christian college in order to be in a Christian haven where I could easily find a Christian husband.  I felt betrayed.

There was no Christian extracurricular group on campus.  There wasn’t even a Nazarene church listed in the phone book!

In my high school, the kids did not say h–l or d–n.  Kids cussed (f–k and sh–); they never just swore.

Here at RC, they did both.  To me, it was odd to hear people my age say, “What in the h–l” instead of “What in the f–k.”  I’d figured cussing was for the young and swearing was for the middle-aged.

In January, my boyfriend would tell me a lot of people didn’t even consider it swearing when you said h–l or d–n.  I could not believe it.

Where I came from, h–l or d–n were considered swearing; how could it be otherwise when you’re applying the words for eternal torment and eternal condemnation to people and things?  Was Wisconsin really so different?

I knew no one yet; no one from my high school was there.  There was only one other South Bender on the whole campus, and I only knew his first name–I didn’t know him.  More people from South Bend would go there over the following years, but not many, and none from my high school.

I’d met my adviser, Counselor Dude, back in March on an early enrollment day for prospective freshmen.  To a shy seventeen-year-old, he was an imposing figure: pipe-smoking (already a shocking thing to find on a Christian campus), and all-around–well, imposing.

Nonchalant, apparently amused by my shyness and nervousness, but without laughing about it, barely even cracking a smile.  You could see the amusement in his eyes.  More about him later.

The school did special meals all week for us.  On Tuesday morning they played cool dance music during “Rock-and-Roll Breakfast.”  “This is a journey into sound” the dance song said as Heidi bent her knees to the beat, while I waited behind her in line.

I’d never heard the song [“Paid in Full” by Eric B and Rakim, “7 Minutes of Madness” remix by Coldcut] before: It came out while I only listened to Christian rock.  I would only hear a snippet of it during the next 9 years at least, but I did remember the repeated phrase and the beat.  The guy playing it, whom I will mention later, was in charge of the radio station.

On Wednesday the 4th from 8 to 9pm, there was a comedian in the Muskie, some guy whom nobody had heard of before.  I went with Candice and her friend Laura to see him.

He was vulgar and cussed a lot. He said any of us (men and women both) would sleep with so-and-so if offered a million dollars.  I said to Candice that this is certainly not true, and how can he get away with saying these things on a Christian campus?

His only good joke was about Wisconsin weather.  He said that no matter what the weather, if it’s not snowing, people will greet each other with, “At least it’s not snowing!”  I remembered this line over the years, and sometimes still use it.

In 1999 or 2000, I flipped to Comedy Central and saw Drew Carey doing stand-up comedy.  Not only was he terribly vulgar and cussed a lot, but he said that any of us (men and women both) would sleep with so-and-so if offered a million dollars.

What the heck?

Some time later, while working on these memoirs and going through my Orientation Week schedule, I discovered the Muskie comedian was Drew Carey!  How strange–I hated that guy’s routine, yet I now loved the shows Drew Carey and Whose Line Is It Anyway!  Of course, those shows were tame compared to his stand-up.

We had Playfair in the Wehr Center, the gym.  The name sounds like “where,” so frequently through the years people would say, “Where?” as a joke.  The speaker was a much wilder woman than the first speaker, demonstrative, with playful dress, hair, and voice.  She told us how to make friends, and gave us icebreaker games to play to acquaint us with each other.

Whenever someone broke a glass in the cafeteria, they would be applauded and cheered, especially by the jocks.  In Playfair, the speaker told us, “Around here, you get cheered if you drop a glass in the cafeteria.  But whenever you’re feeling lonely or down, instead of dropping a glass, yell out, ‘I need a standing ovation!’  And then everyone will give you one and make you feel better.”

I don’t think anyone actually did this, though they did occasionally break a glass.  Even I broke a glass once, and yes, people did applaud.

Afterwards was ice cream and hot chocolate.  I met Jennifer here.  She, a pretty blonde with delicate features, was just as shy and nice as the rest of us freshmen.  We hit it right off and had a long chat.

I went to the bathroom, and came back to find that Heidi had already left, along with almost everyone else I knew even a little.  I had to find my way back to Friedli in the dark.

I had a map but–whether because of a nonverbal learning disorder or because of freshman unfamiliarity–it confused me, so I wandered around for a while.   In the dark, I didn’t see the suites so well–even though they were right across the parking lot from Wehr.

I finally got “home” to find Heidi, her friend Paul, and Paul’s hearing-guide dog, Maizie, on the lawn.  Heidi got upset with herself for not watching out for me.  I tried to say it was all right, because getting lost so close to the suites made me laugh.  But she didn’t listen to me.

Meeting Shawn–and a Ninja

On the afternoon of Friday the 6th, “Picnic Dinner” was outside the Campus Center and on the lawn between the Center and the library.  I sat with Heidi, Nicole, an Asian woman, and a freshman named Shawn.

He went on and on about the movie Terminator 2.  The complexity of the time-travel plot made me want to see what Shawn called T2.

Shawn said, “Here I am, surrounded by foreign girls, all listening to me, when usually people don’t listen to me.  And you,” he said to me.  “You’re from France, right?”

“No, I’m from Indiana,” I said.

I think he later said I was so quiet he thought I didn’t know English very well.

“Here’s something that’s supposed to help you remember things.”  He went over to a pole and hit his head against it.

In one of these mealtime conversations, as we sat with some foreign exchange students, Shawn said, “Now I’m internationally known because you guys know me.”

My first impression–later proven to be wrong–was that he seemed like a guy I had a crush on in high school.

Just like that guy, Shawn liked Christian music, the same kind I liked (rock and metal), and sci-fi.  That guy also liked Doctor Who, so I asked Shawn if he watched it.

He said he watched it with his brother, but they didn’t show it around here.  Life without Doctor Who?  It couldn’t be!

(It wasn’t: The Wisconsin PBS stations in the area did show both it and Blake’s Seven every Sunday evening until 1992 or 1993.)

I started asking him questions, wondering if he had any other similarities to my old crush.

The others eventually left.  The two of us moved into the Campus Center lounge after dinner, standing near the doorway and talking about various things, such as Christian rock.  He did most of the talking, which was usual for him.

This was the first person like me I had found, someone who shunned cuss words and listened to Christian music, the type of person I’d expected to be far more common on a Christian campus.

Impressed, I wondered what my future was with this guy: friend? boyfriend? classmate?

I found a strange state of things in my years there: In a way it seemed less Christian than even my public high school, but in other ways it seemed easier to find Christians.  Maybe we sought each other out.

Shawn began analyzing my personality, uninvited–and was right on target, even though he’d just met me.

He told me I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend with my shy, reserved ways.  He could tell from the way I sat that I was a new, timid freshman who didn’t know anybody yet.  You could also tell the freshmen because they stared at their shoes while standing, he said.

(I thought of a time when I went to a meal with Tom, who I sort of liked already, but as he stood talking to his senior friends, I only looked at my shoes to make sure they weren’t untied.)

He tried to tell me how to change my timid ways.  Shawn said he wanted to see me at the dance tonight, saying hi to people I didn’t even know.  He wanted to see a different me.  Already he was dissatisfied and wanted to change me into someone I was not.

As a person on a Usenet forum once commented, telling a painfully shy person to start talking to strangers is like asking her to sprout wings and fly.

What Shawn said made me uncomfortable, especially since I’d felt so outgoing and proud of myself the past few days.  Just look at how many strangers I’d already chatted with since I came on campus!  Did I really need such advice?

But I didn’t know how to make him stop.  I was attracted to him with his dark hair and Irish blue eyes, so I didn’t want to walk away.

(No, I wasn’t attracted to every single guy on campus; I’m just not telling you about everybody I met.)

Shawn and I later moved outside to the drive by Grossheusch, probably so he could get to his room and do homework.

Having lied about being sick to get out of work that night for the dance, and having decided to come to the campus early because his parents bored him, another freshman drove up into the nearby parking lot near Grossh.  He told his parents he was going to campus to study, not telling them his true plans to dance.

He drove a blue Lynx, probably at least five years old, FYZ on the license plate, which he read as “Fine Young Zephyr.”  (He and his mom had this game of making words from people’s license plates, which you can do in Wisconsin.  Indiana only has numbers on its plates.)

In the first two days of classes, this young man had met Shawn in Freshman Studies.

The young man saw us.  He wanted someone to talk to, and thought I was pretty.  (Up until 1994, when a hair stylist cut several inches off and I had to grow it out again, my hair reached my waist.)  While Shawn was still giving me unwanted advice about going up to people I didn’t know, the young man came up to us and Shawn said,

“And here’s someone taking my advice, right here.”

The new guy gave us his name: Peter.  He, too, reminded me of somebody I knew in high school, though he was actually nothing like him.  Peter loved my long hair.

Peter and Shawn had Expository Writing class together, and talked a little about that.  Peter jokingly accused Shawn of “diarrhea of the mouth,” or incessant talking.  Peter kept looking at me, so I could tell he was attracted to me.

Though many times I thought a guy liked me when he did not (probably because of NVLD), a few times I knew that a guy liked me.  This was one of those times.

First he thought, “Boy, is she shy.”  Then later on he thought, “Boy, is she nice!”

I preferred Shawn, though: Peter cussed a lot and at the oddest times, which I didn’t like.  However, Peter had gorgeous brown eyes that slanted like a cat’s.  (I later found that like cats, he could even see in the dark when there was some light.)

His hair was jet-black at birth, turned blond, and was now a very dark brown which looked black when he used hair spray on his unruly locks.  When his bangs came loose to cover his forehead, he looked like a high-school boy.  When they were combed off to the side and still held by hair spray, he looked his age, almost 19.

“Have you heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Peter asked us.

Of course.  Everybody had.  It was a cartoon which was so popular among children that it really annoyed adults.

“You know what a ninja is?  I am one.”  He was third-degree black belt and had been studying for five years.

As Candace would say, What the heck?

He took us over to his little car and showed us the ninja staff, throwing stars and sword in his trunk.  He had made all these things himself.  Shawn picked up one of the stars.

“This is a little off-balance,” he said.  You’re a little off-balance, he might have thought, setting the tone of their relationship for the next two years.

Two young black men walked by the parking lot.  “They made fun of the way I was dressed earlier,” Shawn said.  He called to them, “Hey, is this better?”  He joined them.  (He later said he could see the “ball and chain” in my eyes, and passed me off to Peter instead.)

Peter and I looked at each other.  He walked me back to the suites as we kept chatting.  He told me he took German once.  “Are you going to the dance tonight?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I might, just for something to do.”

He thought the dance was at 8:00, though it was really 8:30.  “If you’re not at the dance by 8:30, I’m coming to get you,” he said.  We said good-bye in German.

He went to the commuter suite, and I went to the German suite.  He knew where I lived, but I, alas, only knew he was a commuter and might be found in the commuter suite sometimes.

That evening, at the last minute I realized I didn’t know how to dress for a dance.  I’d been raised in the days when Nazarenes weren’t supposed to dance, though some did.  Recently I’d begun to think that dancing and going to movies weren’t so wrong, depending on how you did it or what movies you saw.  And even the Nazarene Church now let people make up their own minds about it.

I enlisted Latosha’s help.

We went through my closet, finally choosing a white shirt and red skort.  Latosha rolled up one or both of my sleeves halfway, and bloused my shirt by pulling it out of my skirt a bit.  She said this was the fashion.

I needed dancing shoes, since my white dress shoes were too tight for dancing all night.  My only other shoes were boat shoes, which didn’t seem proper for dancing.  (Never assume that every woman has a shoe fetish, despite the stereotype which even women believe.)

Heidi wandered in, wondering what was taking us so long. She lent me a pair of dancing shoes.  They had sole inserts, one of which kept slipping.  It gave me a bloody foot.

Latosha lent me a white, cloth headband, one of those 60s fashions which were so popular in 1991.  (Maybe Deee-Lite started it?)  I told Heidi and Latosha that it wasn’t a date, just two friends going to a dance.  Time went by so fast that it got late.

We set off, meeting Peter along the way.  He complimented our clothes.  Heidi gave me a knowing look; she could tell Peter wasn’t just a friend.

“I was just coming to get you,” he said to me.  “Frank was waiting for Heidi.  He told me so, and I said, ‘I’m waiting for someone, too.’  Where were you?”

We went in the Campus Center, which was in a straight line from the suites.  On the top floor was Bossard Hall, the cafeteria.

During meals, a stool and cash register sat by the food line door, where a Food Service worker sat to check ID’s.  She pushed a little counter-clicker if you had a meal plan sticker on your ID, or took your money if you were a commuter.

On the bottom floor was the Campus Center Lounge and TV, where you’d find Ren and Stimpy (sophomore year), MTV (which often played music videos in those days), soap operas, or game shows playing.  I heard a soap opera club would meet there every day to watch Days of Our Lives.

Now we all went into Bossard, which had been cleared of tables and darkened.  A DJ from Chicago, Mirage, played cool dance music such as “Groovy Train” by the Farm (if that song had come out yet).  He also played songs I had never expected to hear on any Christian campus, such as “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd.

Peter and I walked over to the refreshment table.  “Do you want to dance?” he said.

“I don’t know how,” I said.

“I’ll teach you,” he said.

I ignored the songs I didn’t like so he could teach me how to dance.  He said I was so good I could go on Star Search, though I felt awkward and kept watching our feet to see if I was stepping right.  He was a crazy dancer who liked to show off.

Once, we got drinks again, Mountain Dew for me, then went outside to cool off and sit.  We talked for some time.  I asked his name again.  I laughed when he told me.  I said, “When I think of the name ‘Peter,’ I think of this guy at my church who plays the saxophone, leads the music and has big muscles.”

Mist began rolling over the campus in the darkness.  Peter said it looked like a sea.  Unknown to me, he had begun to really fall for me during our first or second dance.

While dancing, I saw a tipsy Candice near the front of the cafeteria, spinning around with her arms outstretched to the song “End of the World” by REM.

I loved the music played at the dances in those days, which was usually dance and Top 40.  Rap was played as well, but Peter didn’t know how to dance to that, so we sat out during those songs.

But rap music began to take over the dances.  I remember one dance later in the semester when we sat out every song until we finally got up and left.

To my shock, in among all those secular songs and sex songs, “Addictive Love” by BeBe and CeCe Winans began to play.  Peter told me it had crossed over onto secular stations.  I wasn’t sure I liked this song about God’s love being used like a human love song, but hey, at least people realized that it was just as good as any secular song.

We danced our first slow-dance to this.  (Because of this, I’m not entirely sure if this was the September 6 dance or the next dance we went to, after we became a couple.  It was probably the latter.)

To our shock and disgust, we saw couples practically having sex on the dance floor as part of their “dance.”  This was far worse than the kind in Dirty Dancing.  About ten years later, I learned that it’s called “freaking.”

Later, we went to the Muskie Inn, a fast-food place in the room next to Bossard.  Peter got a sample of my ravenous appetite.  I wasn’t fat, though if I kept eating like that I soon would be.

He bought me some fries because I was already hungry, unlike him, and we both got some pop–or soda, as he called it.  In the future, we would often have a friendly war over words, saying “pop” and “soda” or “jam box” and “boom box” to each other as if the loudest one won.

Above the counter in the Muskie was a trophy muskie fish.  In the middle of the Muskie was a fireplace.  In the front, by the windows and opposite the counter, was a stereo TV.

All around on the walls were black-and-white and color photographs blown up and put on large, wooden mounts, depicting Muskie Inn and campus activities going all the way back to probably the 50s or 60s.

Peter and I sat in a booth along one wall.  One picture from the 50s or 60s showed students in one of these booths.  One showed students getting muddy during Homecoming or May Celebration activities.  This may have been the one with the pig.  One showed someone with a clown-painted face.

The big stereo TV had all the newest amenities, such as a digital control panel.  But you had to sit in certain places in the room to see it properly, places which centered the picture for you and weren’t on the left or right.  If you went too far in one direction, you saw red lines around everything; too far in the other direction, blue lines.

Shawn found us there and, to my discomfort, joined us.

“I see you two have hit it off,” he said.  To his relief, as I learned later.  He seemed to think I needed a weird guy “to take care of.”  He was oddly perceptive, because I did want a weird guy–probably because I loved Tom Baker’s Doctor Who so much.

After the dance, I followed Candice and her friend Laura to Krueger, where Laura lived on a floor below a noisy freshman floor (third floor) where girls stomped on their floors in the middle of the night and kept her awake.

Peter hoped to go to my suite, but I didn’t know this.  When he saw us going toward the women’s dorm, he said good-bye for the night.  Of course, he could have come with us, but I guess he didn’t know this at the time.

I still insisted to Candice and Laura that it was not a date, but then Candice said, “It took me what, a year? to find Jeff.  Laura still hasn’t found anyone yet.  You’re lucky, Nyssa: You found someone right away.”

I had a crush on Shawn despite the discomfort and even one on Tom, but you know, I did kind of like this guy Peter, after all.

Campus Stories, Wisconsin, Campus Radio Station 

In place of the former requirement to speak German for an hour a day, the suite had German meetings, which eventually would be known as Swiss meetings because Heidi was Swiss and she mostly taught us about Switzerland.  Sometimes they were called suite meetings.

Swiss meetings were whenever we could all fit them into our schedules.  Sometimes they were in the suite, and sometimes they were in classrooms which Heidi would reserve.

Once, Heidi showed us slides from Switzerland and a wagon full of little girls she had taught and brought on a field trip.  I noticed that they were all blonde, and I wondered if there were many brunettes in Switzerland.

We studied Switzerland: its division of languages, government and culture.  We also learned some German.  We learned the Swiss joke that they were a neutral country because they liked fighting too much.  We also learned some phrases in French, German and Italian.

A couple of times at the very beginning of the year, Tom and I were the only ones able to go to the meeting.  Heidi tried to teach us some German words for foods.  Then Tom asked with his characteristic grin,

“Do you know some dirty words in German, eh, Heidi?”

“Well–Yes.  There’s this word…”  She gave us the word for, well, you know, the sh– word.

I even wrote it down in my little German dictionary so I would recognize it if necessary, and not use it.  (After all, some kids in my high school had once told a foreign exchange student that the f— word meant hello.)

Then she quizzed us on the words.  Tom only remembered Sch–βe.

“I try to teach you German, and this is the only word you remember!” Heidi cried.

In another meeting, Heidi took the two of us into a classroom in the 103-year-old building of Old Main.  Here she told Tom and me the German names for countries on a map on the wall.  Tom began singing “Albania.”  And, of course, what really interested Tom was the drinking age in those places.

I had a tiny crush on Tom, but his preoccupation with drinking worried me. I was a teetotaling Nazarene, and didn’t want a guy who drank alcohol.  I’d heard nothing from Peter for some days now, though he knew where I lived and I didn’t have his number.  (I didn’t know he stopped in once while I wasn’t there.)

I began to think we were just friends at a dance and that I’d never see him again, so Tom gained prominence in my heart.  Shawn still interested me, too; I sometimes sat with him at lunch.


Three of my classes were in Old Main, and German was in Jubilee.  Old Main was a beautiful building, the one in which miscellaneous classes were held.  It went back to the days when RC was still Mission House Seminary, and German was the language spoken there.

Like almost all the buildings on campus, Old Main was said to be haunted.  There were three floors plus the basement, all with classrooms, but the third floor was the spookiest because it was the main haunt.  The stairs to it were even warped.

The second floor Honors room was said to have lights in it after dark.  The first floor had one room, 14, that seemed like it could be haunted, but its main offense was its ugly, 70s-orange-red and yellow paint.

(These colors worked much better on the outer walls than on the classroom walls.  On the outside, they were beautiful colors for the building; on the inside, they were garish.)

The legends of the ghost, passed down by the faculty, differed; some said it was a cleaning lady, some said it was a former professor.  One legend said it was a composer who died of a heart attack while composing a song: This ghostly song would play up until the point he died, then pause, then finish as it would have been written had he lived.

On the second floor, teachers sometimes wrote things on the board early in the morning, only to find them erased a few minutes later.  No one else was in the building at the time.  Chairs in a room were sometimes found all turned around.

Of course, I remember myself and the InterVarsity group turning around all the chairs in ugly room 14 once–but that was the first floor, not the second where the ghost supposedly did this.

More concrete features of Old Main: It had one large tower over an entrance.  After a rain, I sometimes stood at the bottom, looked up the face of the tower to the very top, and watched raindrops fall the long, slow drop to the ground below.

I don’t remember if this tower had a belfry, but bats did often invade the building.  In my junior year, as I sat in the Honors room during Advanced Composition with Counselor Dude, I saw a black form flit by the open doorway.  I kept watching to see what it was, until a bat flew into the room.

Several of my classmates shrieked (I think all or most of us were female in that class), but I thought it was great.  I didn’t think of the rabies threat; this didn’t come to mind until late 2004, when a teenage girl in Fond du Lac, WI nearly died of rabies from a bat scratch.

Finally, the excitement ended when the bat flew out of the room and Counselor Dude shut the door.

Another fascinating feature of Old Main was an old, German plaque on the wall on the first floor.  It went back almost to when the building was built, and had German names on it such as Muehlmeier.

This is how I learned that some buildings were named after people.  The words “geboren” (born) and “gestorben” (died) after the names showed this to be a memorial from the days when German almost became the official language of Wisconsin.

Later in the year, Latosha told us the college wanted to move radio station WVRC to Old Main on the third floor.  They told her the DJ’s late at night would be safely behind locked doors, but she said, “I’d be afraid of something poking its head in!”–meaning a ghost, of course.

This room became the A/V room.  Here, Lake TV would broadcast school announcements and, later, class cancellations, movies, and student-made music videos.

Freshman year, as Peter told me, a student accidentally played part of a porno movie.  He put in a tape of another movie recorded over the porno, but the movie wasn’t long enough to cover up the porno.

The college had dug up long strips all over campus in the year before, and put in wires to transmit the radio station to several buildings on campus.  Some of them were by the suites, now growing grass back in.  They used this method rather than a regular radio signal.

But other buildings still couldn’t get WVRC.  They were supposed to be hooked up before the end of the year, but never were.  The radio station was eventually reduced to DJ’s hosting dances around campus.

Peter and I wanted to be co-DJ’s.  He wanted to call us “Rock ‘n’ Robin”; I wanted to play Christian rock, such as Steve Taylor, Mastodon and Greg X. Volz, mixed in with secular music such as MC Hammer and Metallica.  But this never happened because the station never officially made it to the air.

I signed up to be a DJ before I started dating Peter.  I heard about it after dinner from a junior who lamented to Heidi, Latosha, Paul, Maizie and me the probability of not getting enough DJ’s.  We were walking outside Chase, the science building.  I was interested.  Heidi waved at me as if to say, “Here’s one!”  So we all walked over to the radio room, which was in Chase at that time.

We looked around at the few records there, mostly secular.  I don’t remember if there were any CD’s.  Yes, my younger readers, this was back in the Stone Age, when a record could be only a year or two old.

Latosha stuck an MC Hammer record on the turntables, playing around with the dials and switches.  She said “Testing, WVRC, testing” into the microphone.  We played around with the equipment, testing it out and playing music.

We had a great time–until Latosha discovered the broadcast switch was on.  Oh, shoot.

“The FCC requires us to say this when we finish broadcasting,” she said, grabbing a paper with the FCC spiel printed on it.  “WVRC is now ending its broadcast.  WVRC broadcasts at a frequency of….” etc., etc.  She flicked off the switch.  “That’s probably the shortest broadcast WVRC’s ever made,” she said.  I wonder if anybody heard it.

Jubilee, once a men’s dorm, was now the office building.  On one floor stood a door with a padlock and a “Caution” sign.  A flight of stairs leading to it was also blocked off with a sign.

I didn’t know where these stairs were (though Peter did, and went up them once, the rebellious spirit that he was), but I often passed the door, especially when teacher Ruth moved German class from Old Main to a conference room on third-floor Jubilee.

That door scared me.  I had to pass it to go to the ladies’ room, where I always feared something would come through the walls:

The year before I came, this door had locks and signs all over it.  It led to an old frat room, supposedly haunted.  Also behind the door had been the office of a professor who left before I came.  According to the stories, he’d say the office was haunted, but no one would believe him.

Latosha and some friends had gone into the old frat room, but it freaked them out.  There was some sort of frat symbol on the floor, and it was all dusty and dirty and had rat or bat droppings here and there.

Julie told me that in Muehlmeier in maybe 1990 or 1991, a guy supposedly overdosed on drugs and probably died.  They (whoever they were) set his body down in the hallway by the stairs.  When they came back, the body had disappeared.  (Maybe he wasn’t really dead?)

A star football player had died on the football field in a freak accident: he was hit a certain way during a routine tackle, snapping his neck or injuring his spine.  Now the field was haunted.

A student had died in the campus lake one year.  I don’t know the year, possibly in the 70s, but it was during a college picnic.  Counselor Dude was in a boat while this boy swam around.  The currents took him under, and he drowned.

This had been one of Counselor Dude’s favorite students; he was distraught.  Soon after, the school put up the “No Lifeguard on Duty–Swim at Your Own Risk” sign.

Even the Sigma suite had a ghost, Dr. Joes.  The Sigmas stole a Girl Scout sign in April 1998 from someone else who’d stolen it.  It flew off the wall, just missed the pool table, rolled in a circle on the floor three times, and lay still.  Other information, such as the significance of the number three, was a Sigma secret.

There was also supposed to be moaning in the Krueger tunnels, which were under or beside the basement and led to some other building.  I never went near the tunnels, so I never heard the moaning.

A room on the first floor of Krueger, now the RA supply room, was supposedly haunted.  On the first or second floor, probably the RA supply room, a girl–supposedly, again–hung herself.  The next year, another girl did the same thing there.

So the school no longer assigned this room to anyone, and made it into a supply room.  At least, so I was told.  Latosha once said that the stories may or may not have been true, but that Old Main was the one building she thought truly haunted.  This was also the general consensus.


Milwaukee was about an hour away.  Whenever I thought of Milwaukee in those days, I thought of Laverne and Shirley.  I thought of the way they talked and the things they did, especially in the opening credits–just like the parody in the movie Wayne’s World.  I’d see a clock from the Interstate that looked like the big clock in the opening credits.  I’d see the German-style buildings and the beautiful spires on the old, German churches.

For a South Bender who never changed clocks before, dealing with Daylight Savings time changes was a huge adjustment, especially when the sun began setting around four instead of five during winter.

“Wisconsin has an accent?” my mom cried when I talked to her on the phone a week or two after I first arrived at Roanoke.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

And what an accent!  From town to town, from county to county, the accents differed.  And S– Well, that was the strongest one of all, especially among the older residents.  When I first came to college, I told my mom my accent was “pure,” South Bend, and that might change.

South Bend, it’s said, has no accent: We talk like TV people (other than saying “Wes-consin”).  Some have called us boring, therefore.  But I always liked the way I talked, and tried to resist the Wisconsinization of my own accent.

It didn’t work.  Despite my efforts, now abandoned, I’ve noticed the infiltration here and there of local accents.  Peter used to tease me by saying, “It’s changing!”

The basic accent is this: Purse your lips as tightly as you can and say “oh.” That’s their “o” sound.  If you say a one-syllable word with the “o” sound in it, such as “boat,” it ends up sounding like two syllables–“boa-it.”

And the word “sound”–the Canadian influence is enough that it sounds like “sonde.”  “About” sounds like “a boat.”   “Pop” is often “soda.”  The “th” in “the” is often replaced by “d.”  A “th” at the end of a word, in the strongest accents, becomes a “t.”

There’s a strong mix here between the German of the original settlers and the northern, more Canadian influence.  And then there’s the prevalence of “ya,” “once,” “der hey,” “ya shoor (sure) you betcha,” and “enso”: “Let’s go once to S–, der hey!”  “Ya der hey, enso!”

“Ya” is “yeah,” pronounced like the German “ja.”

Instead of saying, “I’m going to my grandma’s house” or “I’m going to Pick-N-Save,” you say, “I’m going by my grandma’s house,” or “I’m going by Pick-N-Save.”  The reply from non-Wisconsinites is often, “Okay, so you’re going to wave as you go by?”

Plus, the “t” sound in words is harder, more pronounced.  The long “a” sound is–well, it starts to sound more like the standard long “e” sound.

The “ar” sound is harsh and short.  The long “e” sound is more like “ih.”

“Good” has a long “oo” sound instead of the short, clipped version.

If you’ve ever heard Da Yoopers songs, supposedly done by people from around upper Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan, that’s the accent to the extreme.

They also say “boom box” instead of “jam box.”

I would also hear “rut” for “root” and “roof” instead of “ruf.”  In South Bend, we say it “root” and “ruf.”  In Wisconsin, “bag” is pronounced with a long “a” sound.

In the school library was an old book which documented the Wisconsin accents and words from city to city, and such words as “bubbler.”  This was a treasure trove for linguists.

“Brat” and “bubbler” weren’t the only new terms.  S– had “hard rolls”; Peter’s parents, who lived in K–, called sloppy joes “hot tamales.”

I later discovered that, at least in the Wisconsin city where I moved to, garage/yard sales were called “rummage sales.”  I’d always thought of rummage sales as something churches did.

Another strange term was “stop-and-go light” instead of “stoplight.”

My friends and I had our own little accents because most of us weren’t from S–.

Pearl had a Kenosha accent, which wasn’t like anyone else’s, as Sharon said once.  Hers was a little closer to Illinois, though still a Wisconsin accent.  It seemed more highbrow, somehow.  I believe she’d pronounce all three syllables of “probably.”  She wouldn’t say “really” as “rilly,” like everybody else–she’d say it “real-ly.”

Sharon, from Madison, said “room” like “rum.”

Just as you could tell someone wasn’t from Illinois if they pronounced the S, you could tell someone wasn’t from Milwaukee if they pronounced the L.  Because of this, I learned to not pronounce the L so I wouldn’t sound so much like an outsider, just as I had once learned to say “LOO-uh-vull” instead of “LOO-ee-vill” for Louisville, KY.


Cheese, dairy products, and the Green Bay Packers rule in Wisconsin.  Often, the Roanoke cafeteria even served fish with cheese on it.  Cheese on fish!  Wisconsin is also a land of Friday fish fries and brat fries.  It has a popular snack, mozzarella sticks, which I’d never seen before.  And a cheese ball is a little ball of snacking cheese, not a big ball of cheese spread.

S– is mostly white.  At Roanoke, however, there were minorities in large numbers, students from all over the world, people from different ethnic groups–even more than what I was used to back in integrated South Bend.

It was odd, though, to hear mostly foreign accents from Asian students.  I was used to Asian students who were born in this country and had South Bend accents.

I overheard that there was so little snow you’d see dirty brown (not green, brown) and wish for snow to cover it up.  This was so different from home, where there was lots of snow, so much you got sick of it.  “Spring thaw” really meant something.

To my surprise, big red squirrels, which were the only kind in South Bend, were rare here.  In predominance were little gray squirrels.

When riding through the countryside in Peter’s car, I had plenty of time to notice various things: Wisconsin had some different trees and foliage than Indiana, especially around K–, and the barn roofs were shaped like pentagons (gambrel roofs) instead of the simple triangle of Indiana and Michigan barn roofs.  This was an obvious Old World influence, probably German.

In the cities, such as K– and Milwaukee, you’d see German-style churches and split timbers.

It was strange to me that Wisconsin cars have two license plates: one in front and one in back.  Indiana cars only have one, and that’s generally put in back.  Not only that, but the Wisconsin license plates have three letters and three numbers, rather than a whole series of numbers.  It took a lot of getting used to.

People from Wisconsin go on and on about how flat Indiana is.  Well, in the northern part where I grew up, it’s hilly.

When I went to Wisconsin and Peter started driving me around, especially to K– and thereabouts, the first thing that impressed me was that Wisconsin was flat.  When I told this to Peter, he cried out, “Wisconsin is flat???!!!”

Of course, when I saw more of Wisconsin in the years to follow, I began to see that it had many hilly spots as well.  But from what I had seen so far, yeah, it was flat as a pancake, while my home in Indiana had rolling hills.

I thought the view outside the car windows was boring when it got dismal and gray in the fall and winter.  When there was dense fog, it looked like the end of the earth.

So there.

All the festivals seem to be called “fest”: Lakefest, Oktoberfest (which was, of course, German), Summerfest (huge music festival in Milwaukee).  Back home, they might be called festivals, but I think they were rarely called fests.  It must be the German influence, or Oktoberfest’s popularity at the very least.

Campus, People, First College Boyfriend 

On campus, a sea of grass–or, often, snow–surrounded Old Main on the way to Krueger.  An old, grass-overgrown stone path cut across this sea to Old Main.  It was popular for Krueger- and suite-dwellers going to classes in Old Main, being much quicker than the sidewalk, which took the long way around.

The view on the way to the Campus Center and to Chase was absolutely gorgeous and serene, especially when everything was green.  My favorite view was the trees beyond the Campus Center, in a swampy area with rushes.  The sky was huge, since it didn’t have a neighborhood of houses blocking out most of it.

I was amazed at the beauty I could see every day just walking to meals, and that even in winter, when South Bend skies were always white or gray, the skies here were often blue.

Ever since at least as far back as my teens, I loved to look at the clouds.  I noted that the prettiest sky was so blue that white clouds showed in sharp relief against it.  But I also loved that the sky nearer the horizon was lighter by shades, and that one of these shades looked just like the Crayola sky-blue crayon.

My room had windows along the wall by which Candice slept, which was opposite the door.  They faced the Wehr Center, suites parking lot, and football field.

In the woods in the distance, beyond the Wehr Center, was a lone evergreen which stuck out like a beautiful, green, sore thumb while the leaves on the trees all around it turned colors and died.

I could also see the tennis court, which was right there beside the suites, and Candice practicing there with the tennis team.  Peter usually parked below my window.

Even though we were out in the country and far away from the nearest store, the campus bookstore did not carry milk or various other essentials.  It had some things, such as a few kinds of pads or razors or shampoo or soap, but not enough to get you through without stocking up during each vacation at home.  You either had to ride the campus van to town or hitch a ride with a friend.

(The college finally installed a mini-mart in the Campus Center–after I graduated.  I believe it took over at least part of the Muskie Inn, unfortunately.)

I heard once that, though the speed bumps in the drives were high, they were nowhere near as high as they used to be.  The story went that they had been so high they ruined the bottom of your car, until one night the football players came along and fixed the situation.  I forget if they shaved them off or removed them, but the school apparently got the message.

The guys on campus had all sorts of odd names: There was Paco and Taco, Derf, Wheels, and this guy in my orientation group who said, “Call me Doc.”

Roanoke did not just provide an intellectual education.  With all the international students, we could learn something about cultures as well.  For example, some of the international students, including Stefan and probably Heidi, put mayonnaise on their fries instead of ketchup.  Also, many Asians complained that the cafeteria desserts were too sweet.

Not that the food was bad.  We had a real chef in charge of the cafeteria, and the food, though not home-cooking, was far better than public school food.  Even the pizza and hamburgers were delicious, not pieces of bread with unpalatable smears of dead-white stuff and tasteless sausages on the top, or vile soyburger laxatives on bread (instead of a bun).

Until now, the idea of “school-made pizza,” always written on meal boards in large letters or special punctuation as if it were a student favorite, had filled me with horror.  Now, it was almost as good as Pizza Hut pizza.  We even got garlic bread along with it.

We also had steak and crab leg nights, and perfect baked potatoes.  The college would even cater banquets held in the cafeteria, and the food would be good–though we noted that the food got better on event days when large numbers of guests came to campus.

Ecumenical services were held in tiny Ley Chapel on Wednesdays at 11am.  The sanctuary was beautiful, in its wooden, A-shaped room with a glass wall that looked out over pine trees and the lake.  The wall was behind the podium and a stand with an open Bible on it, so you could look out during the service and see the beauty and serenity of God’s creation.  It did help get you in the mood to worship.

There were three frats: Zeta Chi (Zetas), Mu Lamda Sigma (Sigmas), and Beta Sigma Omega (Betas).  There were two sororities: Phi Delta Omega (Phi-Delts) and Pi Kappa Gamma (Pi-Kapps).

The Zetas were sometimes known as the “geek” frat, Sigmas as the “jock” frat, and Betas as the minority frat (since the Beta frat was specifically for minorities).

The sororities didn’t really have such titles, though junior year the Phi-Delts were known as the “Bible beaters” even though that was not at all true.  They partied, too.  But Pi-Kapps partied hard and made their pledges do worse things than Phi-Delt pledges had to do.  Phi-Delts didn’t like Pi-Kapps.

I had my Radio Shack digital alarm clock which allowed me to use military time.  So, since I never did want to be exactly like everybody else, and since I had done this during high school, I kept it on military time.  Other people would see the turquoise-blue readout saying “20:05” or whatever and do a double-take.  But I was used to it, and could tell at a glance what time it was.

On weekday mornings, I set my clock for 8:00, then pushed the snooze button.  Since the snooze button was for nine minutes, the alarm would go off again at 8:09.  I figured that was as late as I could sleep without being late, so that’s when I got up.  So when Peter asked me what time I got up in the morning, I told him 8:09.

At first, he thought it funny that I said “8:09” instead of “8:10” or “8:00.”  Later on, he started getting annoyed with me for giving the exact time whenever he asked me what time it was.  I could not understand why: He asked the time, and I answered.  I didn’t say “quarter till 4,” I said “3:46.”  I never saw any reason to do it differently.

I couldn’t tell you if this was me being overly precise, Peter being overly critical, or my nonverbal learning disability making me look at things literally.  But it made me happy, and no one else ever complained about it, so I saw no reason to change it.

I also alphabetized my tapes and, later, my CDs and videotapes.  Once, when Peter accidentally messed up the order of my tapes, he thought my dismay was funny.  But alphabetizing was time-consuming, and gave me some order, something I could control in a confusing and often hostile world.


Now for some descriptions of people:

Roanoke was a good experience in that it taught me to be more comfortable around the disabled, and that they were just the same as everybody else.  There was Paul with his hearing aid and Maizie, my sophomore year roommate with her hearing problems, Pearl with her scooter and crutches, and the blind girl, Jean.

Jean didn’t even use a guide dog, just a cane, which she always swung in front of her as she walked.  (Once, Peter had to leap into the air to avoid getting whacked by her cane.)  She got around without anyone’s help.  She just needed help with her tray, and the cafeteria ladies provided it, sitting her down with various people whom they thought were nice, such as my group of friends.

I was shy around her, rarely speaking unless spoken to, but I was the exact same way around everybody else I barely knew, too, so I hope she didn’t think I was being prejudiced.  Sure I feel bad about it, since I should have said something, but I froze up the same way I still freeze up around strangers.

The cafeteria ladies used to help my friend Pearl with her tray as well, but by the next semester, Pearl’s friends started doing this instead.  Pearl didn’t complain about her rheumatoid arthritis; she had strength to go about life as normally as possible.  She also got better grades than I did, had lots more friends, was a beautiful blonde, and seemed outgoing.

I began saying that her room was “Party Central,” because whenever I went there, there’d be people.  (She’d call herself shy and introverted, but to me, she was a social butterfly.)  Every time I went somewhere and saw her scooter sitting outside the building, I’d get excited because she was there.

The best way to describe Anna is as a black Pentecostal.  She loved to praise God and do it loud.  She was fun to talk to, especially about spiritual things.  She was greatly respected, even by non-Christians, and people seemed to let her talk about God even when they weren’t interested.

Latosha once said that whenever she had a problem, she had Anna pray about it because she seemed to have a direct line to God.

Even though Anna knew God didn’t require it, and apparently even her church didn’t require it even though it was Pentecostal, she wore only skirts, no pants, because she believed it helped keep her focused on God.  She did have short hair, which was always curled under–not a pageboy, exactly, because it was curled all around her face.

When I missed the birds from home, she said she had only one: the Milwaukee pigeon.

Paul, who I believe was a year or two ahead of me, had a hearing guide dog named Maizie, as I’ve mentioned before.  Maizie was sweet and a mooch, always wanting attention, petting, and tidbits.

Paul stopped taking her to meals as much because she would get soft from all the attention, and not be as good of a guide dog for him.  But we loved to have her around, especially with the ban on pets in the dorms.


For the first few months of college, news of the outside world seemed to go into a black hole.  Without a newspaper, and with dating and studies, world news seemed unimportant; I didn’t even keep up through TV news or CNN.  College life seemed much more interesting.

Though people keep telling freshmen to get involved in organizations on campus to help them feel more at home and interested in college life, I didn’t feel this way.  I was never much of a joiner, except for Christian groups, preferring instead to do my own thing and read and write.

What I really wanted was something to take the place of the groups I was in back in high school: Campus Life and a prayer group.  But to my shock, there were no such groups at this Christian college.

I’m not referring to the charity-based groups such as Habitat for Humanity (which I didn’t even know was affiliated with the Church until sometime after 2000), but to Bible studies, Campus Life outreach, prayer groups, InterVarsity, and the like–groups specifically meant to get Christian students and interested non-Christians together for fellowship and Bible study.


All students took some sort of Studies class: Freshman Studies for most students, Freshman Honors for the extra smart, Sophomore Studies or Sophomore Honors, a choice of Junior Studies classes in various topics (such as the Holocaust), Junior Honors, Senior Studies, or, for the Honors students, the Senior Honors Thesis.  These classes studied and discussed various aspects of life, such as Communism, sociology, philosophy, feminism, theology, or psychological theories.

All the freshman classes read the Biblical book of Job.  I was in the only Freshman Honors class that year, which met Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10:30.  The Rev (the campus minister) taught my class.

We met in the Honors room, room 24 on the second floor of Old Main.  The room was supposedly meant for the Honors classes, but other classes met there as well.  It was the nicest room in the whole building.

It had a big table in the middle of it; cushioned chairs all around it; bookcases full of various intellectual books; a strange painting of orange and yellow, modern art with no obvious meaning, and which people didn’t like much; steam-heat radiators; and nooks and crannies along the walls.

My Freshman Honors and Junior Honors classes met here, but Sophomore Honors met in the music building.  Room 24 was warm in winter, while the rest of the building was generally cold or cool.  I had a class in there each following year except senior year, and after freshman year it was often as cool as the other rooms in the building.  Many of the people in Freshman Honors continued on through the Honors series, while others left.

Freshman year, all the students were women.  Besides me, they were Pearl, Sharon, Jennifer, Cindy, Mona V., and a few others whom I don’t talk about in these memoirs.

The Rev often tried to let us out of class early, since it went until 12:05, like many other classes did, and if we went until 12:05, we got caught right in the middle of the lunch crowd.  Lines at that time were so long they’d curl back into the Muskie and then back out again.  If you had a class until 12:05 and then a class at 12:45 or even 12:30, you may not even have time to get through the line and eat lunch.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:15 to 10:20am, I had Expository Writing (Expos), taught by Thea, in Old Main room 4, a basement room.  This was an introductory writing course that nearly everyone had to take, not just Writing majors; without it, you would have an extremely difficult time trying to write the papers that most classes required.

As an aspiring writer, I was glad to be in college, because even my AP English classes never taught me many of the things I now learned.

For example, dashes were supposed to be two hyphens, not one, when typed; I learned when it was okay to use a semi-colon in a series; double-spacing was between lines, not words, and you were only supposed to put one space between a word; and I had never heard of comma splices before.  In fact, if you had just one comma splice on a paper you wrote for Thea, she would give the whole thing an F!

(Counselor Dude later joked in Poetry class that he kept having to make students unlearn many of the punctuation rules they learned in Thea’s class.  By the way, I believe he and Thea were good friends.)

Expos was usually taken freshman year.  To get out of the class at the end of the semester, you had to take a pass/fail Exit Exam.  Even if you got A’s on all your papers in this class, if you failed the Exit Exam, you had to take the class again.  This Exit Exam put fear in the hearts of all freshmen.

I believe Peter’s Expos teacher didn’t require his students to write papers all the time.  However, Thea did.  Peter thought Thea was too tough, especially with the comma-splice rule.

But her paper requirement was probably a good thing, because it gave us enough practice to pass the dreaded Exit Exam.  No matter how well you did in Expos, if you got a “fail” on this exam, which was an in-class paper graded pass or fail, you would flunk the whole class and have to take it all over again.  No exceptions.

In the next class session after we finished the exam at the end of the semester, Thea came in and announced to us, “I just want you to know that you all passed the Exit Exam.”  The wave of relief through that room was audible.

Our final exam, which covered grammar and punctuation, came after the Exit Exam.  Though I studied hard for it, it seemed like a breeze after passing the Exit Exam.

When I first started at college, a three-page paper seemed a daunting task.  We rarely did papers in my high school classes, just in English class occasionally, and now I was doing one for Thea every few weeks, and the occasional paper for The Rev in Freshman Honors and Old Testament.

But after a year or two of doing papers for all sorts of classes, two-to-three-page papers would seem like nothing.  I would write them all at once on my word processor so as not to interrupt the flow of my thoughts once they began, and it took maybe half an hour per page.

Thea had a revolutionary idea: You can–and should–write in books!  After all the years that my mother had told me not to write in my books, and all the years when I was afraid to even make a small mark in a textbook for fear the teacher would get mad when we turned in our books at the end of the year, now Thea was telling us to “unlearn what you have learned” (Yoda quote; no, she didn’t actually say this) and go ahead and write in books.

She said it was like carrying on a running dialogue with the writer.  She even wrote in library books, but had to be careful to write in pencil, of course, and erase it all before returning it.  Her daughter got annoyed with her for this.  And my mother used to get upset with me for writing in my own books!

What a concept, that it was okay after all.  I would do this, too, now, without guilt.  If Thea had been my mother, it’s quite possible that, when I scribbled in my books, she would have called this participating in the full experience of the book, and using my imagination to put myself or my own characters into the story.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:45 to 1:50pm, I had Old Testament class with the Rev in room 25 of Old Main.  I came into that class looking for answers to my many questions about the Old Testament, and left with even more questions.

The problem was, the Bible we used, the Oxford Annotated Bible, had notes which seemed to have a liberal bent, and the textbook, Understanding the Old Testament, was also very liberal.

For example, the textbook said that Moses probably was not the writer of the Pentateuch, but various writers down through the ages.  I was from a conservative tradition which believed that Moses was the writer of everything in that section of the Bible.

I didn’t like what the textbook said about various parts of the Old Testament, and wished we had a more conservative textbook which would make more sense, or at least one with a more neutral viewpoint.

(My own thoughts became more moderate as the years passed, not wanting to declare everything in the Bible fiction, but willing to admit the occasional factual or scientific error.)

I wanted to know what drove people to do things and what the theology and customs behind a scene were and what we can learn from it, not that some scholars think the scene never even happened.

I also didn’t understand why this book would think Genesis had two Creation accounts, when it only had one.  In the beginning of the book was an outline of what happened, and then it went into more detail on the creation of man.  It wasn’t two different stories at all.  Ever since I began reading Genesis as a child, I had seen it this way.

But through the lectures and even through the book and Oxford Bible, I did learn some things, such as that covenants with a ruler were very serious things which you were not supposed to break, explaining the seriousness Yahweh placed on His covenant with Israel, and that “Yahweh” was the proper name, not “Jehovah.”

When some of my friends took the class with Rev later on, we got some fun little catchphrases: tov (good), tohu wa boho (chaos).  (Tohuvabohu is also the name of an industrial song by KMFDM.)

I just found these intriguing statements in my lecture notes:

“The Exodus wasn’t the most important event in the world to the rest of it, but to the Israelites it was.–Compare the Revolutionary War.”

“Slaves being set free would never appear in the records of any king in the ancient world.  No failures would be recorded.  No pharaohs would let slaves go–that’s why it was so difficult for the Israelites to go.”

“You could count on Egypt being fertile during famine; however, you could come in, but you couldn’t go out–this is where they got their slaves.”

“The lakes and the gulfs of the Red Sea were then also called the Red Sea.”

“Israel’s not overwhelmed by anything that happens and doesn’t expect things to get better; it expects them to get worse; even the Israelites had trouble believing in the miracles–they had to be shown something (a miracle) every day.”

The first four days of class were spent watching The Ten Commandments, the Cecil B. De Mille production with Charlton Heston.  Of course it wasn’t much at all like the biblical account, but it was fun to watch, especially the part with the Egyptian princess who wanted to marry Moses.  I loved the fabric she looked at for the wedding night.  We did a lot of Bible reading, of course.

The following year, some of my new friends had the same class.  One, Tara, could never remember the name of the class, so she kept referring to it as “Thing.”

My Intermediate German class was the equivalent of going through high school German 3 all over again, since first-year German at Roanoke covered what we had learned in German 1 and 2 in high school, so I was often bored.  The teacher, a Swiss woman named Ruth, knew this.

Another student knew a lot of what we were covering, a high-school senior who was getting college credit for this course.  There were only two other people in the class, who had taken their first year of German at Roanoke the year before.  So for them, Intermediate German covered new stuff.

Ruth was far more critical of me than most teachers–so I dropped my plans for a German minor after freshman year.  Once, while Ruth was talking to me and I listened, she shocked me by bursting out with (not an exact quote but as close as I can get), “Why do you never show any signs that you’re listening, like other people do?  There’s no ‘OK’ or a nod of the head or anything.”

I had no idea other people did this, and I thought she was crazy or too easily offended.  I tried to smile it off, but I was offended, since no other person had ever, ever said this to me before.

I always knew I was “different” because all my life, other kids had called me weird.  But I never knew why they called me weird.  Everything I did, felt normal to me, even though the other kids did not do them.

I had no idea why Ruth would get upset with me for not showing signs of listening–or that other people did show signs of listening.  I had no idea that this was a possible sign of a learning disorder.

Class was held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:00 to 3:05 in a room in Jubilee room 306, which was set up with a long table, chairs, and a blackboard.  I had done some of my SEED testing in this room.

One student, a non-traditional student (non-trad) in her 30s, was pregnant.  Ruth told us how to say “pregnant” in German: “ein Kind erwarten” or “guter Hoffnung sein.”  It meant “expecting,” rather than saying “pregnant” directly, because of German societal taboos.

In high school, we started with a Dutch substitute teacher (while Frau was sick).  Then Frau returned and taught us the German she’d learned in Nazi schools in Poland during the Occupation.  When she retired, the American Herr became our teacher.  I believe all three pronounced the umlauts the same way.  But Ruth pronounced them differently.

Once, we were all having a class discussion in German about popular music, and one student said she, at about 19 or 20, was “finding I don’t like all that noise on the radio anymore.”

I couldn’t understand that, since she was still very young, and a lot of the “noise” on the radio was still good.  I didn’t feel that way myself when I hit 19 and 20; though I had to sort through fluff, there was still good stuff on the popular and rock stations.

Not only did my musical tastes never mellow out, they got harder and harder.  I discovered techno, then alternative, then the new mix of alternative and metal called nu-metal, then on and on–until nowadays, when my tastes range from Enya to Sisters of Mercy to Disturbed to White Zombie to gothic metal and industrial.


I hadn’t seen Peter since the dance, and since he was a commuter and I didn’t have his phone number, I couldn’t just find him.  He knew where I lived, so I wondered why he never stopped by (he did once, but I didn’t know it).

On Tuesday, September 17, he finally stopped over and asked me to a movie.  Being asked out was an unfamiliar sensation for me.  Though I had many crushes in my teens, and at least two guys actually liked me back, none of my crushes ever became a boyfriend. (Keep in mind, this was the 80s, when girls weren’t supposed to ask out guys, so I had to sit and wait to be noticed.)

Peter and I chose Problem Child 2 because he wanted to go to this little theater in Chilton, and the other movie playing was some action film.  He suggested that first, but I said I didn’t like action films–which certainly aren’t good for a date movie, I thought–so he got nervous, afraid I would turn him down, and suggested Problem Child 2 instead.  The movie started at 7, and because it was in a small town some distance away, he picked me up at 6.

When we got to the little theater and sat down, at first some Woody Woodpecker cartoon began playing and we asked, “What’s this?  Where’s the movie?”  But to our great relief, this was just a pre-show.  I think it was a holdover from old practices, back before TV showed all the cartoons.

After seeing this movie, in which the problem child sold his own urine as lemonade, a running gag for us became, “Want some lemonade?”  Sometimes we would hold up a glass cup of Mountain Dew while saying this, and just burst out laughing.  Yes, my taste in movies was still–unrefined.

We talked a lot on the way to and from the movie, and a little bit in between.  He said at one point, “I wasn’t confirmed–” which worried me, because I knew confirmation is a public declaration of faith for believers baptized at birth, but then he went on to say– “until eighth grade.”

This was such a relief.  He was a Christian after all!  Until now I didn’t know what future we actually had, because I didn’t know if this cusser was a Christian.  I did not know that, whenever he cussed, he noticed I got very quiet.  He felt like an idiot.

Other than this, we both were talkative, though it was often hard for me to get a word in edgewise.  Though I said nothing to him about his cussing, he stopped doing it.  He told me maybe a few days or weeks later that, a few days after our first date, his mom woke him up in the morning and talked to him a bit.  She said, “I haven’t heard you cuss at all the last few days, not since–hey, your date with Nyssa!”  Then she teased him a bit.

But back to our date night.  We later talked in the suite lounge.  I began to fall head-over-heels in like with him.  Tom was also there for a bit; I looked at the two of them and realized Peter had now supplanted Tom in my heart.

We were supposed to go check out the campus lagoon the next day, but it rained hard Tuesday night and Wednesday was cold and windy.  We had dinner in the cafeteria together instead and watched the season premiere of Quantum Leap in the German suite lounge.

Though I figured all along that our first date was a date-date, not just a friendship date, he had made no move to kiss me yet, nor had he talked about “us.”  So I began to wonder if we were just going out as friends.

It took several days before he finally referred to us as “dating,” and a few weeks before he got up the courage to kiss me.  I began to wonder, What’s taking so long?  Ever since a tornado had nearly hit my high school, I had prayed that I would not die before my first kiss.

Dating a Ninja

I was Peter’s first girlfriend.  I told him I hadn’t dated in high school, either.

I had a boyfriend in Kindergarten, and I would have dated a certain guy in high school if my mom hadn’t told me not to date before I turned 16.  Another boy had a huge crush on me, but never told me until 20 years later.  😛

But my dating life was so full of near-misses and crashes that I felt I could safely say Peter and I were in the same boat.  Soon after we started dating, I was disgusted with the girls who had refused to go out with Peter, because he was “the sweetest guy in the world.”

I don’t think it was this night, but another one soon after, when Peter and I somehow got on the subject of marriage in college.  I said I didn’t want to get married until after college, because I didn’t want to deal with babies and rent and work along with my studies.

He said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that, because I don’t even want to think of getting married before I graduate.”

It was great to be in perfect agreement on this.  Sure getting engaged before graduation was okay, but getting married that soon was a bad idea.  I didn’t expect to marry Peter, since I didn’t know him well enough to know what kind of a match we’d make.

He was glad I was a Christian.  He said, “In my high school, the only girls who I would even think of dating didn’t care a hoot about God.”

He didn’t want an easy girl, but rather someone like me.  We had many other things in common as well.  In our differences we seemed to complement each other.  (Of course, there were differences I didn’t even know about yet, and ones that should’ve been a warning sign but weren’t.)

One evening, soon after we started going out, we met a couple in the Commuter Suite and talked with them a while.  Peter said, “No fooling, everything she likes, I like, and everything I like, she likes.”  He went on and on about what a great relationship we had.

He claimed to have ESP.  At least once or twice, I thought about asking him a question; before I said a word, he heard my question, and answered it.

He said his ESP seemed to suddenly get stronger when he hit the age of 18.  (He would turn 19 in December.)  Last Halloween, he had even detected some shady characters’ thoughts as they planned something bad, I believe a drug deal.  He told the police as an anonymous caller, and they ended up busting these people.

He claimed to be able to transmit telepathic messages to people.  Peter said he would imagine the person’s face, but he had to picture it perfectly or else it wouldn’t work.

He didn’t just make up this concept: I read about this very thing in an old book on ESP which I found in the Roanoke library while researching a paper.

Of course, whether or not he could really do it, I can’t possibly say, but at the time I believed anything he said.

Even though he had, as he would term it, a tendency of making the air blue (that means, cussing) before he met me, Peter didn’t like his habit, and didn’t like excessive cussing in movies.

I believe Peter said he was a third-degree black belt in ninjitsu, that he had trained secretly for the past five years with a man who was one of the only ninjas in all of America.

He had become a third-degree black belt through a series of secret tests which he couldn’t describe to me, but which were very taxing and needed great skill to successfully complete.

He said other ninjas liked to hide what they were, so you could know one without even knowing he or she was a ninja.

But Peter was proud of it, and wanted to tell anyone–except his parents.  They didn’t know about his trainer, still thought it was just a phase.

He showed me some of his ninja moves, too.

As a ninja, he learned mind tricks as well as martial arts.  For example, though in a ninja movie the ninjas actually disappeared, he said that wasn’t what happened:

Ninjas were trained to use their minds to make themselves seem to be invisible; I believe it had to do with erasing your own feeling of importance, or something like that.

One day in the library, he used this invisibility on me, and he was quite successful.  I didn’t even know he was doing it.  I was going through some books and then all of a sudden, he was there.  I didn’t see or hear him walk up to me, or anything.

One day, some guy at Roanoke challenged him to a fight.  I believe they met in the Wehr Center one night.  Peter showed up in his ninja gear, and freaked the guy out.  Either Peter won, or he won by default when the other guy backed down.

I especially loved that Peter was a Christian ninja.  I remember thinking during one of the American Ninja movies that he could be a good influence on other ninjas.  I was proud of him.

Though at first I thought ninjitsu was this evil occult thing that no Christian should ever get involved in, Peter soon persuaded me that it wasn’t evil and that he wasn’t into the occult.  He did believe in karma, though.  He got upset when movies and TV shows said that ninjas were assassins; he said this wasn’t true.

In the beginning, I trusted him completely, not imagining that my own boyfriend could lie to me.  I knew he lied to other people, but he insisted that he would never lie to me.

You might recall him telling Shawn he was a ninja; he told everyone he knew.  But later that year, some people doubted that he was really a ninja, wondering if it was possible for Americans to be ninjas.

Ninjitsu is a legitimate martial art which even Americans can learn.  It’s not the movie version with all its myths; you don’t have to be a spy or assassin; it does involve mind control, though I don’t know the actual extent of it.

All I know is what Peter told me, which I have included here, and what you can find at the sites I linked.  Here is another article on real-life ninjitsu, not movie ninjas, which has links on the spiritual aspect of ninjitsu.  Also see here.]

As for how I felt about the spiritual aspect of ninjitsu, with karma and meditation and yoga and the like: Since I was raised Fundamentalist, I saw this as spiritually dangerous, an element of Eastern mysticism which no Christian should get involved in.

But dating a ninja seemed really cool, and this was my first serious boyfriend after years of not dating.  So I let infatuation get the better of me, and Peter convinced me that these things were okay.

Still, I stayed away from them myself–except, of course, for the Link.  (I go into the Link and other psychic aspects of Peter’s ninjitsu, in the next chapter.)

Peter had a K– accent, which was distinctive from the S– accent, but still strong.  He thought the S– accent was funny, so it wasn’t quite as strong as that, but it was a lot different from mine and took some getting used to.

He came up with the term “Roanoke’s Revenge,” which was, as Shawn had so delicately termed it, the Hershey Squirts.  This was the effect the food often had on people.

We discovered that we both went to the same SEED Day, both took our tests in the same room in Chase, and could have been in the same room at the same time!

Peter told me that he visited Indiana once for a family reunion.  He eventually got thirsty and asked where to find a bubbler.  Of course, most Hoosiers have probably never heard of a bubbler, and he didn’t think to use the terms “water fountain” or “drinking fountain,” so the person couldn’t figure out what he meant.  “I finally had to draw a picture of it,” he said, irritated.

Peter and I both loved BBS’s.  For those who don’t know, BBS’s were the 80s equivalent of the Internet.

But you had maybe one line, it was DOS-based, and all you could do was post messages in the forums, send e-mail to people who used the BBS, download files, play simple games, and occasionally chat with the Sysop.

You couldn’t send e-mail across the Internet to people who lived across the country, surf the Web, or any of that other stuff we can do these days.

I loved finding someone else who knew what a BBS was.  I’d been playing around on such things ever since my dad first got a modem in about 1985 or 1986.

It’s often said that you should argue once in a while to get everything out in the open and not have resentments festering underneath the surface.  But Peter and I noted in those first couple of months that we never argued because we never had anything to argue about.  We probably thought we never would, either.  We had no resentments festering underneath the surface.

Peter thought getting drunk and smoking were both stupid things to do.  He tried smoking a cigar or cigarette once, but it made him so sick that he threw up.  He didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking underage, so he would only drink alcohol if his parents gave it to him.

He surprised me by saying underage drinking was legal in Wisconsin if your parents gave it to you, and I doubted this because it wasn’t legal under any circumstances in Indiana.  But I later learned it was true.

But even when they did give it to him, he didn’t want it because it made him sick.  His parents teased him, but he just didn’t want to drink it.

Peter and I saw the sad state of editing in each week’s issue of the Mirror, the school newspaper: Typos were everywhere.  Peter told me, “They need you as a proofreader!”

In the first few weeks, Peter would speak of a future wife (I forget the context), and I didn’t expect it to be me, but some shadowy figure off in the distant future.  At that time, I didn’t expect us to be together forever.

It would be nice, I thought, but I remembered that many relationships didn’t turn into love.  I also cherished those early weeks as they happened, realizing that one day I would be looking back on them fondly, wanting to relive them.

One thing I did not let myself do with Peter was say “I love you” before he did.  I’d heard that guys get scared off if the girl says it first.  And, well, I just didn’t feel it yet, anyway, and I wasn’t about to say it without feeling it.

I had always considered love to mean marriage: If you loved someone, you had found “the one.”  If it wasn’t “the one,” then you could never feel anything but infatuation.

Peter told me I was just the kind of girl he had always imagined himself being with, right down to my long, dark hair–and that he had dreamed about me before he met me, except that in the dream I had shadowy, indistinct features.  So he called me his dream girl.


On the 25th during a German Suite meeting in the Muskie conference room, somebody said before I arrived, “Isn’t it great about Peter and Nyssa?”

Candice told Heidi the various dating terms: “Dating” is the most casual type, “seeing each other” means you have a girl/boyfriend but you’re allowed to see other people, and “going out” means you’re an exclusive couple and can’t date anybody else.

This is also the first time I heard the various classifications. I don’t know if they were used in my high school, but they were used here in Wisconsin, so that’s what I went by when I began dating.

By that day, it was understood between Peter and me that we were “going out.”  And now I was to meet his parents.  Tom said when I mentioned it during the suite meeting, “These kids these days move so fast.”

Peter didn’t understand why I was so nervous.  But I got him back for it a few weeks later, when I had him meet my parents, who came up for a visit.  Then he discovered why I felt so nervous.

The first meeting went well.  We had dinner at Peter’s house.  I liked his parents.  And, most importantly, Peter’s parents liked me, which was reassuring.

Peter told me to never mention his ninjitsu to his parents.  He never told them about it, and they just laughed at his ninja stuff, thinking it was a phase he would soon pass out of.  I did tell my own parents, though.

Before one of the first dinners I ever ate with Peter’s parents, they told me they were having hot tamales.  I didn’t know what a hot tamale was, but I knew it was Mexican, so I expected hot spices and maybe even taco shells.

I remembered when I had once eaten something Mexican and strong, and ended up with heartburn because I didn’t include enough cold stuff like lettuce and cheese.

(Since my dad couldn’t eat Mexican food, my mom never made it, so I didn’t know I was supposed to put that stuff on it to prevent heartburn.)

Dinner was served.  To my surprise, the hot tamales were on buns.  They looked like sloppy joes, but they were supposed to be Mexican hot tamales, not sloppy joes, so I figured looks were deceiving.  I put some cheese and lettuce on mine, and began to eat.

Wait a minute, this was sloppy joes!

I don’t remember if I removed the cheese or lettuce.  But I must have mentioned my confusion, because Peter’s dad said that hot tamales and sloppy joes were the same thing.

I said I had expected something quite different, like Mexican food, and that explained to them why I put cheese and lettuce on it (which struck them as strange).


Peter’s mom used to be a Catholic nun, until she had bad experiences which I won’t go into.  His dad was Lutheran.  Neither church recognized their marriage; Peter was considered a bastard, even though his parents were legally married.  They wanted to find a new church, so I hoped they’d like the Nazarene church.

Peter’s mom hated hunting and called hunters killers.  Once over Thanksgiving Break, as we all drove along we saw a truck with a bunch of orange-clad deer hunters sitting on the back of it.  I think it was a pickup.  Peter’s mom joked that they had to keep their butts warm.

I had never seen deer hunters in their gear before: No one went hunting inside South Bend, after all.  This was my first exposure to Wisconsin deer hunting season, and I now discovered the fervor the natives had for it.

Peter hated this season because you had to keep a sharp eye out for eyes in your headlights when driving at night.  There were a lot of car accidents because of deer running into the road to get away from hunters.

Peter’s friends asked him for permission to hunt in his parents’ woods, but he refused because of his mother.  They especially didn’t want to worry about bullets being shot around the house.

Peter didn’t share his mother’s views–hunting kept the deer population low enough that they wouldn’t starve over the winter–but he didn’t want to hunt, himself.

In South Bend, a picture of a hunter with his prize deer on the front page of the newspaper, inspired angry letters to the editor about murder being glorified.  In Wisconsin, such pictures are perfectly normal and inspire no such letters, at least not that I’ve seen.

In 2015, a story of a wounded hunter went viral on Facebook, and brought in all sorts of comments that the deer should’ve finished the job.  This horrified the reporter, because she was born and raised in Wisconsin, where hunting is a normal, accepted part of the culture.  She could not understand where the vicious comments came from.  She just naturally expected people to sympathize with the hunter.

This episode showed me just how different Wisconsin and Indiana really are.

Peter’s mom was a beautiful, slim woman with cat-eyes and hair which was naturally black, but dyed red.  It was wild and frizzy and at least shoulder-length.

I never could figure out if I should call her by her first or last name, but I didn’t feel comfortable calling her by her first name.  So I avoided using any name when speaking to her.

She loved to joke, was kind of weird and was rather flighty, making her fun to be around.

Peter’s dad worked for a local factory (which shall remain nameless) which shipped its products all over the country.  He often got home around 3 or 4pm.  Since his wife, who occasionally did substitute teaching for eighth graders, also got home early, dinner was often at 4:30.

This seemed very early and strange to me; my parents got home much later and had dinner around 6.  Yet even Roanoke’s dinner started at 4:30, and some people went that early, so I eventually got used to dinner at 5 or 5:30.

I wondered if it was a Wisconsin thing to have such early dinners.  It is possible, since I later learned that local businesses often started and ended an hour earlier than did similar businesses in South Bend.

For example, in Wisconsin office hours tended to be around 8am-4pm, while in South Bend they tended to be around 9am-5pm.  A later boyfriend, who spent the summer in South Bend with my family, told me that factories in S– ran their shifts an hour earlier than South Bend factories ran theirs.

South Bend did not do Daylight Savings back then and was on Eastern time for much of the year; Wisconsin was always on Central Time.  Businesses on Central Time often start and end an hour earlier to be in sync with Eastern-Time businesses on the East Coast (see here).

It could also be because Wisconsin is traditionally a farming/dairy state, with so many people on “farmer’s hours.”

Peter’s dad was more down-to-earth than his wife.  He was also a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers.  I didn’t yet know about Wisconsin’s cult-like following of the Packers, or cheesehead hats (which I think came about in the 90s).

On one of their first dates, or maybe it was their very first date, a little girl saw Peter’s parents sitting in a car.  The girl pointed them out to someone and said, “They’re going to get married.”

It was only three days later (or three weeks, I forget which) that they did get married!  (Of course, I don’t recommend this.  I won’t go into it, but they should have waited.)

Peter’s little, German-styled farmhouse had two dogs, one little one named Petey though she was a female, and one big one, a sheepdog, I think he was.  He was a sweet-tempered, older dog, and not too bright.  Petey may have been a pug.

If anyone in the family paid attention to anyone else but her, human or animal, for even a few minutes, she gave them an upset look, like, “How can you pay her attention and not me?  You have betrayed me!”

There were cats: Misha, two kittens to which Peter tried to give the names “Yin” and “Yang” but which were generally called Boy Kitty and Girl Kitty, and Foxy.

Foxy was a beautiful kitten with red patches or stripes.  Misha was a Siamese; she may have been blue.  And outside the house, there were lots of barn cats.

The inside pets loved me, and kept wanting me to pet them.  One of the kittens would get up in my lap and put her front paws on my chest.  I think Foxy was my favorite.

Peter told me one night that I had hypnotized the sheepdog.  His big, furry, white head sat in my lap, and I just sat there petting it as he gazed up at me adoringly.

I didn’t realize before that I held a special attraction for cats.  I eventually learned that it wasn’t just Peter’s cats or my cat Hazel, but cats in general.  And, well, though I didn’t try it out as often, dogs apparently loved me, too.

Misha was a terror who wouldn’t allow even the family to pet her without trying to slice their hands off.  Peter’s mom said she must have been dropped on her head at birth.  Her name was short for not Mitsubishi, but Mitsu-bitchy.

But one evening, as Peter and I sat in his room talking, he noticed that Misha kept coming to the door and looking at me.  He said, “I think Misha has a crush on you.”

Either that night or a following night, she even came up to me and wanted petting!  She shocked the whole household.

They told me I tamed her, since after that she even began warming up to the rest of the family, and let them pet her occasionally.

If I pet her for too long she might try to slice at me, and once she even scratched my hand or face (which made Peter go ballistic), but usually we were good friends.

Whenever all these pets were fed, Peter’s mom would fill up a big bowl and call to them.  They would all rush to the bowl, crowd together, and chow down.  She called it feeding time at the zoo.  I loved seeing the kitties, which gave me my cat fix.  I often needed one, and really missed Hazel, but pets weren’t allowed at school.

Peter’s mom painted, and the walls by the stairs were covered with her pictures and Peter’s childhood pictures.  One day, she gave me a picture she had drawn of me!

It was good, if maybe a bit off, on a piece of stiff brown canvas (maybe cardboard), and I believe it was colored with crayons or colored pencil.  She even noted where exactly I parted my hair, and the little curls near the part on the side with less hair.


By the way, there is a mythical “Freshman 15” pounds which college students supposedly gain as freshmen.  But with me, those Freshman 15 were lost, not gained.  There was something about the food and the exercise of walking from place to place.

One day, Peter’s mom opened up the suite door to find Frank and Heidi kissing!  They jumped apart and then one or both of them disappeared down the upstairs walkway in an embarrassed hurry.

They seemed to be trying to keep their “special” relationship secret, since they didn’t talk about it to the rest of us in the suite.  Nothing much came of it, though.  I don’t know when or why or how it ended so well that they were still friends, but sometime in probably the fall semester, it did just that.

One night, Peter parked the stickshift car and went inside a gas station.  As I sat in the car waiting, the parking brake went out and the car began to roll backwards!  I jumped into the driver’s side and pushed the brake.  When Peter came out and found out what had happened, he felt horrible.

Maybe in the first week or two of dating, I found my interest in Peter beginning to wane.  It was very strange.  I had liked him, but now, all of a sudden, it seemed that I didn’t, not that way.  I thought about asking him if we could just be friends.  But I waited it out, and discovered it was only temporary.  It lasted maybe a few days at the most.

The campus had a lake, lagoon, and woods.  The long road out to the lake was gravel, turning that way just past the Wehr Center after having been paved up till that point.

A bridge led to an island on the lake.  A weeping willow tree was on the island.  I liked to watch the black waterbugs leap on the water between the island and the woods.

The lagoon, near Muehlmeier and Grossheusch Halls, was murky and rumored to be part of the septic system.  Though people were tempted to swim in the lake, nobody was tempted to swim in the lagoon.  Only geese ventured into it.  Of course you had to be careful of them; they were beautiful, but dangerous if you got too close.

On the 26th, Peter and I went wandering in the woods, and we went so far back that we found a path which led to the S– River.  There were pine trees all along that section.

We found out later that we had gone past the school’s grounds and onto private property.  I believe an article of the school newspaper tried to educate people on where the private property began.  If you reached the river, you had gone too far.  Later on, markers would be put up to show us where the private property line began.

On September 28, Peter took me to High Cliff Park.  It was beautiful, with its, of course, high cliffs and pathways through the woods.  There were even old, Indian ovens made of stone in one spot.  It was on the shores of Lake Winnebago.

I dressed warm for the hike, though we ended up tying our jackets around our waists, and found a walking stick along the way.

One of the trails had a small mound, too small to look like an Indian burial mound (like others at High Cliff Park), so we weren’t sure if it was one or not.  We sat on it to rest for a bit, which tells you how small it was.

There was another one much like it at the beginning of one of the trails in the woods on the Roanoke campus, so it’s hard to believe someone was buried in it.  Still, I never did find out what these tiny mounds were for or who made them.

Every time we passed somebody, Peter and that person would greet each other.  I kept doing double-takes and asking Peter,

“Do you know that person?”

“No,” he would say with a laugh.

Where I came from, nobody greeted complete strangers like that.  He explained that Wisconsin had so many small towns and wide-open spaces that people would often say hi to strangers just because it was hard to find anybody to talk to (or something like that).  I found this practice even in the mid-size city, Fond du Lac, I moved to later on.

Peter had brought some lunch for us to eat.  Unfortunately, the sandwiches were made of bologna and butter, an odd combination.  They weren’t awful, but they weren’t very good, either.  I teased him about using butter instead of mayonnaise.  He also realized his mistake, and took the teasing in the spirit it was intended.

On September 29, as Peter drove us back to school, I noted that neither of us had kissed anyone before.  Then I said,

“We’ll have to change that.”

Peter later told me that I pleasantly shocked him–and he was glad that I brought it up.

I mean, come on, Peter still hadn’t made a move on me, and we’d been dating for almost two weeks!  I kept fearing I’d die before I got my first kiss, even though I already had a boyfriend.

After the first date, kissing would have been okay, but we were long past that now and still nothing.

I kept thinking maybe he’d kiss me whenever we parted each night and he stood by the doorway of the suite with me, but no.

He told me later that he kept thinking about it but chickening out.  He also wanted our first kiss to be special.  I imagined a forest-surrounded terrace; he had another forest in mind.

October 1991

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:

Junior Year
Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

May 1994:

Senior Year
June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: