Orientation & Meeting a Ninja–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1991, part 2


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.


Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

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

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: