The Great Zipper Caper–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–February 1992, Part 1

My New Life Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Zipper Caper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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: