Dearest Rachel –
While I tried to reinvent myself with a more outgoing persona at college, I still wasn’t the type to seek out any actual relationships. Still, the close quarters environment was pretty nice for more casual friendships, and those I had plenty of. Indeed, I learned early on in college that I got on better with females than males as a rule – as long as I didn’t try to do too much.
Saying things, however, was another matter. Unlike high school, the cafeteria at the student union was welcoming, and I was there for every meal (after all, these meals were covered within the cost of tuition, and I was going to make sure to get my money’s worth – a mentality that, while not necessarily universal, might be common enough to make the concept of the ‘freshman fifteen’ the cliché that it is). While you were one of the few people I saw regularly in the morning – which is ironic, given how rarely we shared meals at what would be considered ‘breakfast time’ in our lives together thereafter – I eventually found myself surrounded by a coterie of people that fancied themselves the second coming of the Algonquin Round Table.
I wouldn’t claim to be a ringleader of this little circus, but Dena and I, as the oldest members, did rather set the pace. We met at Presser Hall – the music building, back when I still thought I could dabble in the fine arts as I worked on my degree.
A side note to that comment: I gave up on music somewhere in my sophomore year. While I made the band, I was suddenly last (or maybe second to last) chair trombone – a precipitous fall from where I’d been in high school, but not unexpected as a freshman in college. What shocked me, though, was to discover our lead trombonist was not a music major but a chemistry major. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the shocking part as such; what was was the fact that he was neglecting his chemistry studies to keep his position in the band and orchestra. It was at that point I realized music at university was a bit too serious for my blood. If I was to sacrifice my major in order to keep pace, it just wasn’t worth it. I gave it up before entering my junior year, after relaying this fact to my parents, and explaining my position in order to obtain their blessing to do so (after all, they had been helping me finance my lessons up until then).
But Dena, a violin virtuosa and skilled vocalist to boot – to say nothing of her fluency in German – kept me up to speed on what was going on at Presser Hall and the music scene. She was also a keen wit, and demonstrated quite regularly a bawdy streak to her humor. Between the two of us, we were a walking deck of Cards Against Humanity before that was even a thing, and we had a ball together.
She was also, I understood, engaged for most of our college life together, and thus untouchable. That was fine. We were safe hang-out partners that way; we could talk a great game while never having to prove anything to each other.
Our group expanded during my sophomore year. First, there were Heidi and Tony, or maybe it was Tony and Heidi? It really didn’t seem to matter: the order might change, but they were stuck together from almost day one like neodymium magnets. She, as I recall, sang and played keyboard, while he was an actual artist: particularly using paint, but he worked in a variety of media, as was encouraged by the art school. They married shortly after graduation, and to the best of my knowledge, they are still married with several children (although sadly, they appear to have lost one about a decade ago).
And then there was Ron, another music major, although the specifics elude me at the moment, and Wendy, who I think was considered ‘undecided’ at the time. I don’t even know if she ever did settle on a major, or if she did, she didn’t reveal it to the rest of us, and in fairness, we weren’t all that concerned. I mean, if the rest of these fine arts doyens could abide the likes of an accounting major like myself, would it bother them that Wendy had no idea what she wanted to do with her life?
Given the tone of our sense of humor, would it have surprised you that we referred to ourselves as the Sextet (or maybe the Sextette? I’m not sure, as it’s not like we ever wrote it out). Yeah, we were quite literally sophomoric in our humor, but we liked it that way. And so things went for most of my time at college: we’d hang out in the cafeteria and catch each other up on what was happening in our respective circles, crack jokes and what have you.
I won’t say I lived a double life on campus; everything was pretty much out in the open. I hung out with the rest of the Sextet in the cafeteria even as I would join you in the TV lounge for screenings of Doctor Who, or meet with other members of BASIC or InterVarsity for Bible study (while I had been encouraged by my folks and my R.A. to join the latter, the fact that it met on Fridays – which saw me heading home from time to time, not to mention the occasional date, after all – made it a bit less convenient, and so I found myself more aligned with BASIC when all was said and done). My social circles may not have always overlapped, but they weren’t mutually exclusive, either.
But upon returning from January term our senior year, Dena was distraught. It seemed that, some time during the month, she had been dumped by her long-time fiancé. I didn’t have any advice or consolation to offer her, other than to serve as her rebound boyfriend – and, truth be told, I didn’t mind the role. We got that much closer, spending considerably more time together (although I didn’t neglect you or the BASIC gang, during this time, as far as I recall), including a night where – according to her – she called me some time after I had gone to bed (and I wound up discovering that I could evidently hold a cogent conversation in my sleep), and another time when she stayed with me in my dorm room when she was locked out of hers. While we never crossed The Line, we danced awfully close to it.
And I’m not exactly proud of that, I should be clear.
As with Chris, we agreed upon graduation that a long-distance relationship would be impractical, and split up amiably. She went back to her home near St. Louis, and I moved back to the Chicago suburbs. Later, when you and I got engaged, she called me, half-angry and half-sobbing, asking why she hadn’t been good enough for the long-distance relationship you and I maintained. To be honest, I probably deserved every bit of invective she hurled at me that night.
Like I said, not my proudest moment. And one more case in which I didn’t check with God as to whether this was His will for me or not.
At the same time, He has a knack for rebuilding broken people from the ground up. Dena eventually got involved with a Charismatic Christian group, turned her life over to Christ, and for many years served as an itinerant musical missionary. And again, let me be clear – I had nothing to do with any of this: her conversion, her ministry, nothing. I should have tried to lead her in that direction – and we may have had those kinds of discussions early on, when we were still just friends – but whatever made the difference in her life happened long after I had gone offstage, so I can’t take any credit for the deeply religious woman she eventually became.
And whether she contemplates what God’s will is or was for her, I’ll probably never know. All I know is that I definitely neither asked for, nor heard, His word on whether or not we should have been.
つづく (to be continued…)