If I were to name my college years, my freshman year would no doubt be called 'The Year of the Hermit'. I rarely left my dorm room if not for my class schedule and spoke to few people who weren't brought into my dorm room by my roommate. Despite that, I managed to establish a reputation of sorts and also make a few friends that I am still close to. That is the magic of college life.
By the time my sophomore year rolled around however, I was determined to change things. I had not come to America to lock myself in a dorm room. I was going to make friends and experience Life! I was going to learn the ways of the world for myself, and that couldn't be done from the safety of my dormitory. As a result of my New (academic) Year resolution, I started signing up on just about any sheet that was posted in the lobby. Dorm treasurer? Yes! Resident Hall Representative? Absolutely. Application for Resident Assistant? Yes, sir! I eventually signed up for a bunch of other things that actually didn't have to do with the dormitory system, however, I knew myself well enough to take small steps. This is how I met and was befriended by a motley crew of fellow dorm dwellers. Some of them were much older than typical dorm residents. 'Grandpa' was thirty two, but lucky enough to look as young as the college seniors who had long moved off campus. 'Dad' was twenty seven and a Wildcat for life, in that he didn't seem to be in a rush to graduate and move on with his life as a non-student. The rest of this group was also somehow tied to or directly involved with campus life and its 'government'. The best thing about it was the loud mix and politics of the group. Everything was cause for passionate discussion--including the number of washing machines in the boys vs. girls dorms, visitation hours and vending machine offerings. I could easily attend every meeting, get to know everything about these people and never need to talk or be noticed. This was the Life! Ironically, it was very similar to the last Life I had left behind in search of more involvement and participation, but I was in no rush...
During one of the bi-weekly meetings, I was taking notes on the latest controversy and people watching when 'Dad' walked in--late as usual and looking solemn. After some whispers and tasteless teasing he yelled at everyone to shut up and this was no time for 'monkey business'! This was not the jovial 'Dad' we were used to. Over the next hour, he told us how his younger (19 year old) brother, Todd, had suddenly moved out of their parents' home and in with his girlfriend. His 47 year old girlfriend, who was actually his best friend's mother. The relationship had already ruined Todd's friendship and their parents had sworn to wash their hands of him for good. 'Dad' was just confused and angry at everyone. We couldn't sympathize, hug or soothe him, so we all finally gave up and canceled the meeting.
As I packed up my bag and got ready to leave, George asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat from the Student Union. I said yes immediately, because I had a soft spot for George. We had become quick friends in a quiet way. He was surprisingly protective of my innocence around the campus debauchery, I was in awe of his brilliance. I may have also been in love with his beautiful blue eyes and smile. When he looked at you, you had his full attention and felt special no matter how bad your hair looked or how deeply you blushed at your own ignorance. He was in a word, lovely.
We walked towards the SU discussing the evening's events and their consequences. I said something along the lines of how strange the relationship seemed to me, but it wasn't right for the parents to basically disown him. If anything, he needed family around him more now. Suddenly, he seemed to be contemplating something; like he was tasting something for the first time and couldn't decide what he thought of it.
"GWCH, can I tell you something? Something personal?"
I nodded eagerly. I loved being confided in and to have George's confidence was something special.
"I know how he feels in a way. Telling everyone he loves someone he's not supposed to, being afraid. Do you know what I mean?"
I nodded again.
"You see, I'm kind of like him." Pregnant pause. Deep breath. "GWCH, I don't like girls. I don't know if I can tell my parents. They'll probably disown me, although I think they kind of suspect..."
At this point I had stopped in my tracks, literally in the middle of the bike path. My eyes may have been coming out of my head as I searched for the right words. I didn't want to hurt his feelings after he had confided something so personal. I tried to find the words and tone that would be kind and supportive, and finally I blurted, "YOU LIKE OLDER WOMEN, TOO?!"
It was his turn to stop. He looked at me closely, with an expression I would only later understand: confusion, trying to determine if I was mocking him or actually meant what I had just said; combined with pity at my simplicity. I don't know how long we stood there and looked at each other. I remember distinctly thinking, "But he's too PERFECT to fall in love with old women!"
He was the first to blink. He laughed his beautiful laugh, shaking as he said, "You are so different from anyone I have ever known. So different."
Of course I blushed, not sure if this was a compliment, a simple statement of fact or just something to say at an awkward moment. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I think if you find someone that is good to you and you love, that's all that really matters. And I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to. I promise."
"Thank you," he said, chuckling.
We continued on to dinner, without a hint of awkwardness. We were friends again--in the same way we had been before the Great Revelation. His love life wasn't discussed and we went on for months in the same manner. It wasn't until summer session when he introduced me to his date--with dancing eyes and a mischievous smile--that the meaning of that conversation finally dawned on me. And it was only then that I understood the look on his face the night he bore his soul to me.