To be honest, I didn’t plan on going to college.
I did plan to be a radio announcer. At 16, I had a small taste of radio heaven, working weekends at WARF-AM 1240.
After high school, I worked four years at the old Parrish Piggly Wiggly until I landed an announcer job at radio station WKIJ-AM 1130. I was happier than a pig in mud.
Then my dad died in the summer of 1985.
My entire universe flipped inside out. I lost my way. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life anymore.
I had dated a girl the year before. Even though the relationship ended, we remained on good terms, and I was still very fond of her.
One night I called her. Grief makes you do strange things. I guess I thought we could pick up where we left off. I don’t remember what she said, but at one point the Cold, Hard Truth silently walked in, sat down beside me, and laid its icy hand on my shoulder. The Truth smiled a sad little smile and said, “Brother, this is going to hurt, but you need to listen. This isn’t going to happen. She’s moved on. You need to do the same.”
The reality of what had been, and what would never be, had left me feeling wistful, but determined. As I hung up the phone, I realized, on a subconscious level, that I stood at the threshold of a new beginning.
Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again. I had to do something with my life. I just wasn’t sure what to do next.
Then, somehow, I knew.
I’d go to college.
As usual, my own self-doubt began its cross-examination, questioning the validity of this hairbrained idea. Who did I think I was? Five years out of high school, and now I’m going to college? I missed that boat. I should have gone after graduation. What an asinine idea.
Really? Tell that to the people three times my age who enrolled in college years after high school.
The next day, I stopped by Walker College and picked up the necessary paperwork. In January 1986, I walked across that campus for the first time as a college student.
I remember feeling self-conscious and out of place for several weeks. That faded in time, and by the end of my first semester, I’d made new friends. There was Terry, the bearded intellectual with a love of theater. Jackie, whose gruff exterior masked a heart of gold. Valerie, the cute, All-American-girl-next-door. Vanessa, the more studious one. Pat, the redheaded Irishman with a lightning-fast wit. And Mark, the avid Star Trek fan.
College life suited me like a custom-fit seersucker. When I wasn’t in class, you’d find me in the campus hangout/bookstore, The Rebel Roost, with my friends, discussing Star Trek, dissecting episodes of Miami Vice, or creating a new character for the next Dungeons and Dragons game.
Of course, boys will be boys, and some of us boys possessed a wicked sense of humor. On one occasion, Jackie and I decided to prank Pat by staging a fight. We waited until one of his classes was almost over and hid behind a tree on the campus grounds. When we spotted Pat heading our way, I bit into one of those Halloween blood capsules and the fists commenced flying. I recall Pat was none too pleased seeing two of his friends engaged in fisticuffs. He was pretty sore for a while, but when we confessed that the whole thing was a gag, he flashed that impish grin and gave us the “shame on you boys” finger wag.
I miss those days. I miss the smell of the Rebel Roost. I miss the times when a carload of us would top the hill near Gamble Park so fast our stomachs would plummet into our shoes. I miss the golden-orange leaves carpeting the campus grounds in the fall. I miss Dean West’s dry wit. I miss art class with Miss Billings and speech class with Mrs. Adkins. I miss Jackie’s laugh. I miss all those friends. I miss the laughs we had.
I miss the young man I was then.
But, you know something? He made the right choice that night. And if he could go back, he’d make the same choice again.
So, whether you go to college or not, make some really good memories today.
Because you can’t go home again. 78