In the fall of 1987 I took a poetry writing class in college. This was the same semester I took Northern European Mythology, and met my future husband, but that's another story, told here. My roommate of the past 2 and a half years had graduated the spring before, and my new roommate was in that flailing 4th year place, where he was spending more time emceeing down at the Comedy Zone and working at the college radio station (where we met) than actually going to class. His late nights in the bar culture were leading him astray with the nose candy too, which wasn't exactly helping him get much done, and wow, aren't coke heads fun to live with? Is it any wonder that I was kind of looking to reinvent myself during this semester; to branch out and away from the radio station folk and find some other people to hang out with?
Poetry class was in the morning, a time of day I do my best sleeping. I shuffled in, bearing a mason jar of cloudy juice (?) (it was apricot), and slid into a seat, doing the same surreptitious glance around everyone else was doing. Our professor came into the room after we were seated, and introduced herself. Then she told us that there were too many people in the class for it to be a good class, and that anyone who thought it was going to be an easy class should just go ahead and leave, preferably now. We all looked around at each other in silence. I have to admit: I kind of liked her, liked that she was cranky and touchy that first day, actively discouraging the pocket of bubble-headed jocks and cheerleaders from staying in the class. I knew she wasn't talking to me, or anyone else who was there in earnest, to write and learn, to pull their entrails out on the table in iambic pentameter for critique. She was trying to whittle down the class size, but that bunch of pains in the asses didn't drop the course. They stayed in the class, with such an attitude, that the atmosphere in the class never became relaxed enough to really be optimal. Instead the class divided into three parts; the Pains in the Ass, the English Majors, and the rest of us, sitting between the divided camps.
So why wasn't I sitting with the English Majors? I was inclined to, but a) I wasn't one of them, I was an Art Major, and 2) they were butt heads themselves, the snooty kind, and d) it was safer in the middle. The English Majors clustered together protectively, with the seeming assumption that if you weren't one of them, you must be one of the jocks, and therefore, unclean neophytes. You know, once you've had your head up your ass, that's all you can smell! (Sorry, but that made me feel better, for some reason!)
It was a bizarre mix of people in that class, I'll grant you. Along with me in the uncomfortable middle was a guy who was a warden for a women's prison, a middle-aged housewife (who quickly sided with the English Majors), a writer for the school newspaper who used a pseudonym, so no one knew who he was, a girl who couldn't read, much less write, and a few other, more average Janes and Joes.
That first day, the teacher had us sit in a circle and introduce ourselves, with our first name and something about us. The poor schmuck who ended up sitting next to her, had to go first. I don't think she was real happy about starting us off - she kind of looked like she'd just been stomach punched.
"Um, okay,... Hi,... my name is Chanda, and that's from the Sanskrit for "star of the sea."
Dammit! I wished futilely that I had some cool thing to say about my name, rather than some stupid, blurted out crap-fact, that maybe I'd rather not divulge, but I'm under pressure, so out it comes anyway. Suddenly I realized there is nothing even remotely interesting about me, and I began a frantic Rolodex search of my memory for something, anything, before its my turn. I don't remember exactly what I said - something about not liking to get up early, I think.
Because it was a morning class, I often took something with me to eat, since I usually just rolled out of bed and left for class. One morning, as I was getting ready to grab a few of my homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to take with me, I imagined the voice of the Poetry teacher, saying in her most severe, schoolmarm tone, "What? Didn't you bring enough for everyone?" So for shits and giggles, I brought the whole box of cookies to class, placed them on the teacher's desk, and offered them to everyone. Very few of either of the polarized factions helped themselves, but several of my fellow middlings did. The teacher came in, her brow furrowed in its customary lines. When she saw the open box of cookies, something miraculous occurred. She actually smiled, and then, in a dulcet tone we had never heard before, she exclaimed, "Oh! How did you know I didn't eat breakfast this morning?" My god, that woman was positively sunny that whole class, all because someone had made a friendly gesture! While both camps of ass wipes sat stiffly disapproving, the rest of us had the first good class of the entire semester.
After class, I was walking home, looking at my feet. Its just the way I walk, when I'm up in my head, thinking. Suddenly I realized someone was walking next to me, and talking to me. I looked up and met the friendly gaze of a girl with masses of incredibly curly hair. She looked at me like she knew who I was. I realized as she spoke again, that she was in my Poetry class. It was the girl who had the starfish name; Chandra or something, yeah that's it.
"Hey, do you want to be partners on this presentation project we have to do?" She asked me. "I want to do Nancy Willard - do you like her?"
I was so bemused that anyone would want to talk to me, that I was afraid to tell her I had signed up for William Carlos Williams already. We stood on the sidewalk and talked about everything under the sun that the span of 15 minutes can possibly allow, before she made the move to leave. Feeling suddenly panicked at the thought of going home to my cranky, coked-out roommate, I asked if I could tag along. She said yes and we headed to her apartment, where we hung out for the next 6 hours, talking and laughing, as if we'd known each other forever. Have you ever met someone that you felt like you already knew them? It was like that.
We became very good friends. In fact, twenty years later, that girl with the super-sized curly hair, whom many of you will know as my fellow blogger, Chanda, aka Bea, is one of my best friends. And the conversation continues on.
To hear the other side of this Twin Tale, go here.