This one is for a poor kid I just met, Ferdinand.
I entered college at the age of 18 weighing 147 pounds.
By the time I was 19 years of age I had dropped down to 118.
And the reason for this precipitous loss in weight was two-fold.
One, I was dirt poor with no financial support from my parents, nor the government, and thusly could not afford any kind of fast food, let alone groceries, and therefore LOST the freshman 15 instead of gained it.
Two, I worked as campus security where, among other things, our job was to patrol the campus on foot or on bike where the AVERAGE night you would put 50 miles on your bike or 10 miles on foot.
Now I’m leaving A LOT of stuff out, but in short this period of time was hands down, without compare, the worst days in my life. I worked full time, went to school full time and frankly barely attended any parties, let alone had much of a social life outside of work, because the financial and academic rigors of college demanded it. Ergo, why I have no pity whatsoever when I hear spoiled brats complain about the costs of college while daddy financed them a brand new car or takes care of their credit card bills and practically all other living expenses, EXCEPT tuition.
Regardless, though all of college could generally be described as a 3.5 year abyss, the pits of the pits, the darkest depths of the abyss was my first Christmas break.
I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not. I was just one trimester (the U had “trimesters” back then) into college then and all I had known was sleep depravation and poverty. But add to this hellish existence two more complications and it became unbearable;
1. Loneliness. I couldn’t afford to go back home for Christmas break, and home was only 1.5 hours away. I had to sign up for as many shifts and OT as I could, or I otherwise would not have been able to afford the next trimester of tuition. And while I was happy to have the work, instead of a full force of security, they scaled back operations to “the Dirty Dozen” the 12 or 13 or so security guards that would pick up the rest of the shifts while the rest of the guards went home for Christmas break. And sure you’d see each other occasionally checking in or out of HQ, but you’d patrol by yourself for 12 hours, over a veritable lifeless arctic tundra, go to a deserted dorm, and do it all over again, day in, day out for the next month.
2. Cold. Minnesota is cold. And though nothing personal or emotional, it wears on you psychologically, especially if you’re patrolling out in subzero temperatures on hour 22 of a 32 hour shift over the Washington Avenue bridge on Christmas eve (and no, I am not making this up). It doesn’t get warm. It’s always cold. But the campus needed parking lot and bridge patrols and so you would do push ups to stay warm, pad your boots with paper towels from the bathrooms to stave off the frost bite and come up with stupid poems to stave off the insanity.
However, there was one bit of hope. There was one shimmer of light I had in this otherwise dreary, bitterly cold nightmarish existence;
Deondra was a freshman just like me. And though I had no time for social activities or the pursuit of cute girls, Deondra was that one weird girl that pursued me. Not aggressively, but as I was just sitting there in the cafeteria she just came up and asked if she could sit there. Kind of shocked I said “sure” and thus begat a friendly conversation which led to a couple dates.
It was already late into fall and my work schedule was such that not much of a heated romance could form, but by the time winter break rolled around and the campus emptied itself, there was really nothing or nobody else for socializing. Sure I had friends at work, but we were nothing but sleep-deprived, hypothermic zombies that would greet each other in between work and sleep shifts. But there was that one nice, kind girl. The one who was kind enough to go out on a couple dates and even drive me to the grocery store so I could get groceries.
Well it was the middle of December, the campus was deserted, and I received a call from Deondra. She was wondering how I was doing and what I had going on for Christmas. I said,
“Well I have to work Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, then wake up again around 8PM so I can start my shift at 9PM.”
She said, “Aren’t you going home?”
I said, “No, I can’t, I have to work. Besides, I don’t have a car, so I couldn’t go even if I wanted to.”
Feeling pity for me she said, “Well, why don’t you come over to my folks house for Christmas dinner in Apple Valley?”
The smile on my face was like seeing a beautiful nurse in a WWII battlefield hospital. I was already physically and psychologically depleted and the company on Christmas day, not to mention a home made, warm meal was the best Christmas gift one could ask for.
I said “Sure, that would be great.”
And she said, “Well I’ll pick you up at 5PM and then drop you back off at the police department at 9PM just in time for work.”
I said, “Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
My Christmas Eve shift was somehow not as cold as the previous ones (even though if I recall correctly that night it had dropped to -10 degrees). The patrols were not as dreary and the entire night I got to look forward to and dream about the food and this really sweet nice girl that was going to have me over for dinner. Matter of fact, this is the type of girl you would probably want to hold onto and get serious with. Beautiful, educated, and kind. I let those thoughts carry me through until you could see the sun start to lighten up the eastern sky as 7AM approached and most families in the nation started opening their Christmas gifts (unless of course you’re one of those cheating Catholics that can’t wait until the 25th and open theirs on the 24th!)
I trudged back to my deserted dorm, too tired to take a shower, crawled into my bed in full uniform, set the alarm for 430PM and fell asleep immediately, though no doubt with a smile on my face.
The alarm on my Ironman digital watch woke me up. I got up like most kids did 10 hours previously, giddy and excited. Hopped in the shower, put on a nice shirt and some slacks, packed my uniform and my winter gear, until I realized I hadn’t gotten Deondra any kind of gift. I looked around frantically as well as equally hopelessly because what possible gift would an impoverished college freshman have in his dorm that would make for any kind of Christmas gift? I figured the best I could do was write a funny, light hearted poem thanking her for her kindness, but with the 10 minutes I had to go before she picked me up, the poem was nothing to be proud off. Regardless, I took it, still debating whether I would even give it to her or not and rushed downstairs.
There I sat in the lobby, nobody there except the desk clerk working on some papers. Deadly silent as the snow was falling as I looked out the window, sitting there with my backpack and a folded up piece of paper with the poem on it. It was getting dark, still a little bit of light left, I looked at my watch and it was 5PM.
I set my watch fast just for instances like these to make sure I was on time. Still had a couple minutes to go, so I figured she would pull up momentarily and let my thoughts drift about what kind of food would be at her house.
Turkey? Chicken? Steak? Some potatoes. Ooo! I could get a doggy bag and be able to eat a good meal on my overnight shift. I could totally gorge myself and get that first home made meal in 3 months.
I looked at my watch. 5:03.
Hmmm… Must have run into traffic. Snow probably slowing down traffic.
Wow, traffic must really be bad…even for Christmas day…I hope she’s alright.
I decided to go call her house (because we didn’t have cell phones back then) to see if she was on her way. Went to the desk to use their phone. It rang and rang and rang and I got her voicemail.
“Hey Deondra, it’s me, just wondering if you’re on your way or not.”
Decided to try calling again. Still no answer, just her voicemail.
And at 1730 hours on December 25th, 1993 your rookie, idealistic, naïve Captain had a pivotal epiphany that would set him down the path that in part made him he is the man he is today.
“I don’t think she’s coming.”
It’s kind of like Afro Samurai, if you’ve ever seen it. Samuel Jackson does the voice for an imaginary sidekick Afro Samurai has and more or less acts as his id-subconscious. And the entire movie this hallucination talks to Afro, giving him advice, if not, more so picking on him.
It was the same thing. Not that I was hallucinating and there was some alterego version of me, but in my head I started having a conversation with myself.
“Why wouldn’t she show up?
What did I do wrong?
How could somebody do something like this?”
And other stupid questions naïve, 18 year old American boys will ask themselves on the precipice of the hell they have no idea that they’re about to enter called “conventional American dating.”
Now needless to say that Christmas night was certainly one of the darkest, badest ones in my life (and I’ve had plenty). I have rarely had such anger and hatred. I don’t even remember the night being cold or dreary or painful. I don’t even remember getting tired. But I do remember coming to a very important conclusion that most men do not have the benefit of realizing until they’re much older.
“I don’t have time for this shit.”
Now, this is long ago in the past, but that does not mean the lesson should not be passed on or that we should not learn something from it. And as I see men younger than me, confused and dazed as to what they did wrong, and girls wondering why men seem to become aloof and indifferent to marriage or engaging in things such as a “marriage strike” allow me to help those of you younger aspiring, junior, deputy and otherwise economists out there by making some lessons crystal clear;
Boys/Men – When you are younger, say 14 to 25 or so, you have to realize you are not dating adults. You are dating children. I don’t know why, but my experience has told me sometimes girls at this age prefer to play games more than do anything approaching engaging in a real dating or courting relationship. In a sick and twisted way, they prefer to string you along and play games and find it fun. I don’t even think they realize that you are a human being too, and it takes on more of a roll where it’s like a cat toying with a wounded mouse. I don’t know why. I don’t have empirical proof of it. It’s only been my anecdotal experiences that have led me to this conclusion.
Regardless, the whole point is that IT IS UNACCEPTABLE TO BE STOOD UP FOR A DATE PERIOD. There is nothing wrong with you if you get stood up, but rather there is something wrong with them. And if there’s one thing I wish I could convey to the younger men out there it’s that it’s NOT YOUR FAULT. You cannot take it out on you as did I and millions of other men have. And while it is hard to be indifferent or aloof to a girl standing you up, you must view it in terms of “Is a girl who stands men up for s’s and g’s the type of girl I want to date?” You will come to the same conclusion I did;
“I don’t have time for this shit.”
Conversely, it is just as evil and bad to stand girls up. Don’t do it. Think about what you’ve been put through and then think about how you felt and know you’ve caused the same pain in a girl, who is probably equally innocent.
Girls/Women – DO NOT STAND UP A GUY EVER. You want to be the 40 year old with no husband, but a nice collection of cats and a lonely hate-filled life? Well sweetheart, you’re well on your way. Men are not bobbles to toy around with and re-enact your favorite episodes of Dawson’s Creek or 90210 on. Many women ask “where are all the good guys?” Well, ask yourself the question how many you stood up, how many you played games with, or how many you just didn’t treat respectfully and there’s your answer.
Not that it will make you feel any better Ferdinand, but all the veterans have been there before.