How I Found my Sorority Home

KDbiddayI didn’t realize that I was home. Until two fistfuls of shaving cream were dumped on my head.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

Moving to Union University, almost 900 miles away from my home in Florida, gave me what I wanted – a fresh start. An entirely new chapter of life, full of blank pages and endless possibilities.

I figured that one thing I should add to my new life was friends.

To that end, two of my roommates, who I met during freshman registration, convinced me to rush.

“We’ll do it together,” they bubbled. “It’ll be fun!”

Despite my suspicions about Greek life, I filled out the form for sorority recruitment, mentally replaying every moment (there were a lot of them) in the past year that I said I would never join a sorority.

My two roommates transferred to the University of Memphis before school started.

And I still wasn’t sure about the whole “sorority thing.” But I had absolutely nothing to lose. I figured this would give me a chance to meet people. If nothing else, it’d be an experience. That’s what college is for, right? To be stupid? To make mistakes? Someday, I’d reminisce about my dorky freshman days and laugh with highbrowed maturity about how I almost got sucked into the hard-partying, unendurably vapid world of sororities.

Instead, as I shuffled up and down Greek row in 4-inch heels, I found houses full of kind, welcoming girls. Girls who were held together with strong bonds of friendship. Girls with intelligence and ambition. Girls with welcoming smiles and contagious laughs. Some adorably goofy co-eds and some gently poised young ladies.

I can’t really remember why I was so skeptical of Greek life anymore. I guess that during rush, I had a revelation: stereotypes aren’t always true. What we expect isn’t always accurate. (Shocking, I know.)

But even after discovering that, I still wasn’t sure which sorority I wanted to invest the time and money into, if any of them. Among the muddle of Greek alphabet soup, no letters seemed to spell “home.”

Not until bid day.

After running to the house, taking (a rough estimate) 20 gazillion pictures, and casually getting to know each other, we played games with balloons filled with shaving cream, which (naturally) morphed into a shaving cream battle.

I was somewhat on the outskirts, amusedly watching my new sisters get covered with white foam, when someone came up behind me with hands full of shaving cream lathered my hair with it.

Shrieking, I whirled around to see a tall, blonde girl standing behind me, laughing.

Unless you’re a terrible, obnoxious person, you don’t play a prank on someone you don’t know. You do something like that to someone you have a relationship with. Someone you know will give you a hug and try to get you back.

As strange as it sounds (and is), when that shaving cream hit my head, I knew that I was a part of something bigger than myself, but something that would swallow who I am. I found friends I could be my nerdy, awkward self with. I found girls who would accept, encourage, and love me.

Some girls are smart. They figure out where they belong a lot sooner than I did. And stay much cleaner in the process.

But one thing you realize at college is that most of us don’t know where we’ll end up or even where we’re going. We take grasp at whatever chances are dangled in front of us, we offer people our hearts and cross our fingers, hoping that – maybe – they’ll like us, despite our quirks and insecurities.

I’m starting to think that may be how life goes.

Maybe we’re all looking for people who dump shaving cream on our heads.

I’m just thankful to have my sisters.

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KD

You Can (and Can’t) go Home Again

gradI’m about to leave home.

Which implies that I first came home.

(Let me know if I’m moving too fast for ya.)

Thomas Wolfe wrote a classic novel entitled, “You Can’t go Home Again.” Bon Jovi challenged this idea with a wonderful song, “Who Says You Can’t go Home?” The early American novelist and rock-n-roll legend both speak the truth.

(Okay, take a breath if you need to, because this gets interesting soon. I promise.)

With the exception of an enviable few who spent time in Europe or Asia or one girl who visited most of the western US, Scotland, and is now in India, I did actually come home, as did most of my friends. So, in this respect, I bow to the logic of Jon Bon Jovi.

But home-coming isn’t a parade across the football field in a fancy dress, holding a bouquet of roses and balancing a sparkly crown on your head while every girl in the stands sighs and wishes she was you. (Except for Taylor Swift, who’s focused on the guy next to you.)

Life back home feels like a circus. You walk a tightrope, desperately trying to balance the freedom you had before with the fact that you’re back to the house, the room, and the bed you’ve had since you were eight. Meanwhile, the circus freaks keep nipping at your heels, waiting for you to fall. You don’t know if your parents don’t think that you’ve grown up at all or if they just don’t care.

(To be perfectly clear: I do not at all mean to imply that my parents are freaks.)

The friends you spend the majority of the year with aren’t there. Your old friends are scattered across the globe or working or taking summer classes. And you’re not quite the same, either.

But, gradually, you adjust. Home becomes home again.

And then, once again, you tear yourself away.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

(Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t go Home Again”)

“Who Says You Can’t go Home,” Jon Bon Jovi

What I Learned from Food Network

Every Sunday, my family gathers in front of the TV to watch The Next Food Network Star. It combines two of our favorite things: community television-watching and food. But there are actually some really solid life lessons to pull from the show:

1. Be yourself. Contestants tend to either get really nervous and freeze up or go overboard to appear funny and likeable. Just relax! There are a lot of different personalities on Food Network and they all offer something pleasing to viewers! Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because that will mess you up more than anything else. But also…
2. Be kind. The Villian may provide some entertainment, but he/she never wins the game.
3. Follow your passion. This kind of goes back to “be yourself.” Everyone has a story that forms their interests and tastes. When people follow that, they do best and give viewers what they really want: a relatable or fascinating story, not just an insipid list of instructions.
4. Listen to the people who have been around for a while. They usually know what they’re talking about. And even though they may seem sadistic harsh at times, they really just want to help you improve.
5. Learn to improvise. You don’t always get the ideal situation. Learn to roll with it.
6. Smile through challenges. No idea what you’re doing? Think that you just served the most awful thing to come out of a kitchen? Don’t let the haters judges know until they taste it. It might be better than you think!
7. Take risks. Best case scenario, you succeed and blow the judges away. Worst case, you fail, but they have to respect your creativity and guts. Just don’t be stupid with your risks.
8. Cook good food. This isn’t a metaphor. I just think that everyone should know how to cook.

Hair Today, Blonde Tomorrow

My hair evolution. Yes, I deliberately skipped over the awkward middle school years.
My hair evolution. Yes, I deliberately skipped over the awkward middle school years.

A revolution raged across the country. Like their forefathers had centuries earlier, the oppressed masses fought for equality. They didn’t fight with a guillotine, but with scissors. This war wasn’t poverty vs. luxury, but tradition vs. well, fashion.

I’ll get back to French history in a second. Right now, I am having a crisis: my hair.

When I was a tyke, my skin was tan, my eyes were blue, and my hair was almost white. Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older, my skin has gotten lighter, my eyes have gotten greener, and my hair has gotten darker.

Eventually, I’ll look like a green-eyed Snow White.

Living in Tennessee during the school year felt miserable. It was cold the entire spring semester. So, from the end of fall semester to the end of spring semester, I left my dorm as little as possible.

Since it didn’t see the sun, my hair became darker.

“It’s true,” my friend agreed. “You looked like Malibu Barbie when you first came here. Now your hair looks red.”

I’ve started thinking about bleaching it, which isn’t something I’ve ever had to consider about before. For no real reason, I highlighted my hair once before – in 8th grade – which proved to be a mistake, like most of the decisions I made during that era. It was a time of experimentation and awkwardness and the two often went hand-in-hand. The result was a yellow mop that made my face look bright pink.

Hair is a form of self-expression. That revolution I mentioned earlier was the genesis of the bobbed hairstyle. When women in France began bobbing their hair, they were disowned by their families, even run out of town. Did that stop them? Hecks, no. They sullenly pointed to the French savior, Joan of Arc, who made the bobbed cut a symbol of girl power and their efforts created a style sensastion; with the arrival of World War I, it became enormously popular.

But it’s not just that I prefer the lighter blonde look. My hair is lighter when I’m outside, when I’m at the beach or by the pool or just enjoying the outdoors. Basically, my hair is lightest when I’m happiest. When life isn’t coming crashing down on me. When I’m enjoying myself.

I suppose I should embrace my darker look. It represents change. It represents overcoming challenges. It represents the new era of my life.

But, like any borderline hippie, wannabe Barbie, I’m dousing it in lemon juice and spending every spare second basking in the sunshine.

Viva la revolution?

Or maybe just evolution.

Model Employee

There were red flags the size of Kansas waving at me from the beginning.

For instance, the fact that it was almost an hour away.

But I’m stubborn and in college (i.e. broke and desperate), so I told the kind lady at the temp agency that I would work – for one day – at a model home.

Again, being in college (i.e. having never bought a house and knowing absolutely nothing about real estate). I’ve never done sales, either, but I can’t blame that on college.

By purposeful speeding, I arrived at the home about 25 minutes earlier than I expected. I swung out of my car in my houndstooth pencil skirt, oversized bag (stuffed with books and pens) hung over my shoulder, and sauntered to the side of the house. I had been given the combination to a clever key-holding device that hung from a spigot protruding from the house.

(Did I say “key-holding device”? I mean “key-jail.”)

I crouched in the shrubbery and dialed the combination. There was a button on the side of the device that looked like it needed to be slid up to release the key, so I tried to push it up.

Repeatedly.

Hard.

No key.

I like to think of myself as a resourceful person. The name of the company that manufactures the key-maximum-security-prisons was on the front of the lock. I pulled out my phone and looked it up. I found some advice for resetting the numbers. I tried it.

Nothing.

I was sweating by this time, my blonde curls sticking to my gray cardigan.

Finally, I called the agency. I won’t go into all of our little back-and-forth – me to the agency, the agency to the saleswomen, agency back to me, back  to the saleswoman, the saleswoman to the construction worker – suffice to say, by the time a gaunt, white-haired angel named Jerry turned up, I had actually rubbed the skin off my thumbs and had tiny paint flecks on my fingers.

I had arrived 30 minutes early. Jerry let me in 30 minutes late.

Thankfully, no clients had come yet. Which pretty much describes the day.

In the eight hours I worked, a grand total of four people showed up. They all asked questions I couldn’t answer and after I found the answer, no one asked me that question again. The entire time I was with a customer, I felt stupid, inadequate, and frustrated.

The remaining seven-and-a-half hours, I stalked everyone I’ve ever met on every social media site in existence, read an L.M. Montegomery book, and wrote a short story, as well as most of this post.

The saleswoman whose desk I occupied had a few nicely written sticky notes on the side of her laptop. One read, “Always REMEMBER DAY 1: excited, nervous, ‘goosebumps,” ½ starved, happy, proud.” From a plaque or two in her office, it seems she ended up doing very well.

Granted, the lady did come in later and verbally roasted me, but she helped me realize something.

I want a job that I’m so excited to have, the first day makes me sick. I want to feel proud of my work. I want to be happy to come in and do my job every day. (Well, every week day. With plenty of vacation.)

And I don’t want to go into real estate.

Or sales.

And I want my own key.

Shouldering the World

Sculpture of Atlas, taken at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli by yours truly.
Sculpture of Atlas, blurry photo taken by yours truly at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

I would never get my mom Life Alert.

For one thing, she probably wouldn’t wear it. For another thing, if she ever fell down and broke her hip, I am confident that she would hoist herself up and hobble over to the kitchen to complete the crossword puzzle.

What’s a three-letter word for “stubborn”?

You just can’t keep a good woman down. Trust me. I’ve tried.

Ye gods, how I’ve tried.

The last day of our beach vacation, Mom, while boogieboarding, fell in the sand and was twisted around by a vicious wave, knocking her knee out of place. This means that ever since we’ve been back, the numbers on my vivofit (the Garmin version of a fitbit) have been spinning wildly as I chase Mom down with an ice pack, begging her to sit down for a few minutes.

Let me tell you, convincing my mother to relax is exhausting.

The closest thing to a crutch we’ve been able to get her to use is the vacuum cleaner.

Even Hercules, who reportedly possessed an impressive amount of both brawn and brain, which he used to trick, tame, or kill the most intelligent and fearsome creatures ancient storytellers could invent, wouldn’t be able to pin down my mom, despite her twisted knee and dislocated rotator cuff.

Not that I meant to compare Mom to a legendary monster. Although I do think that she resembles a mythological being who was tricked by Hercules: Atlas.

I suppose there’s something inside a mother that calls for her to stand on twisted knees and hoist our world on an aching back. They uphold the cosmos with their inexhaustible strength. They keep our celestial spheres spinning with their tremendous energy – mostly in the form of boundless worry and love.

Of course, even Atlas – the “Titan of Strength” – got a short break while Hercules shouldered the universe for him.

And if this metaphor makes me a demigoddess, then I accept that.

When You Don’t Say a Thing

Sunrises

Running on the beach is one of my favorite things to do.

But, sometimes, it’s also one of the hardest things to do.

And I don’t mean physically.

It seems almost sacrilegious to run past a glittering horizon, earphones shoved into my ears while it chases after me, calls to me, begs me to notice it, to photograph it, to write about it.

Every morning, I find myself rising earlier to get to the beach, to see the sunrise, to have time to capture the peace that the beach invites.

My bare feet noiselessly pound on the coarse sand, rubbing the balls of my feet and the tip on my toes. I always start running toward theshelledit sun, watching it timidly peek over the horizon. After shocking itself with its beautiful reflection in the waves, it serenely floats to the top of the sky in a bright blaze of pink and golden glory. Then I turn my back to it and run away from the wind, immediately breaking out in a hard sweat.

When I turn around again, the sun is a scarlet ball of flame, blinding me with its radiance. I shuffle and kick my feet in the water, collecting shells, navigating the cloud of translucent jellyfish that washed up on shore, and slowly meander about a mile and a half to the weathered, wooden door that separates the beach from the line of beach houses.

Door2Yesterday, as I walked back to the villa, I kept listening to Allison Kraus, “When You Say Nothing at All.” It fits the peaceful, loving feeling I get from being near the ocean. This is where the people I love the most come together. It’s not just a place. It is a silent witness to squealing children, running into crashing waves. It taught us that sometimes we may run headfirst into where dangers abound and find the greatest beauty and joy we could ever imagine.

Really, it’s like a cosmic love letter, sent to every corner of the world.

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don’t say a thing…

Summer of Yesteryears

(L-R) Cousin Luke, me, sister Mackenzie pose in our pioneer get-up.
(L-R) cousin Luke, me, and sister Mackenzie pose in our pioneer get-up (circa 2008)

I started my first summer job last week.

Now, don’t misunderstand – this isn’t my first job. I started working when I was 16, tutoring elementary and middle school students. Then I worked as a news reporter. Even at college, I get paid to broadcast the basketball games.

But I’ve always had the summer off.

In yesteryears, I would wake up, put on my bathing suit, and float in the pool, a book in one hand and a frosted lemonade in the other.

If I didn’t take off my bathing suit until bedtime, it was a good day.

My cousins would come over. We’d ride bikes with broken brakes and seats that were too high, exploring the neighborhood, and searching for adventure (because, eventually, stopping my mom’s bike without brakes wasn’t adventure enough.)

We didn’t need to drive because we didn’t need to go anywhere. All the magic we needed was at home.

We dressed like pioneers and frontiersman and paraded about in broad daylight, much to the amusement of our neighbors. We built bonfires and do-si-do’ed, sing-yelling:

OLD DAN TUCKER WAS A FINE OLD MAN!
WASHED HIS FACE IN A FRYING PAN!
COMBED HIS HAIR WITH A WAGON WHEEL!
DIED OF A TOOTHACHE IN HIS HEEL!

It’s funny now, to think of our longing for the adventures of a dangerous past we had never known.

As I sit in a leather desk chair, watching the seconds slowly tick by on a security monitor, all I can think about is the summers of yesteryears.

My Chair, My Insanity

I have a first-day-of-class ritual.

I arrive early to scope out the seats. I find a chair, far away from any air vents, centrally located on the first row, where the professor can take note of my perfect attendance and that is where I sit for the remainder of the semester. 

(I’ve already admitted to being a Goody-Two Shoes, ok?)

I’ve discovered that most people will sit in the same seat all semester (though the majority of them haven’t put the thought I have into it) and I usually arrive at class early, so keeping my seat usually isn’t a problem.

However, one class, one girl (who I will call “Lane”) decided that she wanted to make me sit in a different seat.

And so the battle  began.

One day, Lane walked in class just a step ahead of me. She dropped her bag by My Chair and stood in front of it, talking to someone across the table.

So, naturally, I squeezed in behind her and sat down.

The class got a kick out of that.

Once, Lane did succeed in stealing My Chair.

I saw her riding her bike to class. I ran to try and beat her, but I knew it was useless. I watched helplessly as she parked her bike and walked in, not even noticing me, several paces away. 

I kept cool.

I walked into class, looking calm, frosty and deadly. I didn’t even glance at My Chair. I sat across from Lane.

I stared directly at her.

She laughed.

I did not crack.

I did break silence eventually, and said something about some men just wanting to watch the world burn. (Some smart aleck, either not getting the Batman reference or just wanting to be difficult, pointed out that she wasn’t a man. Whatever.) 

Anyway, a minute or two later, she had to leave to print something, so I ended up with My Chair after all.

In fact, I sat in My Chair all semester. Until the very last day.

When Lane walked in, there was a note at My Chair: 

Dear Lane,
You fought well. Happy end of the semester!
Lots of Love,
Ali

I sat in a chair (no capitalization) on the opposite side of the table.

Another girl in our class told her, “I hope you realize that that is the most sincere gift of love you are ever going to get.”

I did want to show Lane that our battle was all good-natured. (And I won!)

But I wanted to show something else, too – things change. People always move forward, whether they want to or not.

And I accept that.

Besides, sitting in the exact same chair at the exact same time over and over? Wouldn’t that be like insanity?

How College Made Me a Criminal

I am an accessory.

And I don’t mean that as a metaphor, like, “I am a silver necklace in a world of oversized t-shirts.”

I mean like the criminal kind.

In the past, I have been what laymen commonly refer to as a “Goody-Two Shoes.” Or, as my more technical-speaking sister called me, a “Goody-Goody.” (I never saw the insult in this statement, which is a defining characteristic of the Goody-Two Shoes species.)

But, as I’ve said before, college changes you.

It gives rise to crimes of desperation. Sheer desperation.

I mean, there’s no thrill or glamour in stealing toilet paper.

Sometimes, it’s just kind of necessary.

Coming out of class today, I saw my friend, Lydia. I ran up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hi,” she said, taking out her earphones. “I’m going to the PAC to steal some toilet paper.”

That’s the thing about Lydia. It doesn’t matter whether she is watching Netflix or planning murder. She will tell you exactly what she is doing in the same frank, outright manner.

“Oh.” I looked up at the building. “I’ll go with you.” We live in the same dorm building. I figured we could walk back together after stealing a roll or two.

But Lydia was a woman on a mission.

We went to. Every. Single. Bathroom. In. The. Building.

It isn’t actually that dramatic. There are only three bathrooms, all on the same floor.

And we walked away with only one roll.

My roommate did the same thing once, when we were out of toilet paper. And, to be completely honest, I have, too. (Fine. I’ve been an accessory twice and perpetrator once.)

Still, if the punishment fits the crime, I cannot imagine we would have a harsh sentence.

It reminds me of a case in New York where a man was found guilty of stealing a loaf of bread. The judge fined everyone in the courtroom for living in a city where a man had to steal a loaf of bread, then gave the collected money to the man.

I sympathize.

Though, thankfully, we’re not starving. Thanks to mandatory, pre-paid meal plans, we feast like kings on greasy cafeteria food.

We just need something to clean up with.