I’ve been poking around at old lives. My old lives.
My life seems to be divided into distinct segments. One of those was lived, ever so briefly, but seemingly neverendingly, at Murray State University. I left for college when I was 17 and moved an hour away to Murray.
I lived in White Hall, my one and only dorm experience. I never wanted another one. And, for the record, I even had a private room. (Thank you, Mama.) My roomie, Helen, who I’d been friends with in high school, moved in with someone else who’s roommate didn’t show up, because she had sense enough to realize we were not going to remain friends if we continued to live together in that small space. Helen and I later lived together in Lexington in a one bedroom apartment for a year and made it fine. But that’s another life – a long life, even though it was compressed into one year – a lot happened that year. But, that’s a tale for another time.
Keeping the room at Murray private was some ridiculously small amount of money – well under $100 for the semester then – and Mama thought it would be best. Thank goodness she was looking out for me because I don’t think I could live with anyone in that small of a space and come out liking them or me after a few days.
I can remember which room I had at White Hall – it was next to the last one on the front – on the left side – but I can’t remember which floor. I am pretty sure it was 6th floor, but maybe it was 8th. Funny how things that can seem so important at the time have absolutely no significance later. I remember wanting to take the plaque that denoted the room number. Now I can’t even remember what floor it was, although I’m 98% sure it was 6th floor. I think it was room 618 – maybe that’s where I’m getting the “8.”
Some important things happened in that room – probably most important was that I decided to leave it and go to the University of Kentucky. That was the place for me to go in state, and I’ll be forever grateful to my mother for just accepting that statement when it came out of my mouth – surprising even me a little bit. I did not belong at Murray. It was not for me. I went there because it was close and it’s where my friends were going and it was safe. I was 17 for heaven’s sake, 16 when I was making the decision, and too young to be even be living an hour away from home. It was a transition time for me.
I became friends with Evelyn in that room. She lived on the other end of the hall and would make the walk down to my room every morning and we’d go to class together. We talked about music and her home in Florida and what we wanted from life. She already knew. I had no clue, but I knew what I was finding at Murray wasn’t it.
I got to know Carla there. She was an art major who lived down the hall. Carla was very studious and very gracious. I was not so learned in being kind as Carla was. I went to Carla’s home in Elizabethtown one weekend and auditioned for a show at Bardstown. I didn’t get the part and looking back I wonder how things would have changed if I had – you never know. Odd how life works in circles. Some years after I had left Murray I ran into Carla’s sister, Nancy, at the Kentucky Derby while we were both in line for the ladies’ room. I had only met Nancy that weekend in E-town, but she recognized me. It was a weird moment.
I curled up on a twin bed in that White Hall room with another girl friend, who’s identity I will still protect, who cried all night thinking she might be pregnant. We spent a fitful night huddled together on one of those beds, me rubbing her back, and saying the things friends do in such circumstances – “I’m sure you’re not pregnant” – all the while thinking about what I was going to say when it was confirmed. She wasn’t pregnant, however, so I never had to press those thoughts into service. The next day all was magically resolved. She learned her lesson and got birth control. I suppose you could say the lesson was abstinence, but as we all know, that hasn’t been working well for a few thousand years.
I got to know “the Debbie’s” across the hall from that room. They were both named Debbie and had been best friends since second grade. They were from Marion, Illinois and their fathers both worked at the Federal prison there. I went to the wedding of one of them a couple of years later. She married a man from Iran. It wasn’t a happy marriage, I hear. But before she was past it she died of a rare blood disease. It was sudden. I got the call late at night from a mutual friend. I had moved on and lost touch with many people from Murray, but someone did call me. For years I had a black umbrella in my car that someone had left there the night of Debbie’s wedding in Marion. Everytime I would see it I would think I should get it back to her family. Instead I sent a sympathy card. It was all surreal. Whenever I hear “Supertramp” playing I think of the Debbies because they played that one song over and over and over again. Funny… I can’t even remember their last names now.
In that room I got to know my sweet-mates – Christy and Susie. Susie was a pretty little brunette with girl next door looks and the nicest disposition you could imagine. Christy was a very tall, thin girl who was a Mormon. It was my first “cross cultural” experience and to say it wasn’t smooth would be an understatement. Christy went on a lot of dates because, as best I could understand it, that was part of the mission of college – to find a husband. But, she saw no point in dating anyone who wasn’t Mormon because they were not marriage material. There aren’t a lot of Mormons in Murray, Kentucky. I would ask that question now, but I didn’t then. Needless to say, her stint at Murray was brief.
After I left Murray I had some photos I’d taken of her and Susie and mailed them to Christy in – was it really Utah – I think maybe it was. Anyway, I mailed her photos and they came back with “refused” stamped on the envelope. That was the first time I had any clue that she didn’t think much of me. Suddenly I didn’t think much of her, either.
Fortunately, many pleasant experiences with LDS members since then have made me not write off an entire religion as jerks, but I came close. Maybe Christy wasn’t any more able to make wise decisions than I was. I just put the photos in another envelope without a return address and a little note inside with my address so I’d know if they went to the dead letter office, and sent them back. Obviously, she got them, and found they were not the devil in an envelope, or whatever the Mormon version of the devil is, but just innocent pictures of college roommates.
In that room of White Hall, I kissed a boy named Tom. He was a sweet boy, one of those guys from “a good family” as your parents would say, but he didn’t excite me – not even when he kissed me. Fortunately, even at 17 I had the good sense not to tell him that. That’s just not something any man of any age wants to hear, particularly not at 19, which is what he was at the time. Tom was looking for a wife and I was looking for some freedom. It wasn’t a good mix. Pity he wasn’t a Mormon – I could have introduced him to Christy. But he wasn’t. He was a good Baptist boy.
Tom wanted to settle down and have babies. He wanted to work in his father’s bank and make a life in the community where he had grown up. It’s not that that’s a bad life. It’s a wonderful life. I just wasn’t ready for that life then – I’m not sure I’m ready for it now. But then I knew I wasn’t. I hadn’t seen anything, I hadn’t done anything, I hadn’t been anywhere. I wanted to. I needed to.
So… when I left for UK it was a logical break, not that we were serious or anything. We exchanged a few letters, a phone call or two, but happily drifted our own separate ways. But I would send a Christmas card every year, and get one back off and on, so Tom has been on the periphery of my life all these years.
A few years ago, I called Tom when I was headed to Kentucky for a visit. We met in Paducah and had dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s in the mall. It was nice to see him, but if I’d had any doubt at all I made the right decision it was squelched somewhere between stories about business trips to Hopkinsville and being a Boy Scout leader for his sons’ troop. I hadn’t seen him in 22 years so I expected more. I’m not sure what, but more. Again – it’s not a bad life, but I don’t want 20 plus years to pass for me with a Hopkinsville business trip being a highlight.
Yes, that room at White Hall was where I lived a whole life in two semesters. It was a really important time in my life, but looking back I realize I was so incredibly miserable there. I was out of my element – not only in music, but in the people I was around. I had bided my time in high school thinking, “I just have to get to college, there must be other people like me in the world.” But they weren’t at Murray – at least not large numbers of them, although there were some. By and large it was just a bigger number of the same clicques that existed in high school – they just all moved to college and mixed with others of their kind there.
That year was one of the saddest of my life. I knew it should be a happy time and it wasn’t, which made it all the more difficult. I was sad practically every day – no wonder I didn’t want to get up and go to class. Not only did I not enjoy the music program, now I realize I was probably clinically depressed. It’s a wonder I managed to make good grades – I guess just because I had to – there was no other choice in my world. There were certainly good times, but I needed others “of my tribe.” I couldn’t define what the was, and I’m not sure I can even now, but I knew I wasn’t meeting them there.
The biggest and best part of Murray was that I left it. In doing that I learned you can leave things that you don’t like – even if there are scholarships involved and even if everyone else is doing it and even if people think you’re crazy for it. The people who really matter – in this case my mom – will support you. They give you credit for knowing what’s best for you – even when you’re just a kid. In leaving I learned that following your whims and doing things that scare the bejeezes out of you can be very, very good for you. Those two things have done well by me for many years now.
I guess, when you get around to it, I learned that lesson while sitting in that very dorm room watching a UK game on TV. That’s when I decided I was going to UK. I ran down the hall to tell Helen, who was shocked but said she wanted to go too. And things just started happening for that to be possible. Helen only stayed in Lexington one year, but it was such an important year for me. I loved it at UK. She didn’t. But that year gave us both time to learn and transistion.
Some of my great life lessons happened in that room. I just didn’t recognize them for what they were at the time. I guess that’s the benefit of poking around in old lives.