Land of the Free and Home of the Cougs
About a month ago I tried to pick up a second major just so I could remain in the pseudo- reality that is college life in Pullman, Washington, but my parents only agreed to fund that endeavor long enough for me to earn the four year degree in precisely four years. So the brilliant hope of lengthening my days as a carefree dependent quickly faded as did my last days in the north tower of the infamous Stephenson castle. My humble room on the 13th floor overlooked the treetops of the tiny town that stole my affection over the span of my stay with the simple charm of school spirit wrapped up in amazingly grotesque fans at football games who yell curse words and hide flasks in their socks and North Face fleece pockets. So with the golden day of graduation quickly approaching and the threat of change prominently camped out on my front lawn, I did my best to welcome the last few weeks of college-dom with true Cougar posture: I grabbed a plastic fold-out chair and a case of Busch Light, cranked up the tunes, and sat myself right down next to Change on the semi-green grass and we threw ourselves a party.
Among the sentimental “lasts” and drawn out goodbyes with people I’m absolutely crazy about, figuring out post-grad plans proved to be more like maneuvering a rusty sailboat on a rainy, windless day than driving the Charlie’s Angels-like speedboat I had previously imagined. And considering that the last few calendar months had been memorably marked by a blanket of extreme bitter cold hovering over the tundra-like landscape, the kind of cold that turns generally nice and good-hearted people into heinous whiners you consciously avoid, I would have given just about anything for a little bit of sunshine and direction in my life.
For some reason Pullman missed the memo this year that springtime had come. It was late April and I was still trudging to classes wearing my winter parka and snow boots. Finals week I saw snow falling from the sky. Everywhere around campus there were girls with bronzed skin peeking from the tops of their blouses, compliments of the tanning beds (or “happiness portals” as I like to call them) still draped in layers of last winter’s fashions. A few “brave” souls occasionally sported shorts and skirts, but accessorized their ensemble with colorful shivers and blue lips as they strutted by.
But anyone who’s hung around good ‘ol Pullman for more than a half-day could tell you in a breezy, flippant sort of way that this is no surprise. Our dear little home-away-from-home has a closet full of major psychological issues that have yet to be addressed. Pullman suffers from an array of mood disorders including bipolar disorder, major depressive episodes, and manic depressive disorder, probably a result of repeated heavy trauma experienced from too many football seasons gone wrong and a hundred and twenty-something years of World Class, Face to Face hangovers. Too many days this school year I experienced elements from all four of the seasons before lunch time, sometimes even before my 10:00am coffee break at The Bookie. So ironically, I found my voyage toward life outside Cougarville and decisions concerning my future plans synonymously tied with the unpredictable and uncanny Pullman weather patterns. Therefore, my first sail boating experience was anything but smooth sailing.
I never imagined I’d be one of “those people.” I didn’t understand “those people.” Like models they were melodramatic. But nonetheless I spent the majority of my last official Spring Break curled up on the living room couch at my dad’s house, clutching a box of Kleenex, and pulling my green fleece blanket over my head in an attempt to hide my scared and sobbing face from the world. For the previous few weeks I had been bombarded with the question of “So what are you doing after graduation?” And after I reluctantly responded with a casual “I’m not sure,” or some other equally-lame explanation, after a brief pause and a blank stare, I had the privilege of hearing about how my fellow classmates had bagged themselves a big job in a big city, succeeded in earning their MRS degree and were in the midst of planning their big day, or had plans of jet-setting to some trendy international hot spot for an undisclosed amount of time. As for me, I found myself paralyzed in fear and still caught on the coattails of heartbreak, wishing that things were different. I had only managed to turn in a handful of job applications at places I could have very well worked at during my high school years… and most of them never even called me back. So I questioned the credibility of all the people who ever lead me to believe I was special because I spent four years playing around on an intellectual jungle gym with tall brick buildings that stand for prestige and knowledge. And so, with swollen eyes and the seeming absence of divine direction, I faced the dim reality that I, miss college grad, couldn’t even get a callback from the Gap. I was totally one of “those people,” and I was inviting everyone I knew to my lawn-chair gathering turned pity party.
Yet in the middle of my tsunami of emotional chaos I talked to God, because that’s what I know how to do and because my dad said maybe it would help me shut up and stop crying all over his expensive black leather couch. I don’t think God necessarily talked back, at least not in any way I really understood at the time, but I let him know all about the thoughts and concerns that were floating around in my head; the rational and the irrational…but mostly the irrational.
And so the dialogue began. It was the kind of conversation that had a lot of word jumble followed by extended pauses and sentences that end with a lot of those squiggly-marks with the dots underneath. And the dialogue continued further and further into what the calendar said was spring. I was prepared for the change and warm weather, with toe nails that were painted a cheery shade of Cabana Sunset pink. However they remained smushed down into the depths of my winter boots along with the hope of ever figuring out what God wanted me to do with my life after graduation. I considered a few options including the terrifying proposition of moving back in with the parents, but every time I felt as if I was getting somewhere…it snowed…again. It got dark. Things failed to make sense and any plans I made seemed brittle. So I ate a lot of ice cream and tried to forget about the weather.
And the dialogue also continued with a handful of the kind-hearted people in my life who were willing to listen to my thoughts as I sorted through the options and the hypothetical result of each potential decision. These are people I have since labeled as the “good listeners” in my life; the kind of friends you invite over for dinner and go on long walks with. They listened while God still didn’t seem to be saying much. So I waited. We waited; me and the good listeners. We waited for God to make a move. And it was semi-uncomfortable sitting there in my plastic lawn chair beside Change on the semi-green grass because Change isn’t always so friendly; he doesn’t do much to make you feel at home.
But a few weeks before graduation Saturday my sailboat caught a warm, southbound breeze and things noticeably started to move, all about the same time I finished my final research paper. Change finally got up out of the lawn chair and Springtime came strutting into Pullman, fashionably late of course, but she showed up nonetheless clothed in glory. And with her she brought answers and hope and all kinds of things I’d been waiting for. So I forgave her for being so late, put on my flip flops to show off the Cabana Sunset pink polish and bought a plane ticket for the California coast because that’s where Change beckoned me to go.
The day before I left Pullman I carved my initials into the wall of the stairwell where I had my first and worst college kiss. Not sure why I did. I just happened to find myself walking past that spot and felt like being sentimental. Felt like wrapping up the dialogue in a meaningful, symbolic sort of way. And I made some important life decisions before I bid farewell to that place; before I dyed my hair a lighter shade of blonde and traded in my worn out winter parka for a bottle of Coppertone and SoCal flair. I decided to bury my brown box of regrets on Crimson soil which included all the fuzzy memories from every time I ever set foot into the dirty basement of Mike’s and for being like a brick wall at times to those around me. I also decided it was in my very best interest to avoid dating guys from Washington in the future, specifically those named Ryan. In fact, I decided I should probably avoid dating anybody whose first name even begins with the letter “R” just to be safe. Finally, I decided that waiting on God, even when his response seemed slow like the seasons, was always going to be worth doing because springtime always comes back around, kind of like skinny jeans and polo shirts. I prayed for a life on the narrow path and stuck a pebble in my pocket to mark the memory.
And with that I finished packing up my life into boxes and duffel bags.
Graduation day was brilliantly sunny, and so is the place where I’m going.