Splenda in the Grass
Two score and three stone ago, I was a young college student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. It was there that I tasted love for the first time.
I spent my first two nights on a borrowed dispensary bed, awaiting a dormitory room to come open. Summer travelers who rented dorm rooms as a sort of youth hostel still occupied many rooms.
I awoke from a vivid dream the first morning and hurriedly scribbled a poem that had come to me while I slept. I dreamed it as a fully developed poem, a melancholy piece about an old Ball jar that I stepped around each time it trod the trail to an abandoned dirt roadbed; a deep cut that was a favorite place to think.
She sat right in front of me in the chapel during freshman orientation. Although I was painfully shy, I struck up a conversation about books. As in a tube radio, a small spark soon warmed the vacuum tubes into a warm glow and we tuned in to the same lilting melody.
She was a musician and Alto singer who was majoring in Theology to become a priest one day. We couldn’t have been more different, but we only saw the common threads in the weave of the cloth.
We did share a love of Tolkien’s books, and we founded a chapter of the Society of Creative Anachronisms along with two other students.
Coming from an impromptu voice lesson she gave me, I offered my elbow and she took it with a smile.
It was about two weeks before the timid relationship took a turn toward the physical. We were both 17, and both had been nominated for Georgia’s Governor’s Honors camp the previous year. Conversation led to a look; a look to holding a soft hand; a touch to a kiss.
We sat talking in a quiet corner outside the Administration building. It was very near where she studied music. Each of us gushed ideas, barely restraining from interrupting the other. With so many hormones and ideas racing, eyes lit up and we fell giggling to the grass.
There was no sex, just kissing. It was electric. Until a shadow loomed over us. We looked into the sun and blinked. Once the man shifted, we saw a thin man of 83 years towering over us. He was bald, and a skin condition had decorated him with the spots of a leopard.
A decade later, the skin of the aliens on the television show “V” would give me flashbacks.
It was university President Rufus Harris, and we had been necking outside his office window. He gave us a most serious scolding. I prayed that he wouldn’t fall dead in front of us from his outrage.
I hadn’t thought I would have the money to go to college, so I had not applied. In May of my senor year, Judge Pelham called me to his office in the courthouse. He had been my advocate on the panel for the Governor’s Honors competition.
He told me that his alma mater, Mercer, would give me a better cost share than any other school, and that with my grades he could get me in on short notice.
I was only vaguely aware that Mercer a religious based university. Later on, I learned that religious zealot John Birch had been a student; one who had called his professors on the carpet for heresy. His namesake nephew was in my class, though I never tried to get to know him. The Southern Baptist Convention ran the school, and its school of theology was its heartbeat.
So it was with red faces that Leanne and I dusted the grass from our clothes and limped away like shamed hyenas.
Looking back it is quite amusing, but at the time I thought we would both be expelled for unseemly public displays of affection that might lead to dancing.
When I visited the judge and my other mentor at the end of the quarter, I dreaded chastisement. But they slapped their knees with laughter.
I have to thank Leanne for those experiences, although a true relationship never developed. Especially for the voice lessons that would serve me well thirty-five years later when I did my first volunteer, then professional, narration jobs.
I moped around for a year aching for Leanne. The days were sweet but it was not the real thing.