The truth is, I'd tried to hit on a girl, and missed. Not lost big time, just missed. Anyway, that may have had something to do with what I remember of that night. The move I'd put on wasn't a big deal, and it was desperate, as I remember, because there would be no tomorrows. But it went nowhere.
The feeling of going nowhere was what I remember that night, especially just a couple hours later, when a bunch of us brought the girls back to campus. We'd spent the evening at a club, dancing and tossing back a few beers because the next day was graduation. They were staying in the dorm, and it was late, very late when we got back to town, so we went in with them--to drop them off, I suppose.
When they shut the door behind them, we walked away down a hallway that for some reason has never faded in my memory. Dorm residents--mostly already gone--had piled their sheets and pillow cases outside the door, as instructed; so at regular intervals, outside every last door, the dimly lit, silent corridors were splashed with ghostly bundles of bedding.
That's the image I remember, maybe because, right then, just a few hours from my own college graduation, I felt I'd hit on a college education and somehow missed. I had no job, hadn't even applied anywhere. I'd flunked my draft physical just a week before, and that was a joy. It was 1970, and hundreds of guys my age were dying every week in Southeast Asia. I had no desire to be one of them.
But there was nothing in front of me. I wouldn't leave college with a wife or a girlfriend or even a one-night stand. I was going home to a place where the President I called "tricky Dick" was prayerfully esteemed as the God-ordained leader of a Christian nation, and it wasn't going to be easy. I was going home because there was no other place, right then, that would have me--a Robert Frost-style homecoming.
In that dark dorm hallway that night, I thought maybe I'd wasted four long years because sometime the next day I knew I'd be simply going back to where I'd come from, a circling rabbit. I wanted to leave that college, but that dirty bedding made me feel as if I was taking absolutely nothing along. I was going nowhere.
There ain't no way I would have guessed I'd spend the bulk of the next 39 years just a hop, skip, and a jump from that those dismal dorm hallways. There ain't no way I would have guessed that in just six years I'd be back, almost forever. But that's what happened.
And now it's grad time again--one of my favorite times of year, a time when old profs like me live vicariously in the excitement our students carry about where they're going and what they'll do, an excitement I didn't feel years ago at my own grad.
But I also recognize what I see in some of the kids, because it's what I felt that night. One significant chunk of my life was over, and I seemed to have nothing of it in my hands or heart. I recognize a kindred sadness in their eyes.
Maybe, way back then in 1970, standing in that dark dorm hallway I was just plain scared. I wouldn't have admitted it, even to myself; but it sounds plausible right now, when I remember standing there. I was flat out scared. A week before I'd flunked my physical, and two weeks before that I'd marched in Washington, cock-sure of my politics. But that night, even though I wasn't going to Vietnam, I was deathly afraid. I never admitted that before, probably never knew it. But I was. I was scared to death. I was just a kid.
There were all sorts of reasons for me to be afraid that night. But this morning, 39 years later and just three blocks south and west from that darkened hallway, the old scary image and those quaking feelings are still filed away in me.
Really, I was just a kid.