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My College Friend

Spent an hour or so chatting with my college friend.

Yes. My ONE college friend.

Now, I’m not a recluse, a hermit, a serial killer, or an ogre. I don’t hate people—or not any who don’t deserve hatred and scorn. (And yes, there are those, no matter how hard one tries to be non-judgmental.) I have many friends, now, and former colleagues who feel almost like family. I met them at my second college—but as a married adult working and raising children, when none of us could hang out together.

But I only have one college friend from that all-important first year of my “adulthood.”

To be honest, most of the blame can be attributed to my family. We children were raised with the “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule. No one spoke to me, so I spoke to no one. When I spoke, I was awkward and unintentionally rude. On one occasion, I met a Giant Schnauzer—well, I met the lady walking the dog.

          But she didn’t start a conversation, and I had to meet that dog—so I spoke to the dog, not her. As I walked away, I told her kindly, I thought, that “it was nice to meet your dog.”

          My sister considered murdering me right then. She was in college in LaGrange, knew the lady in a walk-on-by way, and claimed she would have to drop out of her last year to escape the embarrassment of my rude (but accurate) encounter.

          With that history of perceived social failure, I didn’t need to be forced into the role of high school dropout mere months later, when schools in Georgia were ordered to integrate.

          I was a junior at Greenville High School. Good grades, sure I’d get a scholarship to the University of Georgia when I graduated. Except—one afternoon my chemistry teacher kept me after class.

          My chemistry teacher and I had a strained relationship. Not to brag, but almost all my teachers liked me. I behaved, and I had excellent grades, if you give me a pass on Algebra—the first ‘C’ I had ever gotten. I did write a 300-page novel during that class, but it wouldn’t have mattered—if it involves math, I’m done.

          She also had a daughter—the de facto valedictorian of the small high school. And the teacher thought I was trashy (she used a kinder word) because of the bright yellow, knit sweater with a front zipper. The only piece of clothing I ever loved that wasn’t navy blue, but she told me “decent” girls look best “when they’re modestly dressed.”

          None of that mattered when my chemistry teacher handed me a large box of towels and told me I had been accepted to Reinhardt Junior College in north Georgia. No one approached me, I didn’t want to go—but there it was. My parents and chemistry teacher scuttled the plans I had for a university education. Worse, they colluded to send me off to a college I never heard of without even experiencing my senior year.
          Sadly, the reason was that Greenville High would begin the following year with both Black and white students. I begged to stay anyway. I didn’t care who the other students were—I wanted a high school degree. I wanted to go to the University of Georgia and become a teacher.

          Nothing I wanted mattered then. To anyone.

          My first few days at college were horrible. I felt betrayed, abandoned, incapable of doing anything. Until I met my college friend. She was doing laundry when I went in to buy a Coke and work on editing Preach, the handwritten novel I knew John Wayne would love.

          You don’t speak unless spoken to.  She asked about the book, and when I mentioned the part a palomino named Taj would play in the story, she told me she had horses—on campus.

          And we’re still friends. Over the last fifty years or so, we would lose each other—and she’d find my address. Most recently, she sent a message to my author page, saying “ This is me. If it’s you, let me know.”

          Today she protested that my loyalty was misplaced, and that she “just wasn’t the saint” I thought. I told her the truth—I never needed a saint.

          I just needed a friend.

          We all do.

Sisters, by Athena Garcia.