The College Years
Where did you go to college and why?
I attended David Lipscomb University and Belmont University.
What was your major and when did you choose it?
When I was growing up, I always assumed I would be a teacher. I played school daily and loved teaching. When I was in high school, my grandparents put me in charge of helping a cousin who was having trouble learning how to tell time. Being a teacher is an integral part of my DNA; it comes as naturally to me as breathing. However, when I was about thirteen my mother and I were eating lunch at Luby’s Restaurant (long since closed) and she told me what a psychologist does. It was right then that I decided I wanted to be a child psychologist. I wanted to really help children.
Described where you lived your first year of college.
I lived in a dorm room on campus. It was a small room with a community bathroom. My roommate and I got along well.
Did you work during college? What did you do and how much was your pay?
I worked on campus at the alumni center. Basically, I called people who have attended Lipscomb and asked them to give a donation to the college. The pay was about seven dollars an hour. This was really hard for me to do, and I only lasted a couple months.
Which professor(s) influenced you the most?
Dr. Jerry Gaw was a professor of History. He taught a class on the Second World War. By this time, I was thoroughly fascinated by this time period, especially the Holocaust. Dr. Gaw’s class was usually reserved for upperclassmen and I had to get his permission to join the class. When I asked him, his first response was: ”Are you a Sophomore?” Me: ”No. I’m a Freshman.” This made him even more reluctant. He said, ”There is a lot of research and a lot of writing.” I wanted to laugh; he had no idea how perfect those requirements made the class for me. I told him I was very sure I could handle it, and that I had already done a lot of research on the Holocaust. He eventually said, ”Well, you have two weeks until you are not able to withdraw from the course. You can try it and see.” I remember being excited to prove to him this class was right up my alley. Although I don’t remember learning much, I do remember enjoying the class and getting to communicate with Junior and Seniors about the Second World War. It was my number one favorite class.
Other than Dr. Gaw, my Bible teacher ultimately changed my life. Freshmen were required to take a course on the Old Testament. This professor gave us an assignment with a choice: we could either write a report on the movie, The King of Dreams, or we could go as a class to visit a local synagogue. Remember how I said I was fascinated by the Holocaust? This fascination really kicked into gear when I was about fifteen. I was in the library and found a book called The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert. I read the entire eight hundred page book and was absolutely shook to my core by the horrendous things it contained. The book is written in a very clean, unemotional way—much like a scientist would write a textbook. Strangely, this is what gives it such an emotional punch in the gut: the stark gravity of the truth needs no embellishment. After reading that book, I not only wrote my own fiction account but soaked up non-fiction literature about the subject, even reading Mein Kemp as a Sophomore in high school. So when the professor gave us this assignment, there really was no choice to make. Of course I would go to the synagogue.
My first visit there was life-changing.
Between the songs sang and prayers recited in Hebrew and seeing the Torah (what I called the Old Testament), my heart was stirred. I knew God was in that room. I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in…. well…. forever. I ended up going back regularly for over a year and a half; it was one of the most precious, beautiful experiences I can recall. And I probably wouldn’t have gone without being prompted by the assignment. It really is a shame I cannot remember the professor’s name, as I certainly would like to let him know what his assignment did for me.
If you joined a fraternity or sorority, which one was it? How did you like it?
Me? In a sorority? Are you kidding?
No. I did not join one of those. I barely even glanced at the tables that were set up on the lawn the first week or so of school.
Who were your best friends in college?
I did not know anyone on campus except my roommate Sarah. Ironically, though, I did find an old friend I’d known years ago. In the 8th grade, I went to a private school in Mt. Juliet at which I had a sweet friend named Shiloh. Most of our friendship was based on books: we swapped them, we giggled over them, we cried over them. Shiloh was a good friend. On a whim one day, I decided to see if she was at college too and tried to find her name in the school directory. Lo and behold, she was there. I sent her an email and that sparked a call. We talked and met once for lunch but then never had contact again, a fact which I found sad. But what a small world.
What did you do to socialize?
There was an inner-city mentoring program on campus that I signed up for. Basically, once a week, a bus load of inner city kids came to campus. Each college student was assigned a “buddy” and we spent an hour talking to and praying with them. We read the Bible to them. My little girl was named Brittany. She would write me letters and she called me on the phone a time or two. Also, my freshman year was the first year I volunteered with Junior Achievement, which started a nearly 10 year relationship.
I did not go to parties. I did not go dancing or to clubs. I did not have what you would call a typical social life at all. Not even any birthday parties.
Tell about your love relationships while in college.
I was in college when I met a guy I fell pretty hard for pretty fast. He was charming, handsome, witty and intelligent. Moreover, he seemed sincere: he had me convinced, at least at the time, that he felt just as strongly about me as I did him. Our dates were idyllic scenes, like going to the park and wading in an icy creek or eating at Applebees and debating the pros and cons of the death penalty. We even carved initials in a tree. A real-life fairytale if ever there was one. Unfortunately, the clock struck midnight and on Valentine’s Day I learned that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture: he didn’t spend his time with me that holiday and, a few days afterward, called to tell me he was moving on. That was really, really hard for me to deal with: it hurt and it took a pretty long time to get past that. I made a fool of myself by pouring out letters in which I was very clear about how I felt; silence was the response. Eventually, though, I started healing in all kinds of ways—in ways that were deeper than a lost relationship. And, a year or so later, I met the man with whom I would be in a relationship for the next nine and half years.
Were you a serious student or did you play too much?
I was a serious student. Being a good student was all I knew how to do well.
What was the most foolish thing you did during college?
I was an Ambassador for the college, which meant I gave tours of the campus to prospective students. Once, two guys came alone to tour the campus. At the conclusion of the tour, they asked me to ride with them around town, supposedly to “show them around Nashville.” Without telling a single soul (and, mind you, this was pre cell phone days) and without knowing these two guys from Adam, I agreed and got in their truck and left campus. We drove around a couple of hours and they brought me back to campus. I was extremely lucky and that was totally the most foolish thing I have ever done in my life.
Of which of your college accomplishments are you the proudest?
My volunteer work. I worked with Junior Achievement for years and fell in love with teaching. But that wasn’t the only organization to which I devoted time.
I also volunteered for RSAC—Rape and Sexual Abuse Center. The training for this was intense and I was really proud of myself for getting through it alive.
In addition, I volunteered time with Project Affirm. Project Affirm was kind of like a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, only volunteers could be paired with a child not of their own gender and all children in the program had some sort of emotional trouble. Some, for example, had been diagnosed with ADHD, others had been abused. I was paired with a little boy named D. D and I would go on “play dates” around Murfreesboro. We went to the mall and made wishes in the well. We went to Chuck E. Cheeses. We went to the park a lot. We went swimming. Basically, we just played together. But it was some of the most precious days I can recall. I grew to love that kid and I looked forward to our outings way more than he did.
I am proud of myself for putting others first, even when I was misguided sometimes and even though sometimes volunteerism was a way to avoid dealing with my own issues from the past. I am proud of myself for trying so hard to turn something devastating and scarring into something positive. Even though not all of my volunteerism experience was ultimately good for me, I sincerely believe that volunteering with children enabled me to heal.
What was your most painful moment of college?
I was not particularly kind to myself during college.
I only ate on the weekends when I went home and, even then, I would flush half of my meals down the toilet. This unhealthy behavior, combined with memories I was nowhere near ready to confront, made for a very stressful time in my life. I remember going to the vending machines and staring at food, deliberately having left money in the room. I did other things to myself that I am not particularly proud of. Although I never used drugs or alcohol, I resorted to other, more creative ways of attacking my body and my self-image. The most dangerous part of holding things inside is that you can’t do it: eventually, the secrets and the pain come out, either through verbally talking to someone or more destructive avenues. The most dangerous part of secrets is that a body can only hold them for so long. I thought I was so smart I had essentially healed through taking so many psychology courses and doing so many “self-help” books and through volunteerism. I thought I was fine. Until I tried to be in a relationship and realized I was a complete failure in that area, which forced me to acknowledge I hadn’t healed at all: I’d just been hiding.
One night, I came back to the dorm and, sitting at my desk, wrote my Last Will and Testament. I gave my books to my mom, my CDs to my sister, my pictures to my mom. I started crying. Then, after it was written, I re-read it and felt stupid: obviously, I had nothing of value to give away and everything I did have would of course go to my mom. It wasn’t like there were dozens of people wanting my things. I wadded up the paper and threw it away, trying to convince myself I hadn’t wrote it at all. But I repeated the exercise almost nightly.
What was your happiest moment in college?
I don’t know.
Probably being surrounded by some of the people I knew then and the memories they helped me make. Like Joey.