– Retreat day five

Overheard in Shelburne Falls coffee shop on Tuesday:

I wouldn’t just be campus security, I’d be campus police.

I turned and saw a just-out-of-college-aged guy boasting to his guy and girl friends. I thought about my brief stint working for campus police as a college freshman. I chuckled. And that was it.

And then today I was working on “Dead and Gone,” the piece on my college professor, writing back into that time in college, and my campus police experience returned to me, relevantly.

When I was a freshman (at a women’s college), I worked at Campus Police. I’d show up at 10pm and sit in the station until 1am, waiting for calls into the dispatcher for the escort service we called simply “Campus Van.” Occasionally I would go out on a call and ferry a late-night studier from the library or science center back to her dorm. Mostly I would sit around the station with the night officers and one or two other financial aid students like me. There was one, a tall, wiry, stooped-over girl named Kelly, whose bleached hair showed dark roots and whose spectacles were oversized and green-rimmed, who clucked over the guys (they were all men) and flirted with them, too. One instant she’d be telling one that he looked tired and needed a nap and in the next instant she’d be slapping another playfully on the arm and pleading, “Oh, stop.” Obviously, she wanted him not to stop.

Kelly was transparent in her flirtations, and the officers were the same in their preening. Did they want to attract us, or just show off? As I sat there on the leatherette divan and stared at the television mounted to the wall near the ceiling and tried not to fall asleep, a couple of the dark-shirted officers might be punching and teasing each other while a third one would be on his back on the weight bench, raising and lowering a horizontal bar and puffing his cheeks out and in, out and in. When the bar clanked back into the bracket, I sensed that an audience was supposed to look. I glanced over. He stared at the ceiling, as if contemplating the feat he had just accomplished. Too bad you can’t save people from their efforts, because I could have told him in a sentence that I wasn’t aiming for a cop boyfriend. From the same social class, probably, as Kelly and the cops, too, I had my sights set higher: not on a monied life, but an intellectual one.

I was choosy without having a lot to pick and choose from. I had no boyfriend, having just broken up with my high school one. With my roommate, I went to a few MIT fraternity parties, didn’t get drunk, and didn’t have a good time. I wasn’t shy, but I wasn’t good at the kind of flirting that Kelly was. The only way I’d ever met boys before was in a classroom, and where I found myself, there were none.

I didn’t plan to go down this path, but my hands started typing the words, so I went.

5 thoughts on “– Retreat day five

  1. The setting intrigues me. The police station seems more like the apartment of some bachelor campus police officers than a professional setting where they would do their work.

    I think it’s the weight bench that throws me off. I imagine the mother-daughter real estate agents on HGTV having a fit. “What is the purpose of this room? Why is there a weight bench *and* a divan? Why is the television attached to the wall–is this a hospital room?!”

    A variety of performance areas, like a circus, the television being the only one that didn’t provide the threat of interaction.

  2. A small critique: I am surprised about how clearly you remember the details, and therefore some may wonder if it is a factual account. This could be only because I know how old you are and how long ago that was…wondering if other readers would wonder about sincerity of the description? The words “divan” and “clucked” are more mature old fashioned words, so other readers may also wonder how you could recall the detail if you are indeed many years out of school.

    I liked that you used the words “men, guys, girls, and boys” in this passage in reference to others, yet you clearly point out that it was a “women’s college.” We definitely get the point that you were mature, or at least felt more mature than your cohort, even though you didn’t hit us over the head with it.

    Not sure why I feel compelled to comment about this piece as I haven’t others. I feel a little sad for all the characters and how each seems somewhat “out of place.”

  3. James, thanks for seeing this as a performance area, which I hadn’t consciously thought of.

    Em, you raise an interesting point. Memory is always slippery, and certainly mine is in this case. In the whole piece, it’ll be clear to the reader that this is what I, as an adult, remember from an earlier time. And, in fact, what I remember tells a reader something about me as an adult. It’s about a mature narrator, and not a journalistic account of an event that occurred in 1984.

    And your sense is right, that all of the characters are a bit “out of place.” Wanting to belong, but can’t quite?

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