I was really considering hard about the University of Texas. Not wanting to go all the way to Austin, I became very interested in UT-Dallas. I really didn’t want to move out and leave my mom by herself. About this time, she was seeing a gentleman she had met through my being in Boy Scouts. In January of 1997, they married! Yay! Burt has been my step-dad ever since. Of course, there were some adjustments to make that weren’t always easy, but I am so grateful for him. Well my mom was planning on retiring back in Arkansas eventually, and knowing this, she wanted me to go to a school she knew of in this little town called Arkadelphia. I agreed to go visit this oh-ah-chee-ta; or is it oh-wash-it-awe…whatever. Unfortunately, the weekend I went was a few days after a tornado had wiped out half the town. I had never seen devastation like that before. I loved the campus; it was beautiful. They had an awesome new science building to boot! But I wasn’t sold.
I was going to Freeman Heights (the church that put on Judgment House) quite regularly by that point. Got baptized and the whole bit. The student ministry was awesome. And they happened to be going to summer camp at Ouachita. It was during this trip that I knew I wanted to go there for sure. Had Burt not been a blessing on our lives, I doubt I could have done it. Go God!
That summer, I turned in my volunteer badge at the hospital and became a full-fledged employee–a pharmacy tech, to be precise. Remember that overbearing-ness I spoke of earlier? Yah, it carried over into this job. Wow, I look back on that and wonder how I ever stayed employed. I kept that job every summer I came home; every time I came through that door in May, just about every one looked at me and groaned. I had good relationships with a couple of employees. Heck, we even joked around a lot. Except one time, another person (who didn’t like me) overheard a joke and informed the manager, who called to fire me, had it not been the pharmacist I was joking with telling him it was nothing. Anyway, it was a good job and I gained a lot of experience. If I could, I would go back and tell my manager thank you for giving me a shot when he had every reason to let me go.
August came and it was time to leave the home I had grown up in for 18 years. I remember just holding Scamper and Callie for as long as I could, crying the entire time. Burt and mom loaded me up and off we went. We arrived for freshmen move-in, arranged a couple of things, Burt shook my hand, and then there was my mom and me. So many years of going it alone, and here we were at last…a day we both were excited about yet dreaded with all our hearts. There was silence, then the words “no sense in delaying it”, and we hugged and cried and hugged some more. And then they were gone and I was really on my own.
I had a roommate…all of 3 weeks. Look, you live solo and have things your way your whole life, it is pretty hard to adapt. Robbie was his name and he would wander in every night about 1 am, then call his girlfriend and talk for about an hour. He went home on the weekends. I was very dedicated to studying and starting off well, so I went to bed at reasonable hours, so this wasn’t working. Since I never saw him, I left a note one morning asking if he could call his girlfriend in the lobby. He left a note in turn saying he shouldn’t have to. In the meantime, I was on the rowdiest hall of Daniel South. This was the notorious slip-and-slide hall. I made a couple calls to the dorm parents and of course, I was berated for it by some in the hallway. I requested to be moved and paid the extra fee for a private room. A few weeks later, the dorm parents called me in and asked if I wanted to be an RA. So I moved again to Daniel North, a hall of mostly guys on the swim team. I enjoyed the responsibility, despite all the, uh, nudity in the hallway. LOL. We’ll leave those stories for another time, perhaps.
I was an avid sports fan, never missing a football game, unless it was out of state. I wrote for the school newspaper. And of course, I studied. I’m proud to say I got a 4.0 my first semester, even with a little home sick crisis during finals. In fact, every fall I made that, but spring fever must have taken me because I made a B or two every spring. 🙂 My sophomore year, I bought a truck (the same one I still drive today). On the way home for Thanksgiving, I was about 10 blocks from my house and had a wreck. *sigh* Also, my sophomore year, my mom and Burt moved to Searcy. I would continue going back to Garland, though, for my summer job. I lived with my sister for two summers, but she ended up moving to Searcy too, so the last summer I stayed with an old Boy Scout buddy.
About midway through the baseball season of my sophomore year, I approached the coach concerned about the lack of attention the team was being paid. There was no scorekeeper, announcer…nothing. So I asked if he’d like some help. Me and a buddy started doing it. The next year I was officially the baseball team manager. (I also got to call a few basketball games.) My junior year, I became a volunteer athletic trainer for the football team. Some of my best memories come from this part of my college tenure. The long nighs of practicing taping ankles with buddies, the long two-a-day practices that always ended up at the hospital with cramping players instead of getting to eat dinner, standing on the sidelines, and getting to go on road trips…just to name a few. I can’t help but stop and smile.
I had moved to the “nicer” dorm that year, too, no longer an RA. My senior year, a buddy talked me into an apartment, which I did for one semester, but the amount of partying that went on with the people from the other school in town quickly ended that. I moved back on campus into the football dorm (coach’s hall) and its community showers. Oh boy….why did I ever move off campus? But, with the friends I had on the team, it really was one of the best places I lived.
I made so great life-long friends during school. One of the most annoying people I had ever met ended up being my BFF–Rachel Elliff. We helped each other through a lot of personal issues, she and I. In fact, I didn’t really allude to this before, but I was still having trouble with my self-esteem my freshman/sophomore years. Even went to the school counselor for several sessions. I was really struggling with my identity. But through Rachel, a kind family from the church I was attending, and well…God, I worked through those as best I knew how. Rachel unexpectedly didn’t come back one semester and I was pretty much at a loss. But God came through and built up new friendships for me, namely Christina Overton. We too had many great times together, having met in a biblical studies class.
Getting involved in sports really helped with my confidence in that area. Not that it was easy being the baseball manager. Some of the guys were really hard on me. But I kept at it, if nothing else for Coach. The football team was not as harsh, and I even began making some friendships with guys for the first time since elementary school. During the spring break of my senior year, at a baseball game, there was a very bad injury to one of the players. Our catcher–Bryan Jones–was making a play as the runner came sliding into home. But the runner slid into Bryan’s knee pushing out to the side. This tore 3 of 4 ligaments, chipped bones, and tore his meniscus. It was so bad, he was transported to Baptist in Little Rock. I flew up in my truck after the game. Bryan was very appreciative and asked me if I could stay. So I did…all week, in the hospital room. Bryan went through surgery (which I got to watch) and came back to Arkadelphia. His family was certain he would have to withdraw from school, but I suggested he move in to my room and I would do his rehab and get him to class. And so that was what we did. Bryan and I became fast friends, though as much pain as I put him through during his stretches, I have no idea how. 🙂
So that was me in college…you could find me pretty much in the science building or the sports venues. As I said, I attended a church there. A family “adopted” me who just happened to be the music ministers. Janie and Will Thompson. Janie somehow got me involved in handbells. I played the big ones…the really big ones. And though I was reluctant for several years, she eventually got me singing again (for the first time since elementary school) in the college ensemble.
My ability to leave home and return to school became easier about 2 years into it. Leaving Ouachita in 2001 was equally as hard as leaving home in 1997. Christina was the last person I said good-bye to and also the point when I lost it. I graduated magna cum laude and with honors. All my family–except my dad–came to see me. God had done so much in my life in those first four years of being called His child, but little did I know how much things were about to change and life become all the more challenging.