Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Draining Experience

(Click here to see the post by Dean and the ensuing conversation which prompted this post.)

The campus was dark—the air hung with equal parts chill and anxiety as we stepped out from our dorm, our breath condensing as it met and mingled with the cold of the night. We clung together, giggling nervously, as we crossed the street deserted of cars—eyeing other clumps of students likewise headed to various pursuits, few of which were academic in nature.

We approached the Fine Arts Building, mingling with the others as we convened for the evening’s events. Christa, as usual, was chatty and cavalier—squawking and squeaking and generally enjoying all the attention it generated. Julia joked in her much quieter, goofier manner, gathering attention naturally with her willowing height and graceful long, blonde hair. I vacillated between nervousness and jealousy, as I frequently did that year, attempting to focus on anything but what was to come.

Even then, had you asked me why I was rushing, I would not have been able to tell you. I wasn’t particularly enamored with our non-Greek yet Greek-like alternatives, with their lettered sweatshirts, service requirements, and glorified Bible studies. Truth be told, all I really wanted was to buy a pretty dress and go to formal, and to do that, you had to be in the club.

And to be in the club, you had to crawl through the drain pipe.

I knew this going in to Rush Week, yet head-long I went, anyway. Christa’s enthusiasm, as always, was contagious, and Julia and I were roommates, albeit unlikely ones, so it just seemed natural we would do this together. We gathered in the darkness outside Fine Arts with the other wannabes, a nervous twittering rising among the growing gaggle of sophomore girls. What was once a knot in the pit of my stomach had grown to something more akin to a ball of yarn, and my hands were cold with the clamminess of my growing anxiety.

The object of my fear was situated to the west end of the Valley, just outside of Decker Hall between it and the Library. There, just wide enough to support a flow of water under the sidewalk, was a drain pipe intended to prevent this lowest place on campus from flooding in the event of torrential rain. It was, for the most part, ineffective, but the drain pipe, approximately two feet in diameter, served a much more important purpose in the life of the campus—torturing innocent sophomores with dreams of fancy dresses and nightmares of being trapped in small spaces.

I don’t remember how we got there that night, other than it involved, as did most events that week, a lot of running and a lot of yelling. Then, suddenly, we were lined up, panting, half way through the Valley, headed toward The Lowest Place. My heart, which pounded with nervousness if I had to crawl under the BED, threatened to explode in my ears as its beat echoed off buildings and spilled down through the Valley. Taking deep breaths, I tried very hard to keep from panicking and chickening out. I was growing closer to both (and the pipe) by the minute.

Christa and I, thankfully, had already configured a game plan to get me through the tunnel. I would go before her and she would come behind, “pushing” me to keep me from freezing up and chickening out. She rattled on behind me—half cheerleader, half cabaret show—attempting to both encourage and distract me at the same time. Neither worked.

And then, suddenly, the girl in front of me, a flaky sort from South America, was down on her hands and knees and I was down behind her, thanking our Most Merciful God that the week had been dry and therefore so was the pipe. We approached the tube and the head, then body, then feet in front of me disappeared into the cold, dark ring of metal. Lowering my head to enter, I could see a vague non-light yet not-darkness at the other end, and fixed my sights determinedly upon it.

For several seconds, all thought was suspended as a matter of pure survival. Elbows and knees moved in unison by pure instinct—propelling me toward the other side, unimpeded. Until she stopped. A dead stop, right smack dab in the middle of the tube. “Oh my god! It’s so dark! Oh my god! Oh, this is soooo creepy!” The Flake was freaking out, with me trapped behind her. I shoved at her feet, trying not to panic. “Move it,” I grunted. She did not. Panic became a near-reality. But Christa had me covered. “Move your ass! Get the hell out of here! This girl is claustrophobic, you idiot!” Movement suddenly resumed, further spurred by my own pushing and clawing, and I resolved to look at Christa in a new light if I made it out of there alive. And then, as suddenly as I had entered the pipe, I was being pulled out into the less-darkness by a concerned and apologetic upperclassman male. “You okay?” I stood up, wide-eyed, trying to further distance myself from the hole lest I somehow found myself sucked back into it. “I am now,” I replied.

I regard the drainpipe nowadays, when I return for Homecoming, with an odd combination of pride, wonder, and embarrassment. Having made it through, I joined the club and went on to attend exactly one formal before going inactive my second semester and not re-enlisting the following year. As it turns out, pretty dresses were expensive and social clubs demanded a lot of time and energy I preferred to spend elsewhere. I wish I’d known that earlier…

I pointed it out to my daughter this past fall as we went about campus reminiscing. Her eyes grew wide—“You crawled through that, Momma?” I nodded, amused at her response. “Why did you do that, Mom?”

I paused, aware of the absurdity, unable to come up with an answer. “I don’t know, Bub,” I finally replied. “I really don’t know.”

13 comments:

Dean said...

Thanks, Lorie.

That was fun to read and at same time, infuriating.

I particularly enjoyed your desciption of Christa. I had forgotten the parts of her personality you captured.

Your story perfectly illustrates why, to this day, I harbor such disdain about so many things related to our alma mater.

Their insistence that these kinds of degrading stunts are all just youthful fun burns me up.

You know, I've been a grumpy old fogey since I was 19.

lorie said...

That was really the worst of what we had to do.

The worst experience for me, actually, was getting a head full of flour and water paste at the "capture the flag" battle with Dativus-- took Julia and I several hours and a fine toothed comb to finally get it all out (and I had an exam the next day). Quite a bonding experience.

I honestly was not aware "Fire Night" existed. What else do I not know about? What else do you disdain?

You've always been a grumpy old fogey, and I'm still a naive freshman... (:))

Dean said...

What I disdain about our alma mater is the shallowness. For example, they have rules against smoking and drinking because it's a "church" related college.

At the same time they retain faculty who openly deny the tenets of the church's faith. So, you end up with a situation where smoking cigars is bad, but denying the resurrection is perfectly OK.

The same goes for "RUSH." Anyone who applies the principles of Christian ethics and the dignity of persons to "Rush" activities is seen as a spoil-sport.

AU is or,at least in our day, was all about preparing people to be shallow consumer in the suburban culture by inculcating the idea that professional and financial success will cover over massive contradictions in one's beliefs and actions.

lorie said...

Hmmm... I'll have to chew on that a little while. I agree with your assessment. I guess I didn't expect much more than that from them because I was fully aware that it was a money-making institution and their ultimate interest (as with most, if not all, institutions) was the profit margin. (I'm not saying you were unaware- I just funneled any frustrations I had with them through that manner of thinking, right or wrong.)

I guess I figure that if I look hard enough, I will find contradiction and hypocrisy everywhere within the church and its institutions, my own included. I address it in the ways and avenues through which I can, and spend the rest of my energy focusing on improving what is right in each setting. I'm not sure if that's a cop-out, or just realistic...

Dean said...

Well, I don't really have any problem with them making money. It's a necessity.

But there are plenty of other colleges that, for example, require faculty members to believe what the church who sponsors them believes and who do not allow college sponsored groups to degrade other students with impunity and still make money.

I'm not asking for perfection just a little honesty, just a little bit of sincerity. That's all.

lorie said...

I agree with what you're saying--I just don't think that ANY Christian organization or institution manages to have 100% consistency between what they profess to believe and what they do in practice. I've yet to see it, at any rate.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dean, Tom here.

I can somewhat relate to the why did the "administration" let this, that and many other things happen. (And what's up with Fire Night? Call me clueless.)

I'll be real honest, right or wrong, many "Christian" colleges attempt to strike a balance in the student life-experience category.

I know kids who went to schools where they weren't allowed to go to movies, dance (OK, bad example)do this, etc. In essence, the Police State college. The administration tried to control everything.

A large part of college, in my opinion, is growing up and making decisions. Some people make good decisions, others make really STUPID, POUND YOUR HEAD ON THE WALL decisions. I, of course, consistently found myself in the former group... I guess I tended not to hold the administration responsible for everything that students would do.

As Lorie mentioned earlier, any institution is not perfect. It is filled with flawed people.

To some extent, college is about making choices and excercising free will. Hopefully, since those days, most of us have learned not to make just different choices but better ones too.

Tom

sheila said...

Hi Lori,

I arrived here through Dean's blog, by way of his MySpace account.

I never did rush and now I'm glad I didn't.

It was nice to find you here :) It's been a good week of hunting down AU alums.

~sheila
Mrs. Psychos

lorie said...

Shelia!!! How the heck are you guys?!?! I emailed you at the support address on your website so you'd have my home email--I'd love to catch up with you both!

Yeah, that was a wasted semester. So much I'd do differently, yet still much I'd do the same.

Hope to hear from you guys!

Anonymous said...

How funny!

I went caving a few years ago, a co-worker convinced me to go. (What the hell was i thinking!?!?!?!) A little light, crawling for hours and squeezing through tight spaces. never again!
I was slightly traumatized.....

angie

moshpitmarsha said...

I thought about going to Anderson when I learned of it back at Columbus State. I wanted a Christian environment back in the mid nineties, but not one that told me I had to skirt or a dress everyday. I however heard that AU had professors that denied the inerrancy of the Bible, however AU required their students to go to chapel twice a week so I thought it was Christian.
1995 God led me to OSU. Had it not been for me attending OSU and getting involved with CCC, I might not have learned truths that I needd to hear.

Anonymous said...

Excellent description!
I was trying to picture that pipe... funny how you don't notice things if you're not being stuffed in them. LOL

Christie

lorie said...

Christie as in formerly Christie C.?