As promised, I am finally ready to begin unfolding the story of the Summer Institute. But first, let’s play Two Truths and a Lie. You know how to play, right? I tell you two things true and one thing false, and you have to figure out which one is false. Yeah, you know what you’re doing.
One: I have been on an airplane; two: I have written a published film script; three: I have never flown anywhere.
I’ll explain later, but don’t expect the answer for a while.
I’ve already told you about the orientation gathering when all of us and all of our parents listened to somebody talk about Bryan College. So I shall skip forward to the time when all of the kids were waiting to be led to their dorms, and to the place where I met the roommate I would be lodging with for the week.
He was tall, with longish, curly blond hair. He was quiet in a way, and yet not. Most accurately, he didn’t say anything that didn’t need to be said. And he, like me, was a creative writing guy. He was actually the only other guy besides me in a group of twelve people who had chosen creative writing as their academic track for the week.
But he was a really cool person. The two of us did as many things together that week as we could. We shared an interest not only in writing but in instrumental music, although his favorites were slightly different than mine. And it was he who taught me to enjoy the kind of dancing that college kids like—something that I’ll probably need to learn as I move into my college life.
After our parents left and we had dinner, we attended a worship session. Three very important things occurred during this time, so I must pause to describe them.
Actually, one of these things is told in a previous issue, so I can skip to the second. After our worship and teaching time each night, we would meet in small groups of between eight and ten boys—or girls, as the case may be. But on the first night, these groups had to be called out and assigned, so Jessica Vest started reading the names.
As usual, when my last name came up, Jess mispronounced it. This was no surprise to me. But what did surprise me was the fact that as I got up to join the group and to call out the correct pronunciation, someone else yelled it out correctly.
Now at this point, you must understand that while my last name was printed on my name tag, I had not said it aloud to anyone. Furthermore, I have never heard anyone say my name correctly without having first had it pronounced for them. So as I moved to the side of the room where my small group leader was supposed to be, I looked around to see who the person was.
He wasn’t hard to find, because he waved his hand at me. He was my old friend, Jack Smith. You remember the soccer player, tall, with a face that looked like he was always about to smile. And he actually won his bid for Freshman Senator. Right now, he was smiling up at me, seeming to enjoy my pleased state of surprise. I would have probably said something to him as we left the room, but my small group leader had by this time quite diverted my attention.
He was, in his own words, “vertically challenged”, so it took me a minute to find him. I actually ended up finding him by locating a tall person whose name I had heard be assigned to this group. And the leader was in the middle of a small circle of people.
It is told in a previous issue that I continuously saw one particular person who, despite my never meeting him and never having seen him before, had stuck firmly in my mind. Now I saw him once more, because he was our small group leader, and he was the person around whom we were gathering.
I never truly understood why his presence struck me in such a strange and memorable way, but he did become a very memorable person. But it was only at this point that I remembered his name, which Jess had told us before she started calling the group, and it did start with a J: it was Josiah.
As our group started from the worship session to our meeting place, I told Josiah that I had seen him around, and that for some reason he had stuck inside my head. Surprisingly, he said that he was not all that popular on campus, even though I would later find his face in many of Bryan College’s promotional pictures. But at the time, I just asked him why he stood out to me so much. Had I met him long ago, or seen him on television perhaps?
Josiah’s answer to my question was slightly humorous. He said that he really didn’t know because he was the kind of person who would be hard or impossible to see in a crowd. Basically, he was short.
But I did not have any interest in his height. And actually, now that I think about it, I never had seen him in a crowd. I had always seen him in the open—in the courtyard, in hallways, and once in a room, a bit like a living room, where I was hanging out on campus waiting for an appointment. And I did see him in a choir once as well. But again, I still wasn’t sure exactly why Josiah interested me so much. This felt extremely strange, so I chose not to discuss it any further.
I spent the next few days interacting with four people primarily: Jacob, my roommate; Josiah, my small-group leader; Jack, who always managed to find me as he wished; and another young man who stayed right next door to me in the dorm. During these days, I was actually beginning to think that this week was going to be a long one.
But then, Thursday morning happened.
I had slept very little that week—only two or three hours a night. I was always the early riser, and I wrote many of my Rhythm of America poems during these long nights. And on a few of those nights, I spent those hours with other students. One night, we were in the hall, none of us wanting to go to bed. Another, I was invited to hang out with a couple of guys in a dorm across the hall, and we talked about this and that until almost four in the morning. In fact, this was the first time when I felt what it was like to have a normal conversation with a normal person my age.
But then, every morning, each counselor would run down his side of the hall he was on, knocking on doors to wake everyone up. Every morning, that is, except for Thursday.
On this particular morning, at about six-thirty, I was drifting in and out of sleep, though I had already risen and gotten dressed. It was at this time that I began to hear an unusual noise like whooping and the clanging of metal. Since my room was on the third floor, I figured that someone was making the racket one floor below or a couple of rooms away. Despite the general grogginess of everyone in the mornings, this was a reasonable assumption given the wild nature of the previous night.
The sound faded away, and I knew that Eli, the counselor on our side of the third floor, had put an end to it. But then it started again, a bit louder and longer, before fading away. And then, it started yet again, very loud, growing louder, and apparently getting closer. Jacob was still asleep, but my curiosity overcame my respect and I went toward the door. I was immediately thankful that he was starting to stir before I opened the door, because the noise was actually in front of it as I peered out.