Monday, July 25, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 40: I meet dorm mates who will be my good friends my freshman year

I met only my roommate whose name was Darlene from Tooele while I was busy rehearsing and going on the road with the play, "Great Aunt Sits on the Floor".  I was having great fun touring with the play.  The cast was terrific with a number of the most accomplished performers in the theater department. I was very surprised that the head of the theater department, Lowell Lees, directed and traveled with us and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.  Being of a suspicious mind, I immediately began to wonder if part of his motivation for touring was just to get away from home.  I heard almost immediately he was married and had three children, grown now with one attending college and majoring in theater, too. I also learned that he was famous for his direction of Shakespeare as well as Broadway hits, drawing actors from both places to the University to be in his plays. Well, he could do what he wanted to do.  Perhaps going on the road was therapy for him as I also heard he was plagued with ulcers and was considering retirement he was suffering so much from his ailment. 
I decided not to declare my intentions to major in drama as I knew English teachers would be more in demand than drama teachers, simply because more were needed to teach English every year.  I decided to make drama my minor since I intended to write plays, so I wanted to be in as many as possible so I would know how to write them.
 My first experience with director Lees was a happy one, so I just hoped for the best.  When the play was over I was able to get acquainted with the two girls next door, one of whom happened to be from Panguitch in my county.  She was surprised to find out I was the niece of her brother's Frank's good friend Kent.  He and Kent were in the same year of medical school and Zelda said they were talking about establishing a practice together when the time came.
Zelda, a warm affectionate girl, was trying to recover from what she regarded as a humiliating experience taking her placement tests.  She scored so low in nearly all categories that she was forced to take remedial classes in all of them to stay in school, but she said bravely that she had always intended to be a home economics teacher so she would do whatever she had to do to stay to the university. She bemoaned the fact that Panguitch Hi had not prepared her well for the University as she had never gotten anything but "A's" in her life!
I had scored high enough in all my English tests that I got into the class for top English students, but I pointed out to her that I had scored a very low 14% in math, and had not done so well in geography and history either, which reflected the inferior teaching I had experienced in those classes at West Hi.  I could have had a better history teacher in Miss Woodside had I stayed to Bear River High school.  I had no doubt that she was one of the outstanding American history teachers in the state.  I loved history so that was my loss.
Norma, her roommate, was an attractive blond from the fishing town of Seldovia in Alaska, so she was able to tell us some fascinating stories about working in a fish canning factory in Cordova. In fact, she missed Alaska so much that she decided to return and finish college there after her freshman year.  
Zelda, Norma, Darlene, and I became fast friends that year.  Norma and I even went to visit Zelda in Panguitch a weekend or so.  Zelda was in love with Panguitch, the county seat.  She especially adored Zion's National Park.
I tried to persuade her that Boulder, in the eastern part of the county, was just as beautiful, but she was not at all interested in spending any time visiting me. I came to believe that the citizens of Panguitch really did view themselves as superior to the rest of the people in this relatively poor county.  But still spectacularly beautiful.
Zelda was one of the most affectionate girls I have ever met.  All the girlfriends I had had previously had been quite reserved.  She was very popular with girls, and in fact, told me years later that after she became a teacher girls got crushes on her and it troubled her.  She wondered if she invited such feelings.  I told her I thought she was just an unusually warm person, but I didn't think that meant that was anything to worry about.
That spring however she ran into my marked aversion to pledging a sorority.  I stated quite strongly I did not believe in them, that this was a way that more popular girls discriminated against others.
At Bear River High School, the clique had girls in it who would go around claiming to be one of the 'popular thirty'.  I knew without even having to look on the list I had not made it into the popular thirty.
Aunt Neta had talked too often about how popular her boys had been.  She seemed to think striving to be popular was important to become a success in life.
Book worms like myself who had been called 'two eyes' because of my thick glasses just might never qualify I wanted to point out to her.  If I had told her that, she would probably have advised me to quit reading, it was not doing me any good!
Anyway Zelda did not join probably only because we were all still good friends, but after we parted ways at the end of the year I heard that she pledged a sorority late, and after that she just sort of forgot about me. I always felt that trying to go along with some of my ideas stressed and strained her, and that was the main reason our friendship never made it beyond the first year. She came from a family of 12 kids, and what with her sorority sisters and students, she would not have been able to keep up our friendship very well either.
I did not pledge any sorority but found a room in the most unpopular sorority house which I rented only if I did not have to join.  I decided I would study the sorority girls that year and see if I was missing anything.  I rented a room there because my roommate, Darlene, joined, and she told me that they had a good cook and had not been able to recruit enough pledges to fill the Phi Mu house.  I needed to be very close to the campus so I would not be in danger if I walked home at night from rehearsal, if I was lucky enough to get more parts in plays.
My roommate at the Phi Mu house called herself Torchy.  She informed me she was the daughter of the head of the psychology department, and she admitted that she lived to torture this man for the presumption that he really understood daughters like her.
She had the most beautiful strawberry blond hair and did not hesitate to borrow my most attractive clothes even though she had more. In fact, she wore my new black velvet strapless sheath I bought for Christmas before I did.  She looked so spectacular in it, I could not turn her down.  I was just glad to get it back without a fight.
She said she had had any number of nervous breakdowns, so she was the first to introduce to me up close what a girl diagnosed with mental illness looked and acted like.  I was very glad I had known her as her experiences helped me to get through what happened to me later.  By then she was long gone from the university.  I thought she had father issues just as I did but I was not able to be frank with her as she was with me. That was my problem.  I felt I had been completely silenced and it seemed to become more risky rather than less to break my silence.  Nobody, it seemed, wanted to know what secrets I was concealing.
Every attempt I made to speak about them some way or another was thwarted.  Starting with Lowell Lees, the head of the theater department, who disappointed me very much when I took a chance and wrote a paper in the first class I took from him that I thought would provide an opening to talking about my hidden experiences. We were invited to discuss our pasts in a personal way, but he was not the least bit encouraging in response to what I wrote. The way he reacted to that critical paper was the beginning of my disillusionment with university life.

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