Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Frat Boy: Gracie - The Good

"What I've got they used to call the blues Nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong. . ."

As the sound of Karen Carpenter’s voice mournfully singing these words from “Rainy Days And Mondays,” filled my dorm room the steady patter of rain accompanied my feelings of loneliness.

The rush and excitement of freshmen year band camp was over. Classes had started and everyone seemed to settle into the rhythm of the year. Everyone seemed to have a place, and a group of friend except for me.

Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) had welcomed me with open arms a couple weeks earlier. I spent all my free time hanging out with NUMB'ers during band camp and in the first couple weeks of school. Because I had spent so much time with NUMB people, I never got to know the other freshmen in my dorm and there really weren’t that many people in NUMB that lived in my dorm.

NUMB was great but after rehearsals ended I wasn’t sure what to do. People talked about hanging out but I didn’t know how to reach out and get myself involved. I knew of Phi Mu Alpha (which I discuss getting into in this post), but I wasn’t quite ready to knock on their door.

For those first couple weeks, after eating dinner, I would do some homework in my dorm room (which was a single) and watch a DVD by myself. This seemed okay but the loneliness built up. Every freshman has that night when they hit the bottom and don’t feel like they belong at college. For me that night sitting n my room and listening to the Carpenters.

Then a got a message over Instant Messenger (old-school online texting).

     Gracie: Do you want to go out for ice cream?
     Me: Not really, I got a bunch of stuff to do . .
     Gracie: That’s fine, we’re coming over anyways, be ready in 10 minutes
     Me: Wait, who is coming, what?
     Gracie: Later

Gracie wasn’t our section leader in NUMB, she was our mom. Like the prison mom’s in Orange Is The New Black, she took care of people in her section and took young ones like me under her wing. During band camp, she kept tabs on me and made sure I knew what was going on. She never let me eat at a table by myself if she was around and if anyone even thought to give me a hard time she got up in their face without hesitation.

At first when she referred to me as one of her kids, I was kind of put off. I was still getting used to switching from being a older person who had “kids” of my own in high school marching band. However, by the end of band camp, I was took comfort being under her care.

For Gracie, being a section mom was an instinct. Her warmth embodied the best parts of Midwest hospitality. Even though, I had yet to open up to her, she gave to me, simply because she chose to care.

The knock on my door startled me because I hadn’t really had any visitors to my dorm. I opened the door to Gracie and a collection of about ten NUMB’ers and associated friends. They were all soaking wet, some in raincoats and some in just shorts and t-shirts. Before I could say anything they all entered my small room and started complementing the posters I had up in my room.

Gracie came up to me and began to speak, but put her finger up, motioning for me to wait a minute. She took off her glasses and attempted to wipe the beads of rainwater off with her soaked sweatshirt. After realizing that it was not going to do any good, she giggled at herself, put on her smeared glasses and said, “let’s go.”

“Look, Gracie, I got this thing due . . .”

“Kevin, find his jacket, let’s go. . .”

Before I knew it, I was walking in through the inky blackness of the night to the local ice cream shop. The crowd was giggling making jokes while Gracie walked next to me casually putting her arm around my shoulder, “c’mon Kings, this will be fun, relax.”

As puddles of water collected under our seats, we all ate ice cream. I didn’t have a lot to add to the conversations but everyone was being patient with me, explaining jokes and unpacking background for the stories they were telling.

After we all finished up the group walked me back to my dorm. As they said goodbye, Gracie squeezed my arm and gave me a wink. I brushed my hand through my soaking hair and watched Gracie gleefully skip through a rain puddle to catch up with the group. Then for the first time that day, I smiled.

The world can pour everything it’s got down onto you, and Gracie showed me that you don’t have to let to get it down.  

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