I drove 3 hours to see The Girl With Two Names.
I knew her first from Facebook, then text messages, and finally, from Skype.
But never in person.
We had mutual acquaintances, so we knew that neither was a psycho or secretly a 40-year-old man, but it was still somewhat of a nerve-wracking concept.
But I was suffocating in Auburn.
In a matter of a week I had broken up with my long-term girlfriend and written 2 ten-page papers (one of which caused me to have a mini-panic attack.) I had 2 more ten-page papers due the next week on top of various other assignments, but I had to get away.
She had invited me the weekend before, but I couldn't go.
That was the weekend I broke down in Mary Brinkerhoff's arms.
The Brinkerhoffs, Jim and Mary, handle the campus ministry for the Church of Christ at Auburn. The Auburn Christian Student Center. Regardless of your religious beliefs, or non-beliefs as it were, the Brinkerhoffs are lovely, kind, and caring people. As Quentin spoke of Deacon in The Sound and the Fury, "he was a friend and companion to many a lonely freshmen," as were the Brinkerhoffs in Auburn.
It was Family Weekend, and over my 3 years in Auburn I had been moderately active in the church. I went to more services than I missed. I was in a sketch group that specialized in high school outreach. I sponsored a middle schooler from the Auburn Church of Christ that I would hang out with on a regular basis.
Still, I wasn't what you'd call a hardcore ACSC-er. Many students hang around the building studying, playing games, or watching TV. I did literally none of these things. They would also have long discussions with Jim about spiritual quandaries. I didn't do that either.
There are 2 reasons I think I wasn't involved in the religious dialogue going on.
1) I was raised in what I would call an introvert church. You don't question anything, you stay quiet during church, and you don't enjoy anything too much because that obviously means it's a sin. God is scary. You are inherently evil.
2) At that time, I was agnostic at best.
So, I was somewhat surprised when I got an e-mail from a member of our church the Thursday before Family Weekend. I didn't know the guy, but the e-mail was addressed to me and several guys I knew. It said that Mary had recommended all of us to help with the church service on Sunday. They only needed help passing communion trays during the service, but I thought it was nice that she recommended me. I replied to the e-mail and told him I'd be glad to help out.
On Saturday night, there was a special service for Family Weekend. Afterwards, as everyone was filing out, I found Mary.
"I just wanted to tell you how much it means that you recommended me for the service on Sunday. I know it's just passing communion trays, and it's not that big of a deal..."
"Hey," she interrupted. "It is a big deal. We need somebody to do that stuff. We'd be in a tight spot if it weren't for you guys who volunteered. All service is good service."
"Well, I just wanted to tell you that it means a lot to me."
I hugged her.
Then I started crying. I didn't mean to and I couldn't stop. The past week was pouring out of me.
"You don't know how much it means to me. I needed that this week," I said through sobbing.
She rubbed my back as I began to calm down. "It's ok," she reassured me.
I finally composed myself and stepped back.
"Are you sure you're ok?" she asked.
I wiped my eyes, "Yes, ma'am. It's just been a rough week."
The next week wasn't any better.
School was looming over me, which only exacerbated my already fragile state. The Girl with Two Names invited me to visit her again.
I told her I would think about it.
On Thursday, I sat in class and debated about going.
I had a friend I could stay with, but I also had two more papers due the next week.
Fuck it. I need a break. I'm suffocating. I thought as walked out the back side of Haley Center, late in the afternoon.
I called my friend to ask if he still had a bed available.
I texted The Girl with Two Names to ask if she legitimately wanted me to come.
When I got to Mobile, I called her (as we had previously agreed upon.) My friend was still at work, and she and I were going to see a play.
"I'll pick you up in the parking lot," she said.
It was pouring rain.
"I'll have an orange and blue umbrella."
Her car pulled up, and I got in.
She was real.
We hung out until after midnight.
"If you want to get up early tomorrow, you can come watch me play Oozeball," she said.
"It's mud volleyball. Student organizations play each other every year. It starts at 9 tomorrow if you want to walk over."
We said our goodbyes and I walked across the quiet parking lot to my friend's dorm.
My phone buzzed as I was entering the room.
"I hope I'm not too too weird, eh?" she texted.
The next day, Oozeball was as advertised. There were four big pits filled with muddy water and there were tents set up where a DJ emceed the event.
I basically shadowed The Girl with Two Names as she introduced me some of her friends.
Since I didn't actually know anybody at the event, it was slightly awkward when she had to play.
I was standing alone, when I heard someone say, "How you doin' today?" in a gruff voice.
I turned to see it was one of the sound guys for the event.
"I'm doing ok, just watching a friend play. How are you?" I asked.
"Just stepping way back here to see how the audio sounds."
He asked me about where I went to school, what my major was, and how long I would be in town.
We talked for about 5 minutes with all the conversation being fairly innocuous. I was mid sentence, when all of a sudden he interrupted me.
"God! Daaaaamn!" he exclaimed in a staccato whisper. "Look at that," he pointed in the direction of the games.
I looked to see a girl with very long legs and very short shorts bending over to tie her shoe. Her butt, accentuated by the form-fitting pink shorts, on full display.
"You'll appreciate that more when you're my age," he said.
(Now, here's where things get tricky. I'm a heterosexual male. With that comes an entire Costco can of worms. There's a very fine line between enjoying the beauty of another human being, and being a sexist pig. Now, with 100% honesty I can say that I have never been one to comment on females that I see in public when I'm with another male, and if I do, it's usually because she has a nice face.)
"Well, I'm appreciating it quite a bit right now."
I'd like to think that it was the sheer harshness of the turn of the conversation that drove me to respond in such a way. In all honesty, I was taken really off-guard, but there's still no excuse. Luckily, my new found friend displayed his virtuosity for conversation about-faces.
"How old are you, kid?"
"Damn. What I wouldn't give to be 21 again."
"How old are you?"
"35. I'm married and have a kid."
"Oh, that's awesome."
"Eh. The wife bitches at me a lot, but we manage."
Much to my appreciation, a mud-covered Girl With Two Names appeared to save me from the least funny Judd Apatow film I had ever seen.
"Do you want to go get some free barbeque?" she asked.
"Yeah." I turned to him, "It was nice meeting you, man."
"Nice meeting you too."
With that, The Girl With Two Names and I made our way across the muddy field to the food truck set up next to the DJ tents.
"What were you guys talking about?" she asked.
"He was telling about his wife and kid when you showed up."
The DJ asked a trivia question to which I knew the answer. I turned to The Girl With Two Names and told her the answer.
"Run up there and tell him!" she said.
"I'm not running up there."
As the sentence was leaving my mouth, I heard, "And we have a winner!"
The guy who had answered the question was holding up a gift card.
"You have to stop being such a weenie," she said.
"I couldn't have made it up there in time anyway."
"You could have at least tried."
By this time we had made our way to the food truck. The Girl With Two Names gave me our vouchers for free sandwiches and went to wash her hands. As I was standing in line, the DJ played that awful 3OH!3 song, (you know, the *only* awful one) "Don't Trust Me."
That's the one with the lyrics, "Shush, girl/Shut your lips/Do the Hellen Keller/And talk with your hips."
The Girl With Two Names rejoined me in line, clean essentially from her elbows to her fingertips.
The song ended, and the DJ came back on the PA system.
"Ok, guys! That song mentions Hellen Keller, a famous Alabamian. Where is she from in the state?"
I made a bee-line for the DJ stand.
Some fratty looking guy beat me to stand screaming, "Huntsville! Huntsville! It's Huntsville!"
I stepped around him.
"We have a winner! Hellen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama."
He handed me a $25 gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings.
I made my way back to the food truck line.
The Girl With Two Names was beaming when I returned.
"I'm proud of you."
"Do you want the gift card?" I asked.
"No. You should give it to your friend."
We ate our sandwiches and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon together.
That evening, she had a meeting, so I went to dinner with my friend, his friend Brent, and Brent's friend Sydney. The latter had electric blue hair, dressed like he was in the band Hinder, and was loudly insulting other people the entire night.
That's an entirely different story that I'll probably write. I'll tell you all how learned nothing from this picaresque asshole except for, given the right circumstances, I possess the capacity to drown someone in a bathtub with my bare hands.
Anyway, I met The Girl With Two Names a final time Sunday morning for coffee.
We played a game of UpWords while we drank. (She won.)
She took me back to South's campus after we were finished.
"Here. I'm going to get out and hug you," she said as she parked the car.
"Be safe going back."
"Thank you for coming."
Nothing romantic ever came of our relationship, and I let that depress me for a long time. For a long time, I looked at that weekend with a bitter nostalgia. It hurt to think about.
But I have this remarkable capacity to miss the point.