After another summer at summer camp, it was now finally our time. We were seniors, the big fish in this small pond. We were by all accounts one of the most promising classes ever to go through the place; smart, talented, and good looking. We were going to rule.
The student association officers arrived a few days early and we were ready to set up registration. Michael was a computer genius type guy and in the days where digital cameras were relatively new he had figured out how to make student id’s essentially on the spot. Jeremy was not as big of a micro-manager as I, nor did he feel compelled to do as much as I did and was signing up volunteers to help run the campus ministries. Alycia was preparing her run for class president; she would succeed in getting elected. She had gone through her own version of dating a few guys her junior year but now she was starting her time of focus. Ellen was now the yearbook editor; her eye for design was already developing as she would eventually get into advertising. She and Gil were still happily dating.
I was going to be roommates with one of the finest young men I knew: Leandro Bizama. He was a young Argentinean with soft features that reflected his poised approach. Leandro had many gifts. He was a talented musician, the type that can hear a song and then repeat it immediately embellishing on it the very first time he played. He could and did pick up various instruments and mastered them with apparently no effort. Anytime we needed a new piece in the band, he picked it up and found a way to succeed. He was very spiritual; his prayers went up with the same naturalness with which birds fly. People often remarked that when they imagined Jesus, they thought he was a lot like Leandro. We had bonded over the last year as he also came around to the churches and helped with the Spanish programs; we were a pair of significant contrasts on every stage. I was a big ego and he really did appear only to reflect the glory of God. He spoke with an accent that gave him extra allure and there never seemed to be anything disingenuous about him. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, his were always clear. But among all the gifts he had, the one that was the greatest was personality. I am not sure he realized it then or does now but just as some are naturally athletic or naturally academic, he was naturally kind and sincere. He would be hurt and angry and irritated but did so more peacefully than anyone I’ve ever met. I lived with the guy for a year and while he was human, he was less so than most of us, given a calm temperament that made any room seem better when he was in it.
We had many great conversations over our friendships and over the years. We discussed small and large points of religion. He made God look so magnanimous, so big and yet so approachable. We prayed together and studied the Bibles together. Every year of my life it seemed I was having Bible studies with someone. The two most memorable because they were the most sincere were my freshmen year when Alycia and I would study regularly and my senior year with Leandro. Alycia had a simplicity that bordered on gullibility when we studied. We soaked it up like sponges, eagerly taking in God’s truth. But the problem with sponges is they lose the moisture when push comes to shove and when left in the heat, water easily evaporates. With Leandro, his Bible studies were more like that same water reaching soil. Soil absorbs it too, but it is not easily removed once there. It uses that moisture to change, to grow, to feed and give life to things connected to it. Alycia and I had looked upon God’s truths from a distance, amazed in our young minds. Leandro dove in and splashed around in it; dealing with it with more grit and allowing some of the messiness to be part of the essence. Jeremy would join us in some of these studies. Jeremy was a pastor’s son and had good spiritual capacity. He would add things that Leandro and I would both miss. There was a point I thought we’d all grow up to become pastors. Today none of us are.
The class of ’97 had eventually given my class jacket back. They had done so publicly at the end of the year banquet shortly before the announcement of the election results. They had taken turns pretending to spit on it, rubbing it on their armpits or treating it like faux toilet paper over their clothes. I am not sure even today who got the better prank, but I was just so glad that our senior year had arrived that I almost put it on. I hung it on the back of the chair where I was assigned to registration. It was time to be a senior.
I was going to be working in the glass factory along with both Michael and Jeremy, creating beauty that I didn’t really understand. I mean it impressed me but not the way it seemed to move others. What I really did enjoy was that Mr. Conley, the boss, would let me contribute ideas to the design. There were these subtle theological designs for the ones that were going to church. (I’ve always enjoyed things that had hidden meanings or double meanings. My favorite thing was to say things in class or life where I believed something very different than what I was saying but said it with a straight face. So many times no one except Leandro would catch it.) Anyway, a few weeks later the glass factory was having financial problems and they laid me off. I asked Mr. Conley if it was because I was the one who had been working the least time there or because I was the least talented at it. He smiled and commended me on my self awareness.
It was the Saturday before school was supposed to start. Registration was going to be on Sunday but a huge percentage of the dorm and village students were already there. We all went to church together and afterwards as we headed to a potluck I was chatting with Miguel Espinosa. Miguel was one of the young faculty guys, not even 30 yet. He was always smiling and he approached life with vigor and enthusiasm of youth. We were joking around and talking about our summers when all of a sudden he nudged his head in a certain direction, signaling me with his chin.
I looked up and there was this girl with her hair up. She had big glasses on and a less than attractive pink purple dress. In my mind, I thought back to the jokes that Jennifer and I had made about what she would dress like to keep away the guys and this wasn’t far from it. I looked at Miguel questioning why he was pointing my attention to her. He smiled and said, “That girl right there, that’s the one you’re going to end up with. You and her are going to make it. She’s the one for you.” I laughed at his idea that somehow this stranger who needed some fashion and hair advice was going to be my girlfriend. I scoffed that he was so certain that she was my Destiny.