Twenty years ago today, my life changed irreparably for the better. Everything has been different since that day; dreams were given a shot, the motions of my current life were sprung, and my fate veered utterly into bliss. It was the day my dad drove me to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the first time, set me in front of Hinton James dorm, and drove away.
I had never visited the campus, barely knew where Chapel Hill was, and chose a South Campus dorm because it said it had a computer center. The “computer center” turned out to be four dusty green-screen terminals from the UNIVAC experiments of the late 1950s, shoved next to the washing machines.
My mom had slipped eighty dollars into my pants pockets for good luck; on that first day, I took a shower in the dorm, and when I got back to the room, the money was gone. I called my friends from high school, basically in tears, and promptly made them all afraid of going to college. It was 104 degrees, and air conditioners were illegal.
My roommate didn’t show up for another two weeks, and when he did, he plopped his hunting rifle on the bed and muttered something in my direction. It would be the only time he spoke to me that semester.
That afternoon, twenty years ago today, I began the slow walk from Hinton James to the main campus to take my C-TOPS tests, and I noticed a pair of Reeboks and Benetton shorts idling alongside me. A beautiful girl with a heavenly Georgia accent introduced herself to me (a girl? a PRETTY one? talking to ME for no reason?) and told me her name was Kendall: I promptly fell in love. She would be in my wedding party eighteen years later.
A few days on, I was practicing “O My God” by the Police on my bass in my dorm room, and a handsome fella knocked on my door and said he liked it (a guy just came up to my door? complimenting me? someone with friends of his own?) and he told me his name was Bud. Later that month we would finish 2nd in the Hinton James Talent Show by playing “What I Like About You” (the winner was a girl who whistled “Saving All My Love For You”). Bud and I would live together, on and off, for the next ten years, and we would be in each other’s lives for another ten after that, either in person, or here in the blog.
Bud introduced me to Jon and Chip, and well, that’s already been documented. From there, I’d go on to join a brotherhood that counts as my best friends to this day, start writing in earnest, eventually bring my brother into the fold (which now provides his entire social/work life) and… oh yeah, I would meet a crazy blonde chick in 1987 that would become the true love of my life.
UNC, I know people don’t get you unless they’ve gone to you. I know it’s impossible to describe what you mean to me without making non-grads groan, the same way I feel about fans of far-off baseball teams. All I can say is that you saved me from desolation, probably saved me from suicide, provided me Dean Smith’s way of thinking, gave me almost all of my friends, introduced me to the creature of woman, imbued me with an infinite store of confidence, and most of all, gave off the ecstatic whiff that anything great was not only possible, but probable.
That all began twenty years ago today, and I’m not so far gone to know that life and fate hang by gossamer strings that could have swung a variety of directions. That I landed in your neck of the southern woods continues to be an unforgettable blessing.
Kendall and me February ’86, February 2005