Kim went up in the attic for something else tonight and found a box I’ve been looking for on and off for several years. Inside are three photo albums. One of them is full of baby pictures of our oldest son. It’s hard to believe how much he’s changed! Another is the album I kept as a teenager, which means it’s mostly filled with old pictures of Kim. She had at least three different bikinis back in the day. The last one has pictures and memorabilia from my days at the … I don’t even like to write it anymore. It was the University of Central Oklahoma.
The stuff in that album stirs a lot of memories, and they contrast so sharply as I move through the album. I finished the requirements for my degree in three-and-a-half years. The first two and a half were very good years (although I later learned they were harder on my family than I knew). During those years I learned to write for a newspaper, met interesting people, and won national recognition for my personal column and feature writing, and developed a huge ego. Then the whole thing happened with the hacked e-mail and the last year of college was one of the darkest of my life. Since then I have been reluctant to even admit the name of the university where I earned my BA because of the way the investigation went down. But I digress.
Back to the album. I loved photography. I would take pictures of everybody and anything that was remotely interesting. The album has pictures of pretty much everybody who was on the staff of the college paper during my years with it. These are people who were my best friends for a while. All my certificates for being on the dean’s and president’s honor roll are in there. There are 8×10 black-and-white photos I took and developed for photography classes, as well as news clippings about my awards. There is even a bunch of hair I kept when I got the big cut right before my interview with The Daily Oklahoman just before everything went to hell at school. There are mastheads from the school paper and from the small community papers I worked for while in school. My 1999 tassel from the graduation I refused to attend is in there, too. And a copy of the only issue of my alternative newspaper I put out after leaving the school paper. Finally, there is a card and pictures with the people who remained friends with me after I became a pariah. We had what I called a Liberation Lunch to mark my escape from the university. That was the last time I saw most of them, though at least one of the gifts I got that day is still on my desk.
One of my favorite pictures is from my first class after enrolling full time. At the time, the university didn’t force you into 1000-level classes as a freshman, so I mixed things I was interested in with things I had to take my first semester. That means I was taking a 1000-level health class with three 4000-level English classes. Thank God for Dr. Gladys Lewis! She saw immediately that I was in over my head, probably guessed I’d been a bad student in high school 13 years before, and pulled me aside to explain what MLA style is. She could have kicked me right out of her American Novel 1 class, but she didn’t. At the end of the semester she bought everyone in class a white T-shirt with a scarlet A embroidered on it, then took a picture of us.
So many good and bad memories associated with that place. And so many of them are right there in that one album. It hurts to look at the damn thing.