Yesterday, when I was cleaning out my bedroom closet, I stumbled upon a stack of yellowed papers hidden inside a box that I’d saved from when I was in college.
Inside was a story I had written during my senior year while attending USC. I had been a music major, but on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class with none other than writer T.C. Boyle. Back then he was just being recognized as an up and coming writer and as I was unfamiliar with his work, I just thought he was some intense, uber hip/quirky guy who had multiple ear piercings and wore black leather pants and red high-top tennis shoes (an outfit not uncommon in the 1980’s.)
Up until taking that course, I hadn’t realized how much I really loved writing (or should I say how much I hated it—writers, you know what I mean.) In that particular class there were many different types of writers—some better than others, but it seemed as if everyone had something interesting to say. Well, almost everyone.
There was this ditzy, freckled-faced sorority girl with overly highlighted hair who spoke with the thickest valley-girl accent I’d ever heard. She wrote the most inane and ridiculous stories—I don’t even remember what they were about—just that they were terrible. One day, this girl brought in a large foil-covered plate of chocolate brownies to share with the class. Usually her over-the-top perky demeanor set me on edge, but that day when I saw her passing out the brownies, I thought to myself, How nice of her—maybe she’s not so bad after all. I’d skipped breakfast that morning so I took the biggest one on the plate. “Oooh,” I exclaimed loud enough for the entire class to hear, “I love brownies!”
Mid way through the class I began to feel very strange. I thought that perhaps I was coming down with the flu or something so during the break so I left to go rest in the lounge. When lying down on a cot didn’t stop the dizziness, I realized I needed to get home as quickly as possible, but my apartment was twenty minutes down the 10 freeway in Santa Monica. Halfway there, passing the Robertson Blvd. exit, I suddenly realized that I was high—higher than I’d ever been in my life, and that what I had just eaten in class was a pot brownie. I gripped the grimy steering wheel of my 1979 Toyota Corolla and tried to focus on keeping my car between the dotted lines. This was not an easy task because for some reason, the lines kept moving back and forth.
Fortunately, I didn’t kill anyone with my car or get pulled over by LAPD. I made it home to my Ocean Park apartment where I spent the afternoon intermittently cursing the stupid sorority girl and cradling the cold toilet bowl while vomiting up chocolate slime.
I fumed for days—how dare she give me drugs without my consent! I’d show her—I would call the President of USC and report her; I would get that privileged sorority bitch thrown out of school and ruin her life! I was going to stand up for myself and fight for what was right.
Of course, I never did any of those things. When class resumed the following week, all I did was approach her and mention that I didn’t know there was pot in the brownies and that it wasn’t very nice of her not to let me know.
“Whoops! I’m totally, like, sorry,” she said, giggling, “I thought you knew because you said how much you loved brownies.” She sat down at her desk and crossed her skinny acid washed Guess Jeans-clad legs. “Oh, well,” she chirped, “No harm done—you seem like you’re okay!” She smiled, showing me her perfectly bleached teeth, “Like, just consider it a little surprise gift from me to you!”
I wanted to smack her. Instead, I sat back down in my seat and said nothing, my anger dissipating as my comfortable fear of inadequacy put its arm around me like a best friend.
When the semester was over, T.C. Boyle called each of us into his office for an individual conference about our writing. I was taken aback when he told me I was one of the better writers in his class. I managed to squeak out a “thank you” and get out of there as quickly as possible as it was way too uncomfortable for me to think that I had any potential with my writing. I finished my senior year, received my degree in music and never wrote another word again for twenty years.
Last night, I stretched out on my bed and read the story I found in that dusty box. I was surprised to discover that it was really good. It was funny, the dialogue was believable and my descriptions were quite visual. How is it that for so long I believed I wasn’t a good writer?
I still carry around some anger toward that stupid girl from so long ago—no, not the sorority girl from class, but the other one—the one who was too weak to stand up for herself; the one who was so terrified and insecure that when she was told by an expert that she was good at something, she didn’t believe it. It makes me sad that she spent so many years thinking I can’t instead of Why not?
Well, I say, the hell with her.