Diary Friday: “I have never seen anything like it. Ever. And probably never will again.”

In honor of the approach of Hurricane Irene.

This entry is from my first semester of college. I was about 3 weeks in at this point – living in an all girl’s dorm – referred to by the rest of the college lovingly as “The Dyke Dorm” – thanks, guys! – and trying to adjust to the new schedule, the new life. In the middle of all of this came Hurricane Gloria – students were evacuated, and were hustled into the gym where cots were set up to wait out the storm. We put duct tape in crosses on our dorm windows, and I went home to my parents to wait out the storm. We could hear the crack of oak trees falling all around us. It was a tremendous storm. And one of my coolest memories is below – when Betsy and Kate and I drove down to the beach in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. I am still amazed that my parents let us go. In the entry below is a poignant moment, a story I almost forgot of two friends coming to rescue me from the “Duke Dorm”: my future boyfriend Antonio, and my friend Brett, who died this year. I still can’t believe he’s gone.

SEPT. 26

Too much is happening. Too much is going on for me to describe. I’ve already skipped about a million things.

But ….

I don’t know.

I can’t find the time or the words. [Then please stop writing sentence fragments. Thanks.]

I’ve been working very hard.

Last weekend Mere and Jayne came home! [Both away at college, too] You don’t know how excited I was when Mum called to tell me. I miss her. I miss everyone.

And I never really faced how I really feel here until Mere and I talked. (I slept over on Friday). It was so so wonderful to see her. I can’t even tell you. I can’t even describe how damned happy we were to see each other. It feels like 10 years since the summer ended.

SEPT. 27

As I write, Hurricane Gloria is whirling outside my window. (I’m home now.) Practically the entire coast has been evacuated. Most of the college has gone home. No classes today – cancelled. If anyone stays – they have to go stay in the gym. So all the dorms are empty. Before Krista and I evacuated – we put huge Xs on our window in tape – everyone was doing that. The wind is roaring. The sky is the oddest white color – almost blinding. Sometimes the wind actually screams and I can hear all the branches slapping against the house. I’m home now. No electricity. The entire neighborhood looks like a disaster area. Leaves everywhere, fallen branches, split trees, chaos. It’s almost too dark to write.

A lot has been happening to me. I’ve only had a few good times so far here at college. I could count them now.

The first time I talked to Debbie – the time we talked for 2 hours and told our life stories – [Who the hell is Debbie and why did I entrust her with my life story?] the first time I saw all the Picnic people again – when Antonio and Brett came to get me and take me out for ice cream – [So weird. 4 years later, Antonio would become my first serious boyfriend.] Yesterday was a good time too. Other than that I must admit it’s been grossly disappointing. [It’s been 3 weeks, Sheila. Calm down.]

Especially in the male department. [As opposed to the English department, you mean?]

I thought that half the things I’d been encountering I’d left behind. I thought it would be so much more open, and not as judgmental. I mean, I don’t blame myself. So many damn people told me, “Oh Sheila – just wait for college!! It’s so much better!!”


This is supposed to be an institution of fucking higher education and the guys are more immature than the idiots in seventh grade. Crueller too. They don’t care who they hurt. And it does hurt.

That night Antonio and Brett took me out – I told them all about it.

After the hugging between us, Antonio announced, “We brought you presents!”

This was even more unexpected. I stared at them. I still try to imagine it. The two of them deciding, probably spur of the moment, to come visit me in the Dyke Dorm, and gathering up those bizarre gifts for me – probably with much hilarity. I can see them doing it but I can’t believe it. They found the dorm – Brett and Antonio coming to get me, rescue me. I still can’t believe it.

I hadn’t noticed in my frenzy of hurtling down the stairs to meet them that Antonio had a battered Providence Journal newspaper-bag around his neck. He then took it off and proudly began pulling out my gifts:

— Two huge red plastic lobsters
— an old musty-smelling copy of Cass Timberlane

[Okay, I had forgotten about the gifts, and they STILL make me laugh.]

We were all on the floor laughing. Those were my gifts. I stared at the gifts in numb silence as they tensely waited for my reaction – and then we all exploded. It was fantastic.

(I have no idea what time it is. I’m writing by candlelight. I can actually hear the trees falling around the neighborhood.)

My fingers were trembling with excitement. There is just something about Antonio’s face. [Foreshadowing!] Brett is so damn familiar to me now – it’s a beautiful familiarity – I love him so much – but Antonio excites me. His laughter and smile thrills me.

They were bubbling over, laughing hysterically at the thought of me – the 16 year old girl from the year before – in college. “How are you? How’s it going?”

At that point, everything was so shitty. I can’t remember exactly what I said. I mentioned something about how apparently I was now living in the “Dyke Dorm” and some guy had seen me sitting at my desk – as he walked by in the street below – and shouted up something rude at me, about “dykes” or whatever – and Antonio’s and Brett’s reactions were so cute – these indignant “Oh”s – protective hands on me.

Brett gave me a push. “Come on – go get your stuff. We’re taking you out on the town.”

I was so glad to see them that I impulsively hugged both of them and said, “I’ll be back in one second” and tore madly back up the stairs. Poor Kate was sitting calmly back in my room and then I come barreling back in with a dirty newspaper-route bag around my neck brandishing 2 plastic lobsters. I grabbed my key, my jeans jacket and ran back down – I looked so grungy – my sweatshirt, loafters, no makeup, plain hair … [Sheila … wanna throw on some lipstick? What is your problem?] I ran back down the stairs and saw Antonio standing at the controls of the Ms. Pacman game in the lobby with Brett hovering over his shoulder. I skipped over and peeked between them to watch.

Brett informed me, “Antonio’s doing real good in spite of the fact that it says ‘Game Over’.”

The fact that Antonio was only pretending to play struck me as hysterically funny – we all were giddy – and then we left. Do you know how odd I felt? A gorgeous guy on either arm? The other cruel douchebags in college can go fuck themselves.

We decided to take a walk on the Quad. The street was shining from the dampness. The sky was all murky and everything was wet and very very quiet. Well – we were making noise. We were talking a mile a minute. I said something about how so far I hated the men in college. I told them about how I had to listen to my roommate and her boyfriend have sex in the lower bunk and how awkward I felt. Antonio and Brett just stared at me. It was so hysterical. Then I told them about the guys who were mean to me and who stood around in my room making mean comments about “You gonna write about this in your diary?” Antonio started looking very ominous, like he wanted to beat someone up. [Foreshadowing!] Somewhere inside of me I was loving this male attention – it was accepting, protective, humorous. Oh, and I told Brett and Antonio about the one drunk guy who made fun of me for not drinking, and then told his friends he bet I was a virgin. The dude said something like, “Yeah, I’m bettin’ that Sheila is NOT a partying woman” – in this really mean way. [Oh, I would so kick that douche’s ass now. Yes I am a virgin, and no I don’t party – and I’m PROUD of it, mo-fo!] Oh, and I told Brett and Antonio too about the conversation about AIDS that started on my floor once – and some guy said this really prejudiced thing about how it started – about how gays all just fuck too much – and I was just being quiet, because I was so enraged – and one guy said something like, “And now AIDS keeps spreading because everyone is just fucking each other …” Then he looked straight at me and said, “Well. Maybe not everyone.” [I have no memory of any of this. Thank God.]

Brett and Antonio were kind of stunned into silence – and Antonio finally said, “Oh, I get it. He wasn’t getting anything from you – not getting a rise out of you – nothing – so he decided to just attack. What an asshole.”

We went to the center of the Quad and lay on our backs. We talked about classes, requirements, theatre (Brett has one of the leads in Woolgatherer – Liz is the other lead) – Kimber’s class – the Meisner technique (which I will try to explain later). It was great. Brett had pulled me to him, so I lay there with my head on his chest, as we talked. I felt like a contented kitten or something, the three of us talking softly.

Antonio picked his head up to look at me and said, “You need someone older, Sheila. You’re not gonna find many guys on this campus with your maturity level.” It was a fight to hold back fluttering my eyelashes at him. [Foreshadowing! Antonio was 7 years older than me. But his comment here was innocent. Our romance didn’t blossom until I was a senior. So he was just being supportive here. Just turns out he was right – and turns out that he, unbeknownst to himself, was talking about himself.]

I said, “I’ve always felt older than my age. When will I catch up?”

“No, no. The question is – when will you find your match. Don’t worry about it, Sheila. I’m sure you have felt older – but it’ll be to your advantage eventually. It will.”

Antonio? Who is he???

They both just blow me away. There is so much still to find out about Antonio [he was a relatively new friend to me – obviously I had kind of a crush on him] Even though there is nothing romantic with either of these guys – they still just make me feel attractive and good – as a girl.

We decided to go out for ice cream so we stood up, damp with dew. The Quad is always softly lit with orange – only it was very dim cause of the fog. I said to them as we walked, “Thank you very much for saving me from a night of drudgery.” We headed back towards the parking lot where Brett’s car was. Brett suddenly became like a gangster mafia guy, saying, “Listen, Sheila. If any guy even looks at you the wrong way – just tell us. We’ll take care of him.” He said the word ‘him’ so contemptuously, so full of hate. I started giggling. “No, I’ve got a better plan–” Brett went on. “Tell us if a guy talks to you – asks for your number. If he asks for your phone number – just give him my phone number.” We were all just laughing so hard. Antonio throws back his head when he laughs – he laughs with so much joy, it is totally contagious.

Antonio burst, “Can’t you see it? ‘Hello, is Sheila there?’ ‘LEAVE HER ALONE YOU DOUCHEBAG.'”

We passed Fiji – the frat that everyone tells you: “Don’t go there”. They are assholes. They are juvenile. They are despicable. As we walked by, I pointed at it and said, “I have been warned against going there …” Brett then vaulted over onto Fiji’s empty lawn and started wildly flailing his fists at the frat house, muttering, “Come on out, motherfuckers – I dare ya – I’ll take you all on – come on out …” Jumping up and down, sparring like a boxer, flinging his arms in wide arcs. Antonio and I were staggering around laughing, watching him, his black silhouette against the orange street-lamp light. He looked nuts.

If Picnic had never happened – I’d probably still be mooning around waiting for some miraculous change. Now it’s like – a little bit of that agonizing waiting has been alleviated. I have actually witnessed and felt the goodness in men and it gives me hope – I don’t need to be convinced that Brett cares for me, or Antonio – I can feel it. They are for REAL. They are not figments of my imagination.

Thank God.

Thank God.

I thank GOD for the both of them.

SEPT. 29

I’m back at school. Came back last night because this is the only place in the world with power. I probably ruined my eyes writing reams and reams by candlelight.

On Friday night after Gloria had blown through – totally wreaking havoc along the coast – Betsy called. Our entire house was pitch black and my family was playing Trivial Pursuit around a candle. Betsy was home for the weekend. All she said was, “Want a visitor?” I cried, “Yes! Come over!”

Although the governor made an announcement that no one should drive except emergency vehicles – Betsy drove over. There are trees on the street, felled wires, telephone poles cracked, fallen branches, no street lights – and nevertheless, Betsy eventually did pull into the driveway.

We went and picked up Kate [I am amazed that my parents let me go!!] – the roads were disasters. They were hazardous – but also exciting. No stop lights or street lights – every single house was in shadow – with little flickering candles in the windows. You could also see flashlight beams moving … or sometimes a candle flame – moving from window to window – you could see that people were moving around.

We picked up Kate and decided to “live on the edge” – so we drove down to the beach.

I will never ever forget the beauty of that night.

I have never seen anything like it. Ever. And probably never will again.

There was a gorgeous night sky. The moon was totally full to bursting and bright bright white. The rest of the sky was totally clear – and not a black color – it was a magical color – almost silvery – moonlit – with stars and stars and stars and stars – dizzying circles of stars. No clouds. It was wild too. Breathless.

The minute we got out of the car at the beach we all quickly drew in our breaths – at the sight of the ocean.

First of all, the moon was right over the water so the whole expanse just danced and shimmered with moonlight. Looking at it, entranced, I practically tricked myself into believing it was alive. It appeared to be a living entity, heaving and sparkling.

Then there were the waves. They were scary. But exhilarating too. Exhilarating. Huge. 20 foot tall waves. The hugest damn waves I have ever seen – and they never stopped. Ranks of them kept advancing in, one mountain after another. They kept crashing on the sand – huge high foam – over and over.

I held my breath. We all just kept gasping and clutching each other. We sat on the sea wall and watched. I swear to God – that ocean was alive. And it was the most beautiful thing in nature I have ever witnessed.

The moon and the water – silverness and thrashing foam and the sound of the crash – the feeling of the boom when the waves hit – I cleansed myself – my soul – watching all of this.

The waves were the closest things to tidal waves I have ever seen. I was looking at something that was dangerous, powerful – something that could rip me to shreds if I jumped in. The almost brutal feeling of the whole scene was part of its beauty. The scariness, the sounds, the chaos, the closeness of it –

Hurricane Gloria was right there.

And we were at one with it. With that damn moon turning the whole scene into something totally magical, beyond belief.

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6 Responses to Diary Friday: “I have never seen anything like it. Ever. And probably never will again.”

  1. Jeff says:

    That’s a great description of the waves, Sheila. It’s almost scary just to think about waves that big. But I don’t think I could ever live too far from an ocean.

  2. Jeff says:

    Oh, and don’t worry about those sentence fragments. Gives everything a very Ellroy-like vibe.

  3. sheila says:

    And they just kept coming – that’s what I remember – it was like an army. No break between waves, so the ocean was just full of advancing peaks, one after the other. With the full moon on it, it was totally surreal. We had no business being down there – all the streetlamps were out, there were felled trees blocking our way, but I’m so glad we took the risk.

  4. sheila says:

    Jeff – Ellroy!!! Hahahahaha

  5. jean says:

    thinking about Brett and how special he was – and remembering tonio’s laugh! I can hear it right now!

  6. sheila says:

    Jean – Tonio had one of the best laughs in the world. Maybe my favorite laugh? After Dad’s. So infectious.

    And yes, Brett. I miss him. Can’t believe he’s gone.

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