MARCH 15 2007.
I start laughing as soon as I walk into the English department office and see Kristen sitting jauntily behind her desk, probably surfing the Internet for pictures of foster children to adopt like she tends to do when she’s not frenzied trying to handle the problems of fifteen college professors.
“Gooo Wildcats!” she greets me, spinning a little in her chair and waving a little school flag in one pale hand while she scribbles furiously on a legal pad with the other.
“Very nice.” I grin and drop my backpack on the floor, surveying the rest of her getup, which consists of a red football jersey and red and black Mardi Gras beads draped abundantly around her neck. A couple of strands are curled into her scrunchy holding up her corn silk blonde hair, bits flying and stringy as she moves in four directions at once, hummingbird in human form.
“Thanks, I am ready!” she exclaims as she searches through the overwhelming pile of papers on her desk while new e-mails ding melodically into her inbox. The life of a college department secretary is always tediously busy, but in the last seven months I’ve worked for her, I’ve learned that life with Kristen is anything but. She rarely seems rattled, spinning in her chair, joking around with professors, showing me how to work the copier, and managing to get everything done in the bargain.
“So no class then?” she asks, still shuffling papers.
“Dr. Barnes is letting us go early, around 12:15.”
“Nice of him, I imagine some teachers are going to exert their cruelty…”
“Oh that’s so mean. It’s only once a year. I would just skip then.”
“Well get to work, girly!” she orders mockingly, handing me a stack of long glossy posters featuring an artistic photo of some poet or another. I check my watch and head out of the office with a wave. 11 AM…
I wander the quiet halls of Chambers for the next fifteen minutes, stopping to tack up the cumbersome posters wherever I can find the space. For such a small school, we have quite a large number of activities that go on in a week. The muffled voices of professors soothe me as I amble, knowing that behind these closed doors, people are teaching and learning, discussing, writing, arguing, possibly dozing as early cool spring sun blots the windows... A normal day in a place that has suddenly, with a lot of warning and yet none at all, become my life.
College does that to you, I guess—one day you live in a house with your own room/family/dogs/little brother and you expect to be there forever, until one day you get a letter in the mail, and then e-mails (you can’t escape, they even give you your own address and you have to check it, you have to), and you get gift cards and go to Bed Bath and Beyond (a store that has never entered your conscious mind) to buy stuff for your “room” (even though you already have a room, excuse me, I already have a room, and it’s mine, just mine…), and the name of a stranger that you are going to sleep in said room with—and suddenly before you know it, the school bus has revved up again but you’re not on it, your brother has homework and you don’t, you actually get to sleep late for a couple of hot August weeks and get pretty bored, and that night you say goodbye to your boyfriend but instead of saying “see you tomorrow” you say “see you… sometime soon, I hope,” and start sobbing as you sit in the back of a rented mini-van clutching your teddy bear as your parents drive you and your life away from… your life.
I mean, 2006 was supposed to be it. The end-all-be-all, the year we graduated from high school. For so many years they called us the Class of 2006, and we took it on like the most coveted title in the world—“oh-six!” And then one day it was given to us completely and yanked out from under us at the same moment, diplomas in hand, caps whipped through the air, disappearing into the humid oblivion of celebration dinners and photos and hangovers, not really comprehending that we will never all be together again.
And then I started to get letters addressed to the “Class of 2010.”
Two thousand and ten? What is that? Who are these people? Where am I headed, exactly?
Of course, there’s more to it; hopefully you visit, hopefully you actually want to come here… but there’s parts of it that seem like they just happen with no planning, no fanfare… No amount of preparation prepares you for the moment your parents walk away from you (and manage it without tears!) and you realize you now have a credit card account and you share a room and you won’t be eating home-cooked food for awhile. Suddenly, you’re just there.
But when you’re there, you don’t stop. You’re always there, and it’s awkward, so stifling and yet uniting in its awkwardness, til at some moment in time—maybe it’s a day, a night, a week, a month, or three—there becomes here. And they become we.
Just like that.
“Ouch! Shit.” I poke myself with a thumbtack as my cell phone buzzes in my pocket.
“Hey Claire, it’s Lindsay—”
Ever since we bonded last semester when we were both hungry after our film class, Lindsay and I have hardly skipped a Thursday lunch together. Since we’re both from Atlanta, we can share stories about our childhood and not be totally lost, we both love Braves baseball (and therefore hate the Mets), and we drove home together for spring break listening to boy bands and telling boy stories.
“Hey! Do you still wanna do lunch?”
“Yeah, I do, I was just wondering, do you want to eat in the union—”
“—so we can watch the game?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking!”
“Sounds great to me, I’m so excited!”
“I know, it’s crazy, okay, so when do you get out of class?”
“I have history in five minutes but Barnes said he’s letting us out at 12:15 so I’ll just head over after that.”
“Okay, and we’ll just find each other. Great!”
“Okay, see you then!”
I hear the distant echo of the deep mellow bell that signals the end of class, and sure enough, doors click open and backpacked kids start appearing in chattering clumps. The college evaluation books label us as a preppy Southern conservative school, which is true to a very small extent, but on the subject of clothes, we wear anything and everything from sweatpants or jeans to polos and sundresses, sneakers, flip flops, and heels galore. But today it appears that we have all picked out the same uniform. The hallways are peppered with red shirts, black shirts, even some gray, all bearing the same letters.
I like wearing those letters on my chest—have ever since I got my letter.
I hurry through the mumbling crowd back to Kristen’s office, grab my bag and wave goodbye. “Have fun!” she calls after me as I hightail it about fifty feet to my European history class.
Barnes is a lecturer by nature, one of those typical college professors you might see in a movie—glasses, a kind of aged puppy dog face, floppy graying hair, sheaf upon sheaf of coffee-spilled scribbled notes probably written in 1978 (because you don’t need to change what happened in 1495), and the final touches: a flimsy dark stained wooden podium that comes up about to the ribcage of his puffed up chest, and a neutral American accent that drips intelligence and know-how with every word. That description might make him out to be arrogant and pretentious, but in fact the opposite is true—his teeth spread out in a jolly smile and he discusses Luther and Zwingli et al. as if he just had them over for dinner last night and has returned armed with stories to entertain his classes. As usual, another Renaissance/Reformation composer chimes when we walk in, setting up laptops and notebooks to harness his speedy, animated lecture. He stacks his papers quickly and walks briskly around to the podium as the deep breezy bell, on the roof not too far above us, reminds us to begin with another swaying clang.
“All right people, I know I told you I’d let out early today so let’s get started…”
He takes over with his calming, almost hypnotic voice, and I write, barely listening. He zooms through about fifty years in thirty minutes while I check my watch obsessively. Almost time, almost time to go! Can’t miss it, can’t miss it! We are all antsy; after all, there’s not often a day where we know that we are all headed to the same place for the same reason at the same time in the middle of the day (unless it’s chicken parm on the Commons lunch menu)—come on, we work hard here, can’t we leave?
Around 12:10 he pauses and surveys our faces. His mouth curls up slightly as he sets down his papers. “Okay, go ahead.”
The room exhales immediately and empties in a frenzy as we slam our books into bags and haul them over our heads, pulling out cell phones and murmuring nervously.
I make my way down three flights of stairs with the horde, my feet thumping and focused. As I fly out the side door into the green-grassy redbrick of Davidson, I text Rebecca: Where are y'all sitting?
I hit the cobblestone pathway not waiting for her answer, jogging down toward the Alvarez Student Union and the soaring brick tower that houses the stage, rising up into the cloudy blue sky of early spring. No one is studying at the patio tables, and the track is empty of runners. It’s kind of eerie in a way; on a sun speckled Thursday afternoon, this place should be buzzing.
I open the door, noise, pulsing energy grabbing me full force—hundreds of moving murmuring bodies, upstairs, downstairs, straight in front of me. The couches by the cold fireless fireplaces are abandoned, and I move dazedly past them into the swarm. I see friends everywhere, but there are adults milling around too, along with little kids wearing Wildcats shirts and bouncing on their little feet, waiting. When I see professors trying to find seats, I know it’s serious. The café is in full swing, an abnormally long line of anxious and hungry college students curling impatiently back behind the shelves of candy and chips.
I stand rooted, captivated and heart pounding. I don’t even know where to start.
Phone buzzes and Becca’s words push me forward.
900 room, second row, right side.
I wedge my way further into the union, and as I pass the stairs that lead to the first floor, I see that a large projection screen has been set up there, with rows upon rows of folding chairs crammed with yelling, excited people. I can hear loud voices echoing pompously from the screen; the announcers have already begun the pregame discussion. I maneuver my way into the 900 Room (why it’s called that is still a mystery to me…), dark and loud, squeezing through to reach the front. The only light emanates from the screen, displaying red jerseys and serious faces, faces that I never expected to see on national television.
Because-- this is crazy. I’m staring at boys that I see in the hallways of Chambers, outside on the lawn, in this very room. College students just like me that I’ve watched play in the cozy little gym not even three minutes’ walk from where I am standing. And right this very second they are in upstate New York, dribbling and passing and shooting, through it all being broadcast live on ESPN.
It takes a moment for the situation to register in my mind as I watch them, larger than life onscreen, heralded by the excited buzz of their classmates standing in this crazed darkness thirteen hours away from them. There’s Jason, Boris, and Thomas, there’s Stephen and Will, and silver-haired McKillop surveying stoically from the sidelines in his very presidential-looking suit… My everyday world has crashed onto the national stage in milliseconds, and it doesn’t make any sense.
This is different. This could mean something.
I’m not the only one thinking this, because the 900 Room is fired up, the mumbling growing stronger over the announcers’ professionally over-loud prophet confidence and speculations, denying the possibility an underdog win, though admittedly, “they certainly have talent.” Students settle into chairs, lounge expectantly in the aisles, clump together at the back of the room, everyone murmuring in anticipation. I’m surprised that the boys shooting hoops up in Buffalo can’t hear the noise radiating through the television screen. I really wish they could.
My mind jumps back to something a student speaker said nearly a year ago at my prospective student Q & A—The Union was absolutely electric during our basketball tournament game against Ohio State. I picture myself saying that to someone years from now. Oh my gosh, you should have heard us in the union when we played Maryland… It was insane, we—
But I can’t finish that sentence. I know how I want to end it, but I have to wait about two more hours. Something in the back of my head reminds me that we haven’t won an NCAA Basketball Tournament game in what—37, 38 years? When some coach with a cute little nickname transformed us into a Top Ten team. Maybe that’s what makes me want to win, although I certainly haven’t been waiting as long as anyone who’s been following Davidson basketball since the sixties. But in this moment I want these boys to stop looking so serious, so focused—I want them to grin and laugh, I want us to freak out with happiness and throw a “WE WONNNNNNNN!” party that lasts long into the night and makes me skip my 2:30 and choir practice and my English major meeting.
Wow. People have obviously been planning their week around this game. It’s been in the back of my mind since Sunday night when we all gathered downstairs in the performance hall and heard Greg Gumbel say our name, a number, an opponent, and the date/time/location. However, I did not expect the energy to feel as boisterous as a frat party spiked with multiple kegs of straight up Wildcat pride. This is crazy. It’s a Thursday afternoon at post-spring break Davidson for God’s sake! But suddenly it's more.
I’ve been searching for my friends in the indistinguishable mob and suddenly I grasp their silhouettes— Becca, Sam, and John, right side, second row. I squeeze unapologetically through to them, wave, drop my backpack in the chair next to Becca whose smile is glittering sweet, and further annoy the other people in the row by heading straight back out again. It is, after all, still lunch time.
I approach the café entrance with purpose, seeing that the line has dropped off a little, though it’s still thrumming with excitement. Even small moments remind me that I am part of this college’s life force and especially in exhilaration like this it nearly takes my breath away. I add movement, energy, loyalty to this place and to these people, even if it’s just racing up to the counter and scribbling out my order for a hot dog (sports days are always hot dog days). Friends and acquaintances wave to me and I wave back with an excited grin, because we’re all here for the same reason.
“Claire!” Lindsay approaches me, a red ribbon in her straw blonde hair and her backpack propped heavily on her lean shoulders, an eager smile on her face.
“Hey! This is crazy!”
“So I saved you a seat—900 Room, right side, second row.”
“Sounds great, I’m gonna get some food and I’ll be there.”
I grab my hot dog and a huge water bottle (I know myself, I will be screaming--not very politely, either), swipe my card at the register, flashing smiles at familiar faces, stumble back between shirts and shorts and shoes, last time I promise, and wedge myself into the second row once again next to Becca. “Whew, I am not getting up again.”
Sam and John crane their necks to watch as warm up winds down thirteen hours away from us. Becca beams excitedly and claps her hands. “This is so exciting!”
I twinkle back. “I know! Look at them up there! Our guys!”
As Lindsay deftly maneuvers through the crowd toward us and plops down on my right, the atmosphere shifts palpably and I look up at the screen to see the teams taking the court. The eager chatter elevates into an even louder buzzing, and individual claps and cheers start to take over from talk and the announcers’ voices are drowned out by ours—
“Whoo hoo! Go Cats!”
“Come on, boys!”
I’m suddenly caught up in this excitement, this possibility, hearing our screams combined with the distant shouts of everyone gathered downstairs, and even the yells of the fans standing at attention in Buffalo. Belk Arena has been transported three hundred feet up the hill! But somehow it’s different, somehow our yells feel even more important than they’ve ever felt, because we scream like the boys could hear us… and even though I know they can’t, it sure feels like we could be whooping decibels loud enough to get to Buffalo.
Here comes tip off, and someone yells alone behind me in the dark. Voices join in easily, sporadically, and soon we all lift our voices in our routine opening roar as if the boys were right in front of us, starting off low as our Boris and a huge Afro-laden guy crouch for the ball and going, going, “ooo-oo-ooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!” heavy with anticipation until our final shout mirrors the hand that slaps the ball up and away—to our side, to Jason, go go go Jason! We shriek with pleased excitement as this first action passes in our favor, and the nervous mumbling returns, louder than ever. Anticipating is over—time for things to happen.
Anna appears beside us, locked in by our knees, crouching down so no one will yell at her. “Hey!”
I scan the row—every seat is full, and the back of the room is beginning to be blocked with people. “Here, just sit in my lap.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, if I get tired you can switch to Becca.”
The game is in full swing now, and our little school from the Southern Conference stays neck and neck with the big bad guys. Nearly every time they score, we seem to answer back with something, anything—a layup from steady, stone-faced Jason, a tip in from the powerful Boris Meno, a three from lanky Will or Steph, the Baby-faced (“damn, that kid looks like he’s twelve!”) Wonderkid who’s finally getting to do his thing on national television. Ever since December when I first saw them play, January when I first saw them lose, February when I first saw them make a comeback and win, this team has captivated me more and more, and now it’s March and I’m not the only one who gets to see what we can do—and maybe we could do more today than we’ve ever done. Sure, the possibility of losing is there, and most ESPN analysts would roll their condescending eyes and tell me that it’s quite expected, but… but…
I shout out loud profanities with nearly every pass, no matter the team, no matter the outcome—very unlike my usual personality, but it’s something my friends have become amusedly used to in the past couple of months of home basketball games. Sitting on my lap means that right now, Anna gets the brunt of it in her ear.
“Oh shit! Shit, shit, shit! Dammit... Sorry,” I apologize as she chuckles.
But it’s not just me. We yell. We scream. We chant, maybe they can hear us, maybe they can do something, do it, do it—
“DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” Blaring claps intercept each cheer, growing deafening as the shot clock winds down in a warning. My hands are numb already.
“LET’S GO, WILDCATS! LET’S GO, WILDCATS!” Sure, it may sound lame in the mouths of fourteen cheerleaders, but when you get it going in a room holding two hundred pumped up eighteen to twenty-two year olds, it becomes a war chant, a force to be reckoned with.
When we score to keep it within two, within three, we leap out of our seats (Anna gets pushed a couple of times) screaming, yelling for our boys.
“BOOOOOOOOOR-IS! BOOOOOOOOOOO-RIS! BOOOOOOOOOOR-IS!”
We all raise our arms in unison as we yell. As a lifelong Braves fan, it’s been strange to do the tomahawk chop to a different chant, but the visible determination of the junior from Paris deserve nothing less as he muscles the basketball away from guys who have three or four inches on him (and he's 6'8).
“C’MON, THOMAS SANDER!” His classmate, the tall kid I used to naively call “Sanders,” clutches the ball in his large hands, threatening the use of his sand-freckled elbows if approached by hostile University of Maryland Terrapins. His face is never riled, always calmed into a firm line of concentration, on to the next task. Consistent, dependable, he stands out of bounds and passes the ball in to his roommate who completes the triad of team captains, our point guard from Illinois who goes by the moniker of—
“Yeah, JRich!” Jason Richards seems pretty small for a college basketball player, but his eyes betray a resolve to outwork any and every competition and he does it with a selfless flick of his wrist with every pass, sweat staining his brow. In this season of rebuilding, in the midst of losing seven senior players and bringing in a short skinny kid who can shoot the smile off any opposing coach with his dagger treys, he's has proven himself the leader of this young team. He also possesses a knack for finding the kid with his keen peripheral vision (or eyes in the back of his head?): at the top of the key, left, right, just inside, in the building…
Speak of the devil.
“—What great quickness for a 6’9 player—" As the announcers babble with stats and small talk, the camera jerks across court just in time to see Jason’s blurred arms launch it long from the other end, aiming toward his teammate who stands ready, right in front of the Maryland bench.
“Curry, a quick three—" Before the sentence that he can’t hear is finished, the kid arcs it with no fanfare, like he made a split second decision, oh, this might be good, and the ball flies over the massive Maryland player’s outstretched arm, ending with a near-silent whistle through the net that sets us screaming once more. 41-39! That’s us on top, US! 41-39!!
“OH! Right over the 7-foot Bowers of Maryland!”
“Are you kidding me? Oh my goodness!” The announcer sounds shocked and wildly impressed, but that’s nothing compared to our mounting yells. That’s our boy up there! See him? See him?
“Sixteen for Curry, the tenth leading scorer in college basketball!” his partner proclaims loudly over our delighted ruckus. We don’t care about stats, score-freakin-board!
A minute later it’s tied again, foul, time out, and as they head to commercial, the shot replays in slow motion—he bounces the ball once, bends his knees, and goes up for it right in front of the Terps’ coach Gary Williams. “From deep and driving, everywhere on the floor is the freshman—he’s got Gary frustrated!” Onscreen, a red-faced Williams brandishes his fists, cross-eyed and bellowing with rage. We all boo him gleefully and laugh because—
The secret is out.
Our secret is a kid named Steph who turned nineteen years old yesterday on an airplane, but he could easily be mistaken for a freshman in high school, prompting teasing and jokes from opposing fans. Ever since he started wowing the crowds at Belk Arena in December (my first game ever was December 1, playing Elon), his story has been spreading— no big ACC school wanted to recruit him during high school, the best offer he got was to red-shirt a year at Virginia Tech, his parents’ alma mater. But then Bob McKillop, a coach known for finding overlooked players and turning them into class acts, came along. He gave Stephen the opportunity he wanted. He gave Stephen to us.
And we could win this game.
At first look, in a class, walking through the dorm, Steph doesn’t seem like the son of a sixteen-year NBA veteran. When he draws up to shoot, you start to think otherwise. Arms stretched up as far as they can go, feet off the ground, his eyes striking the net before the ball does, his brow furrowed as if he could force the shot in with sheer concentration. Watching him hit threes has become normal for us in the past four months, but we still jump up and down like we’ve never seen him do that before—and it’s pretty cool to realize that today, a lot of people are seeing it for the first time.
Often, it’s easy to tell that he’ll make it— it’s just headed there so smoothly that someone almost always calls it before it happens— “Got it!” And sure enough, it makes this oh-so-satisfying little sound as it swishes in, no ugly clunking, just a puzzle piece effortlessly placed in the right spot. Sometimes though, we can’t know until it happens, because it was so far out, so quick, we barely saw it, did he even touch the ball? And murmurs change to awed hope-filled silence, arms frozen above our heads as we watch the ball being pulled toward the net like a magnetic attraction, until it’s in and we roar incredulously with a bit of a boast tossed in for the opponent’s benefit—
Yeah, you just saw that. Yeah, he’s on our team. Sometimes we have to push it further because it’s just so much fun (and we, his fellow classmates of 2010, beam a little brighter inside):
“HE’S A FRESHMAN!”
At halftime, we’re losing by one, 43-44. My best friend Emily scurries through the chaos to join us. The mood is much like it was before tip off, anticipatory, but now we know what we’re up against—and we know we can do it.
Lindsay and I enthusiastically discuss the possibilities as commercials blare silently in the background. “I am so impressed,” she says, lounging back in her chair for the stolen moments of calm while the team huddles in the locker room. “If we keep it up, we could very possibly win this game.”
“Oh lord, I cannot deal with this…” My heart starts pounding audibly again.
Anna texts Chris, who made the trek up to Buffalo with Pierce, Nathan, and Joe in the early hours of the morning. An entire busload of students made the trip too, along with some loyal alumni and season ticket holders. I text my brother the score.
I know, he writes back, we’re checking the scores in lit.
We are playing a game where people actually check the scores…?
As the restful fifteen minutes draw to a close, the room fills back up with fitful mutters. Here we go. “LET’S…GO…CATS! LET’S…GO…CATS! LET’S-GO-CATS! LET’S-GO-CATS! LETSGOCATS! LETSGOCATS! LETSGOCATS!” Talking ceases and applause starts the game—now we just have to keep it up.
And unexpectedly, before it feels like anything should have happened yet, Steph pulls away again and lets it go—
We don’t even think about it, our legs push us out of our seats like they have minds of their own. We might as well just stay standing, because somehow—I really don’t know how, maybe the basketball gods are on our side after thirty-eight years, just maybe— Maryland, big bad ACC turtle Maryland has gone cold. With every shot we make, my heart leaps further into my throat and my hand reaches for Lindsay’s wrist as if to grip the reality. “Oh my lord!”
“Come on, guys! Let’s do this!” she orders, and I believe that part of her certainly expects them to hear her and obey.
And we do, we could! If the game would just end right this second, Thomas free throw up five, Thomas free throw up six, because this place is about to blow— we stand at everything, our whoops and cheers echoing louder than I have ever heard. I have a heart not just in my chest, but my legs, feet, arms, throat-- feeling the power of one hundred strong behind me, knowing somewhere deep in my gut that for everyone packed into this building, the world holds nothing more important than what is happening at this moment in Buffalo, New York.
How does it come to be so important?
Max Paulhus-Gosselin lands a layup to make it an eight point lead, Maryland calls a confused and frustrated time out, and we are outta here.
“Oh my god—”
“Oh my lord!”
“YEAH MAX, YEAH CATS!”
My friends and I grab each other and dance around in the narrow row, our shrieks drowned out by the stunned, unintelligible shouts of our classmates. My ears ring, my vision blurs into the darkness, red and black wisps, people standing on chairs and leaning over the balcony railing with raised fists, sweat, heart, hope… I can’t tell where my mind begins and my body ends, I can barely pick myself out of this community except for the ecstasy of my terrified heart pounding its way out of my chest.
And so I say it, because I have to, because it’s true, because I want to believe it so badly, I scream it in Lindsay’s ear—
“Oh my god, we could actually do this!”
She nods giddily, bouncing up and down, and I hear it echo in my ears and realize that I want us to win this game as badly as I’ve wanted anything in quite awhile. It hits me hard, nothing I expected to feel today, and makes my palms sweat and I can’t help picturing it in my head—a continuation of this madness, of this joy that has taken precedence over absolutely everything else—I don’t want it to end ever, let alone in the next hour. Maybe it won’t.
Maybe it won’t…
I don’t want to win in order to gloat or to be a sore winner; no, it’s the sheer jubilation that I’ve become addicted to in the last three months, especially this last hour and a half. I have become rooted into the Davidson College community because of so many different people and venues in these past six months, but it’s been these games that have combined all of it into one loud jumping arena and pulled all of these people into my heart whether I know them well or not. I want them to be happy, I want to be happy with them for reasons that only we truly understand. Every game has invited me further into this life, a community that normally has so many diverse places to be and people to see, until we come together like this, recognizing in our yells the truth that we really are one body. We are part of this team and they are part of us, and I want them to do well so badly that right now, there is no scenario in my mind that has them doing otherwise.
Maybe he read my mind from up there, because the camera catches the generally solemn Bob McKillop as he flashes a wide toothy grin to his players, full of complete delight. We burst into cheers; I could tell from the first game I attended that this coach demands respect and has earned love in the eighteen years he’s been in this small town, from players, students, and community members.
“BOB MC-KILL-OP!” Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.
We could do this.
“BOB MC-KILL-OP!” Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.
We could do this...