Up until college I was pretty much a mousy girl – I didn’t argue with teachers about grades, I did what I was asked to do, I was home by curfew, I didn’t question authority, and for crying out loud, I thought I was a Republican because that’s what my parents were (and are).
When I arrived at Fish Camp prior to my Freshman classes at Texas A&M, I knew no one, and more importantly no one knew me. Alone in this foreign, and by foreign I mean strange, place allowed me to explore myself without the self-imposed constraints that come chained to a personality that doesn’t (or didn’t) like to rock the boat. In high school, people knew me to be one thing, so I was that one thing.
Well into my first semester of classes, I was enjoying my new found friend, my voice, that came with my new self-exploration. I started telling people what I thought, what I REALLY thought. All the time. Which is probably why I only made one friend during my third and last semester at TAMU, which also happened to be her first and last semester there too. We didn’t fit in; we didn’t even feel like trying.
Oh, and how this fledgling voice of mine could have gotten me into some serious trouble! During my first and only bonfire at TAMU, there were a group of guys yelling out racists remarks about the members of the football team who were being introduced during the festivities. What was more shocking than the statements themselves were the smug and proud attitudes of those making them. Sadly I had heard racist comments before, but those making them generally did so in their own homes or under hushed breath. These guys were hooting and hollering and proud. PROUD! Even though my red neck roommate was enamored with the one she swore looked like Clint Black, and I was all “Who?”, I could not squelch my new found voice, and I let her rip! I waltzed up to these three or four guys and told them that what they were saying was wrong in so many ways. And then the crazy arguing ensued. Me. Against them. I don’t remember how the battle ended or even who “won” because it didn’t matter ultimately. I fed my need to speak up, to stand up for what I believe in, and to let them know that everyone doesn’t agree with their bigoted beliefs.
Oh boy, then came Freshman English. In preparing for the long research paper that had been assigned, the teacher went around the room and asked each of us to tell the class what our paper was going to be about. And no shit, the girl next to me was doing her research paper on why people with AIDS should be forced to wear specific “identification bracelets.” I told you! I didn’t fit in, not even a little bit. And for that, I make no apologies.
My turn to disclose my research paper topic came, and if I could have captured the energy of the dropped jaws upon my announcement, I could have sold it and paid for my college education outright. I decided to explore the reasons why hemp should be legalized in our country. As if my cut off shorts and Birkenstocks didn’t already give it away, my paper topic solidified me as…an outsider. And you thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?
And write it I did, and again I make no apologies. The following summer I took a trip to southern California, a part of which was a day hanging out at Venice Beach. I can’t speak for how it is now because I haven’t been since, but for anyone who has been to Venice Beach in the early 1990’s knows this is the antithesis of east Texas. And wow, was it fun! As I strolled down the lane, one brimming with street performers, artists, and a plethora of eccentric peeps, I saw a huge banner hanging from a table that read “HEMP”. Uh, of course I checked it out! I started to chat with the fellow behind the table while munching on his roasted hemp seeds about all the injustices with the enthusiasm that only a young college student with a newly discovered voice can. I talked to him about a book called The Emperor Wears No Clothes that I used in my research paper at TAMU and how the author had been arrested after many years of growing hemp in his house. His response? “Yeah, I did.” Hot damn, I was talking to Jack Herer himself.
I don’t remember what grade I got on my paper, but I got to hang out with the author whose book I used during the writing of it. I may not remember the girl, but I do remember the stink eye I gave her in class when she announced her paper topic of mandatory AIDS ID bracelets. I may not have made friends, but I was true to myself. I may not have always had a voice, but I do now. I do have to admit to one major change that comes with age, um I mean experience, and that’s my ability to better choose my battles. Well, sometimes.