Millenial Life: The Wonder in Brief Moments of Caring
I used to work on a university campus. Women from various offices would use their lunch hour to put on their tennis shoes, change into tight athletic pants, throw on the old "1994 Gardening To Live" shirt and power-walk the halls of the building. I was young enough to find the women unrelatable. Years later, I remembered them when I plotted a mile in the building in which I was then working; I wanted to get my daily steps in during my breaks.
That first building had walls in various shades of beige. The hallways were long and tiled, all but calling for twins to invite you to play. It was lonely and cold. There were classes on the first floor; I taught in one of the rooms a few years later. The chairs in my classroom were attached to the tables, and there weren't enough seats, so the last straggler always had to sit on the ground. The entire building seemed to not care. It had bigger plans that didn't necessarily involve people.
While the building also had a snack bar that was forever changing ownership, the rest of the building was filled with administrative offices and grant-funded projects; I was part of one of those projects. I always felt slightly like James Bond when I would arrive at our unmarked office door and use the key fob, which would blink a light and cause the door's gears to grind and open.
I never knew anyone in the building except my co-workers. Even the administrative assistants in various offices stayed distant to match the tone of the building.
It was the bathrooms that leveled everyone.
One morning, I headed into a stall on the second floor. I settled in and heard retching in the stall next to me, along with small, painful gasps. Curiosity always got the better of me, and I leaned down to look under the walls. Black, chunky, skater-style shoes with purple laces braced the tile adjoining our two stalls. My first thought was simple: A freshman is hiding out on my floor, early in her first-time alone campus life. I thought back to the more undigested times of my own life. Those Jager bombs really can be a killer when they come back out.
When I was washing my hands, the girl trudged out of the stall. She had disheveled short, blond hair that was dyed green in a few spots, an oversized black sweater, black glasses and a lip piercing. She bent over to wash out her mouth and stood back up with a bit of a sway. She reminded me of me when I was 19. I felt nostalgic.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
She blinked, looked up in surprise and said softly, "I had a kidney stone that passed last week, and it's really painful right now still."
I did a sharp, motherly inhale. "Oh, man. Maybe you should go to the Health Center."