“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Matthew 22:36-37 (ESV)

“And all your mind,” Jesus said. Or should I read it, “and all your mind”?

Study is the devotion of your time and attention to acquiring knowledge on a particular subject. Learning, in other words. It is careful scrutiny, examination, inspection. It is analytical, investigative, and seeking to be comprehensive. It is truth-seeking.

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The couch story

It seemed pretty great at first. And it was great. Being a freshman at a new school with new friends was great. Pearce Hall was recently renovated, so we had the best facilities of all the dorms. This was my first time having a roommate. Matt and I had talked once over the summer, but we were pretty much the same apathetic sort; Mom made me call him, just like his mom would have had Mom been less on-the-ball about things. I didn’t bring much into the room apart from a DVD player, a few DVDs, an old fridge, and a two-seater couch. Matt brought a TV, his computer (I didn’t have one at the time), a VCR, and a Nintendo 64. He even let me use his computer to play games on occasion and check my email.

I don’t know what went wrong. Somewhere down the line, he seemed to get annoyed with my being on his computer, you know, when he would let me. It was understood that I could use his computer when he wasn’t. I even had my own profile where I could change around settings and it wouldn’t affect him. Whenever he came back from a class or from being somewhere else, I’d get off the computer immediately because I knew he wanted to use it. But he always looked annoyed for some reason.

The difference between first semester and second was dramatic, and it became progressively gloomier on my floor. Some say it was the fact that Nate moved off the floor. Nate was a tall skinny guy who couldn’t get off his guitar. He couldn’t stop blasting either Led Zeppelin or Sarah McLachlan. No one really liked him much. We all laughed at his jokes on occasion, when he took time out from drowning in Jimmy Page to go socialize among us (we were usually playing Mario Kart or Bond in Hans’ room), but we all held this grudge against him. Perhaps it was he who united our floor. United against him, perhaps. But I think it was something else.

The second semester brought a new entity to our building. A sophomore named Rick moved into the basement floor of our dorm. Rick and Matt quickly became good friends, sharing their interests in off-roading, comedy, and beer. Rick became a presence on the floor as this happened, and some nights never left to go back to his room on basement level. I never liked Rick much, rather, not at all. I never showed animosity, being my laid-back nature, but I never liked the guy. They always ended up messing with my stuff, eating my food, and generally (ab)using everything in sight. One day I decided to move the sheepskin I sat on covering my desk chair, only to find it stuck to the chair surface via many melted peppermint patties I had in a jar on my desk. They messed around with my computer to the point I password-protected my BIOS, keyboard, and screensaver.

Hans, one of my best friends, had got a girlfriend, and he was less-available to hang out with. Brendon, my good friend since the first weeks of school, started coming into my room to talk to Matt, not me. We stopped hanging out. The only friends I had who, in my opinion were reliable, were Sarah and Rich. We always hung out at the smoking gazebo; it was our place to fellowship with people and talk on a wide variety of levels. We could bitch about the school system or about other friends, laugh with each other, ask questions, and just have a great time in each other’s presence. However, I didn’t find the smoking gazebo until after spring break. I never hung out there because I was an anti-smoker. That all changed, and the Gazebo became a second home.

I retained my dislike of Rick through all this, and even with my friends in the Gazebo, I applied to Pitt online, and received an acceptance letter a few weeks later. I was tired of roommates. I was tired of being in the middle of nowhere. I was tired of being stuck in a dead (if not dying) town with no way out. Being a city kid growing up in Philadelphia, I was well-adjusted to city life, and Beaver Falls, with a population of about 6,000, just didn’t cut it. Judging from all this, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I requested a single dorm room at Pitt.

I was home free. All I had to do was to last out the end of the semester, and I’d be all set for Pitt. I’d even made plans with Rich (who also was transferring from Geneva, down to CCAC, twenty minutes from Pitt) to go with him to see our Geneva friends every now and then. Then it got worse. One night in mid-April after returning from a calculus night class, I stopped in the lounge to catch a little of the Pens-Flyers hockey playoff game, then headed upstairs to my dorm room, only to find my couch – the couch, the one I’d had all year for cutting Steve Olmstead’s hair once – missing. Just gone from my room. I couldn’t find anyone to blame, everyone supposedly had an alibi, they all saw nothing. And here I was in the middle of it, devoid of friends, and my most valued possession gone. Stolen. I rushed downstairs and asked Matt if he knew where it went. No one knew a thing.

Our locks were simple, just punch in a series of digits on the combo, turn the handle, and the door was unlocked. It was a pretty simple idea, being a Christian college, there wasn’t much theft, if any, and so the system worked well. We were all very friendly on our floor, I knew lots of people’s combos for access to their room when they were in class and so forth. So coming back to an empty room (couches take up a lot of space!) was a real shock. Kind of like someone stealing your computer.

I asked everyone. No one knew a thing, like I said. I asked Brendon, who used to be my best friend on the floor, he said, “I couldn’t tell ya, man.” Subtle words that made me think he knew, but wouldn’t tell on Matt. Other people knew, but wouldn’t tell, only because they had to live on the same floor as Rick and Matt the next year. I couldn’t get an answer. Matt went home before me that year, as his finals finished early, while I was stuck with the last possible exam slot the week after everyone else was done. There were still a couple people left on my floor, and I was at the point where, I don’t care, go ahead take all my stuff, I’m sleeping with my door open, I don’t care anymore. Stepped upon, walked on, used and abused, that was me. You could have killed me then and I wouldn’t have cared. I cry when I think about it. I’m worth more than this.

Pitt only promised to be better; after all, how much worse could it be? You can only go up after going to Geneva. It started out slow. I made few friends the first week, just a couple here and there, no one I’d hang out with. I was lonely, and I had probably a grand total of three friends for the first week.

The first weekend I was at Pitt, I went to Kennywood with Reb, Brian, and Ember. We went to McConnell’s Mill and enjoyed a nature walk (I jumped into the river and swam for a bit), and spent the night up at Geneva. I stopped into Pearce to say hi to my old friends (Hans, Fong, Will, etc.), and being the nice guy I am, I stopped into Matt and Rick’s room (roommates, anyone surprised?) to say hi. (Matt and I had repaired our relationship over the summer, and I held no more grudges against him or Rick.) Guess what I saw Rick sitting on as he played N64? The couch.

I told Terry, the RD, about it, and he came up to see about the couch. Rick said it was his grandma’s couch that he got from her basement (partially true, as that’s where they hid it over the summer). Terry basically said to me after asking Rick that I couldn’t get the couch back, as I couldn’t prove it was mine (no distinguishing features, no witnesses). So this slightly pissed me off. One night, I got an instant message down here from Sarah (or rather, someone claiming to be her) saying that the couch was confiscated by Terry. I believed it was Sarah because she would always be on other people’s computers across campus, and I never doubted her. This Sarah begged me to “let them have the damn couch” so they wouldn’t have to go in front of judiciary, which apparently was the case. I still haven’t found out who this Sarah-impersonator was.

I emailed Matt and asked him what happened, as I didn’t care about them stealing it, as long as they returned it. I wasn’t pressing charges for the actual theft of it, so they shouldn’t have to go in front of judiciary. I asked Terry what the situation was, and he basically said a few things: 1) I’m not involved, so I should stay out of it now, 2) judiciary action is not because of theft, but for lying to the authority, i.e. Terry. So I explained this to Matt, which didn’t go over so well, but, hey, I got my couch back. My good friend Erin (also a denizen of the Gazebo) brought her truck one night to Pearce, and together we reclaimed the couch from Terry’s apartment, taking it to her garage for storage. It still sits there today.

The floor was never the same once Rick entered the scene. For that, I blame everything on him. Once Matt and Rick moved in together, right next to their best friends Ben and Verien, the floor really went to hell. Matt was on academic probation since the second semester of our freshman year, and the fall semester after that, nothing went right. They expelled him, and things quieted down. I never heard much from anyone after that with the exception of Hans every now and then. (He’s always been a good friend of mine.) However, last I heard, the floor doesn’t look at all the same; there’s football players all over the place on P3, and maybe one original occupant remains, but that’s a long-shot. Everyone else moved down to the basement level once Rick joined the third floor. Hans left for the apartments. Will moved to the basement. Justin transferred. Fong moved to the apartments. Andy went to the other guys’ dorm.

Where am I now? It’s been a year since I’ve talked to either Matt or Rick, and to me, that’s great. Two people I’d love never to think about again, much less see them. I’ve had it with roommates. If you know me well, you already know that I’m still in a single.

It’s weird to think that something that used to be home could seem so foreign. I go back to Geneva every now and then, I sit on the gazebo handrails, I remember what once was, and how much it’s changed. It hurts to think of the past. I don’t know what recalled this era in my life, what made me think about it, what brought it back into mind. All I can say is that it hurts. It hurts to think of the past. To think of past hurt. I’ll never forget it, as much as I try. Life goes on.

As someone once said, “We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” I can attest to that.

Update 30 Aug 05: About a year after Erin garaged it, the couch was brought down to me at Pitt. I fit it in my dorm room, and the next year and a half it sat in my apartment living room. When I moved out, it came with me. The following fall, my younger brother brought it with him to college. He went to Copenhagen this semester, and the couch is back in Philadelphia at my parents’ house. And it’s not really important, but its name is Argyle, after the upholstery and the limo driver in Die Hard.