The One About My Psych Exam

My first year after high school was spent at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY. Not my choice, but I was determined to make the best of it. I had wanted to go to away to college, but after some discussion with my parents we eventually came to the agreement that if I did well my first year there I could transfer somewhere else.

My original goal was to eventually end up working as a psychologist or some kind of doctor, and so this first year of college was spent in a lot of math, chemisty and, of course, psychology classes. They were all challenging in one way or another, and I studied hard. Really hard.

When mid-term time came around that fall, I was ready. A little nervous, as usual, about failing, but overall I was feeling pretty confident. The math was going to be the worst, I was sure of that, but thankfully my first major exam was going to be in Developmental Psych.

The exam was on a Monday and during the review in class on Friday, I'd gotten all the questions on the pop quiz right and a paper I'd written a few weeks before was handed back with a big fat A on it. I just glanced at my notes over the weekend, convinced that there wasn't much left for me to review.

In the past when I had to do something really important, and I needed to feel as confident as possible, I would dress up. And a college mid-term, even one I was sure I was going to ace, seemed like the sort of thing that could only benefit from something other than my usual jeans and a tshirt. I'd decided on wearing my favorite knee-high boots, some sheer black tights, a mid-thigh skirt and a sweater. When I left the house that morning, I felt like I could do just about anything right.

The exam had 3 parts: fill in the blank, multiple-choice, and an essay. I went through the whole thing pretty quickly and was one of the first people to finish. I took a little time to double check my answers, just in case, and handed the test in despite still having at least another hour to go. As I left the room, I turned back, waved goodbye to a friend of mine and wished her luck. She just grinned at me.

So, there I was, one mid-term successfully under my belt and the rest of the day to myself. As I walked across the campus to the parking lot, I was feeling a bit like a rock star. It was gorgeous out and there were students everywhere. People I didn't even know were smiling at me and waving. College, I thought, was turning out to be much better than high school.

I got to my car and opened the door. Getting in, I reached back to smooth down my skirt. Only, my skirt wasn't there. It was tangled up inside my sweater, leaving my backside completely exposed.


The One About The Conference

When I moved to the Bay Area from Upstate NY in 2000, I got a job as an Associate Director for an adult literacy program. After the first month there, the branch of the program I was part of (Inmate Literacy) was sent to a conference in San Francisco. I was pretty excited. It was my first conference. It was my first long trip to San Francisco. I loved my job. I had, what I thought was, the best boss. The conference was in a fancy hotel in Nob Hill. I didn't have to pay for anything. It was going to be great.

The night before the conference started I drove up to the city. When I checked in, I discovered not only was I sharing a room with my boss and another boss from another program, but there were only two full-sized beds. Not sure what the proper business etiquette for this sort of thing was, I decided that being a boss meant you got your own bed and as such I would have to sleep on the floor for three nights. Fine. I like the floor. No big deal.

Our group got together with some other literacy folks, had dinner and then we all went back to our room for several bottles of wine and some "serious" talk about the state of education in this country and the lack of funding for the education of adults, especially inmates. By 11pm everyone was drunk, way off topic, and had decided that since tomorrow was the first day of the conference we should all get some sleep. My boss, the other boss, and I got ready for bed. I took a pillow and an extra blanket from the closet and went to make a space for myself in the corner. My boss wouldn't have it. She insisted that I get in bed with her and wouldn't accept "No, really, I like the floor" no matter how many times I said it.

So, there I was, the very first night of my very first conference, intoxicated and sleeping with my boss.

The next morning it was clear that we didn't budget enough time for three showers. I decided to skip breakfast and meet everyone downstairs for the opening speech from the mayor before going off to our individual talks. I don't eat breakfast often, especially when my only option is to eat it at 7am, and I prefer taking my time getting ready. And, to be honest, I wanted to sleep a little more because I spent most of the night making sure I didn't accidentally roll over and rub up against my boss's leg.

I was almost 15 minutes late to the start of the conference. I ran down the hall, and when I turned the corner I was relieved to see a whole bunch of people hanging outside the room. I didn't recognize anyone from the night before, but at least I wasn't going to walk in there alone. One of the men smiled at me, and I reached to open the door for us saying "Oh, thank god, you're late, too!"

He laughed. "It looks that way! Where are you from?"

"NY. Well, I just moved here from NY. I live down near San Jose."

"Oh? Really?", he asked, "Is this your first time in San Francisco?"

"Basically... I was here really briefly about a year ago."

"How do you like it compared to NYC so far?"

And with that, I launched into a small rant about how many homeless people there were, how dirty the city seems especially since NYC had really cleaned itself up lately, how public transportation was less reliable here than there, how hard it was to get a cab, etc.

He didn't really respond, just sort of starred at me and nodded, so I finished opening the door and told him I needed to find my co-workers. "Besides", I said, "now we're both really late."

He agreed and walked in after me. I sat down. He, on the other hand, went to the podium, apologized for not starting on time, and welcomed us all to his city.


The One About The Llama

As long as I can remember I have had a very deep, very unconditional love for animals. All animals*. And, for most of my younger life, this love had been particularly focused on horses.

At 14, after almost 10 years of riding lessons and stable experience, I decided to volunteer at the Albany Theraputic Riding Center. One of my parents would drop me off and I would happily spend hours cleaning out stalls or helping lead one of the horses during lessons. In addition to providing riding therapy to many of the disabled children in the area, the ATRC also was home to a very large travelling petting zoo. There were a lot of goats, several sheep, a few chickens, a pot bellied pig, and two llamas, OJ and Sugar.

Now, when I met OJ, he seemed perfectly nice enough. I was often responsible for feeding and grooming him and we had, I thought, established a very nice relationship with each other. He never tried to spit at me, which I took as a positive sign since llamas can be, well, a little tempermental. I brought him treats from home, and while I still preferred the horses, I must admit to being a bit smitten with OJ. He was so soft and had this goofy look about him and he did this funny little prance when he was excited. I put a picture of him inside my locker.

I thought things were going well. He, apparently, did not.

I entered his corral with a big bucket of grain (and a bit of apple tucked in my pocket) and headed over to the food bin. Rather than coming over to visit, OJ stayed put on the other side of the pen. He barely even looked at me. Oh, I'm sure I said something to him, maybe asked him why he was so grumpy, but I don't remember now. The last thing I really remember was turning around to pour his food out. I never heard him approach me. I definitely never thought he would knock me down and try to kill me.

So, there I was, face down in the mud while OJ sat on my upper back and head. I was sure I was going to die. I'd like to say I saw my life flash before my eyes or something suitably dramatic for such a near-death experience, but I can't. All I could think of was how much people were going to laugh when they found out I was murdered by a llama. A friend of mine had died from meningitis a few years earlier, and the principal held an assembly in order to tell the school that Karen hadn't survived. Laying there, pressed into the earth and the excrement, all I could feel was embarrassed. Once again, I was going to be laughed at (albeit post-mortem) by my entire high school.

*Spiders, crabs and lobsters are not animals.