Walking down the hall that day, out of breath from hiking up the long staircase to the fourth floor of Angell Hall, I looked at my watch.
Dang, I thought, I am 20 minutes early. It wasn’t the first time I had arrived early, seeing as it was the first week of my college career. At the end of the deserted hallway, I could see someone in an orange baseball cap sitting in the corner, slouched over a book.
I approached him in awkward silence and took a seat a little distance away. As I sat against the wall, I could not make out his facial features, although I did a good job of staring. He intrigued me, although I did not know why. I wanted to say something, but every time I tried to speak, the words stuck in my throat. I noticed that he held the packet we needed for our American culture class, for which we were both early. I finally got the courage to speak.
“Where did you get that packet?” What a dumb question. He looked up. His soft, almond brown eyes set into a slightly tan but freckled face looked at mine and he answered, “Accucopy.” That was it. That was the conversation I had been planning for five minutes.
I blurted out, “Where is Accucopy?” He scooted down the hallway toward me, leaned over with his planner in hand, and flipped to a campus map at the back. “Let’s see, we are here, in Angell Hall, and Accucopy is right here.” He pointed to a building on the map, not even a block from my dormitory and, worse yet, within sight of Angell Hall. He got up and walked over to a window. “Right there,” he said, pointing. I walked over, already embarrassed at what I knew I was going to see. Sure enough—big, red, neon letters read “ACCUCOPY.”
I smiled and laughed nervously. “So, can you buy those packets there?” Oh. My. Gosh. “Yup,” he said, smiling an amazing smile. I had not noticed that floods of students had come through the door at the end of the hallway and were walking into the unlocked classroom. I stumbled in behind the boy in the orange cap and sat next to a friend from my dorm.
The professor walked in and handed out a sheet. “This, class, will be the sign-up for group presentations.
You may pick one of the readings from the syllabus and present in a group on the date specified.” The sign-up sheet reached me, and I noticed that there were three name slots for every reading. I had already made two friends in the class because we lived in the same dorm, so it seemed only reasonable to sign up with the group they had started. But I felt compelled to write my name in a different slot. So I put my name under a different reading, starting a completely new group, and passed the sheet along.
When I got the sheet back, I looked at who had signed up with me: Diana and Paul. Paul? Who was that? I tapped my friend on the shoulder and whispered, “Who is this?” She answered with a grin, “He’s the one in the orange cap over there. He’s cute; way to go!”
Two days later, I walked into class and saw Paul sitting there, early again, and this time I sat by him. Where did I get this courage? “Hey,” I said, calmly and casually, “when do you want to get together for our project?” He answered, “Sunday at 1; let’s meet at the UGLi then.” Well, that was that. We sat in silence the rest of the time. My mission was failing; this was going horribly.
As it turns out, I got strep throat that week and it became so bad that my mom had to pick me up on Friday to take me to the doctor. I spent the weekend sipping juice, cringing at every swallow, until I remembered that I had a meeting that afternoon at 1 p.m. for our presentation on Monday. Forty-five minutes later, I was back in Ann Arbor. As I passed by the windows lining the side of the library, I became aware of my unsightliness— no makeup, hair in a greasy ponytail, and a whopper of a zit on my face. To make matters worse, I was still sick and hacking all over the place. It is all over, I told myself. He will never think anything of me now.
But as we started our discussion about the book, I felt relaxed. Maybe it was the lack of hope for any romantic connection due to my previously inept conversational skills and my current disheveled appearance. He then smiled his warm smile, and the presentation disappeared from our minds. We talked about everything else—where we were from, how we had ended up at U-M, and our friends back home.
A few years after our meeting, as we were looking toward our wedding, we were reminiscing about the day when we met in the hallway. Before I told my version of the story, he told me his. He said that I had looked beautiful that day, and he wanted to get to know me better. He signed up to be in my group on purpose, hoping that he would get another chance to talk to me because he felt embarrassed for answering my questions with one-word answers. It turns out that I did not need to redeem myself any more than he felt he did. The relationship that had started with a dumb question ended up giving me a wonderful answer.
Emma Pirtle, ’05, and husband Paul, ’05, are married and are parents to three children. They live in Birmingham, Michigan.