Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Began on My Answering Machine Ten Years Ago

Before my fall 1998 semester of college began, I spent a week or so--knowing how involved I get in these types of projects, probably more than a week--planning a re-do of one of my department's designated informational bulletin boards. I was the new president of the department's club and academic honorary that school year, and it meant a lot to me that we have an awesome-looking bulletin board in our building's main hallway. I spent who-knows-how-many hours that summer both writing and typing-up my favorite quotes that applied to our department and our club's goals and then "laminating" them with clear contact paper, searching out relevant words and phrases and pictures in magazines and newspapers and then cutting them out and gluing them to/bordering them with colored paper, making photocopies of cartoons and illustrations I'd saved, and creating informational posters and meeting-notices. When I'd amassed what I considered a big enough and good enough collection of items for the bulletin board, I packed it all into a backpack and a couple of other bags, along with a stapler, staples, colorful thumbtacks, and strong tape, and walked it all over to campus, about a half-mile from my apartment. Once there, I enjoyed a near-empty corridor as I created the bulletin board: no summer classes were in session that day, I guess, and I only encountered a few faculty members as I worked. It was a fun project, and I was thrilled with the results. The bulletin board looked so colorful and so creative and just so completely different from every other bulletin board I'd ever seen hanging on any wall in any department. I already knew, though, that while the bulletin board would obviously draw attention, no one would really share my delight in it, and I was okay with that.

The next day, there was an odd message on my phone's answering machine that went something like this: "Hello, this message is for Val. Val, this is Marylou [Last Name]. We met a couple times last school year, but I don't know if you remember me? Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how AWESOME your bulletin board in the department's main hall looks! I was in there the other day to meet with [So-and-So], and I saw the board and found out you'd done it, and I was just BLOWN AWAY by your talents and your creativity and your obvious enthusiasm, and I just CAN'T WAIT to see what you have planned for the club and department this school year! Really, you just did such an incredible JOB with it! You should be very proud of yourself! It really looks GREAT! Anyway, that's all I wanted to say! I just wanted to let you know! I hope you're having a good summer! Okay. BYE!"

I was stunned--and not only because this person had somehow gotten my phone number. I had never before had someone who was a stranger, basically, take the time to show me such incredible kindness. It was the sweetest feeling. I played the message over and over, sitting on the floor smooshed into one of my roommates' beanbag chairs. After listening to Marylou's message a bunch of times, I managed to write out her message on a scrap of paper so I could keep it with my other saved letters and important notes. I still have that scrap of paper with her exact words on it, and every time I've come across it while looking through my treasured papers, it's touched me again. That a stranger took the time to cheer me on with such kind words, even--or especially--over something as seemingly small and insignificant as a bulletin board, has always meant so much to me.

Although she was a graduate student finishing her thesis-semester and I was still an undergrad, Marylou and I ended up working together and sharing a class together that fall, so we saw each other frequently enough at school. Still, my shyness kept getting the best of me, and although I kept trying to tell myself to approach her and try to talk with her more--You KNOW she's nice! She called and left that nice message! Be brave! Strike up a conversation!--it took me at least a couple of months to psych myself up for an attempt at a friendship with her. One morning at work, though, I overheard Marylou telling a couple of the other grad students something she was sad about that day, and it struck a chord in me, and I sent her either a card with a note inside or maybe just a short letter that shared my own experience with what she was talking about. I don't remember how the next steps were taken, but we have been friends since.

Marylou and her husband and children were in town yesterday, and we all met up for supper. It was the first time Marylou and I had seen each other in seven years. Our 2001 visit found us both facing the challenges of what I remember as the Year from Hell, and yesterday's visit--well, every year, and every friendship, has its challenges and sees its ups and downs, but it was quite something to touch base again in-person, knowing it's been ten years now since that answering machine message.


kent said...

What a wonderful post!
Hope y'all are doing well.
I got my 1st official customer complaint...I told a guy he was rude, he must not have liked it. ; ) He needed to know and I was available for Truth dispensing, so I basically had to do it.
Take care. (Be polite! Don't make me come up there.)

Val said...

I tend to think rudeness needs to be stopped in its tracks, so I say "Good for you!" on that one. :) We're doing well, thanks. 'Getting used to Mike's new job and our new schedule related to that. I'm still job-searching. Things are good. :) Hello to Johnny. :)

Marylou said...

Hey Val! Old Cheese here. I'm so flattered to be on the blog! You know, I had no idea where that message would take me ten years ago. Who would have ever guessed? Amazing where life takes us, ups, downs, curvies...yet we're still here. Thanks for staying true. Love, me (the blue-eyed mommy)

Val said...

And I'm so happy to see you here. :) Have a good night. :)