Iris G. Garcia
I looked at a 1970s picture of a dorm room like mine a few days ago. In the picture, the girl who lived there has a poster of Rocky on her closet door and a massive stuffed dog on her bed. She is sitting in a bean bag chair, her feathered hair flowing out as she looks intently at a book in her lap. She is immortalized in my room because of that picture. I sense her presence, and the presence of many other women who have attended Coe College. We are all connected because we leave a little of ourselves within the walls of Coe's buildings. I feel myself in a past so real that it is hard to come back to reality. I remember the words of Virginia Woolf,
We leave our scent along the floor, and our laughter imbedded in the
windows. It is strange to think that so many lives have happened in my
room; it is strange to think that thirty years from now another girl may
be looking at a picture of me in my room, with my strange décor,
my fridge and microwave, my crazy clothes and hair. Thirty years from
now, an eighteen-year-old girl like me will be sent back in time until
she too must quote Virginia Woolf and wonder what kind of life I led.
Then I will be an eternal image, one millisecond of stopped time.
I am a very visual person. I remember pictures and scenes better than
I can remember numbers, formulas, or even names. I am getting to know
Coe and its history through its visuals. I see photographs of its past,
sculptures, architecture, even its landscaping, as a way of getting to
know Coe. The entire college is a work of art. I hope that I will be able
to contribute to the art of Coe somehow.
It's early- nine in the morning ant it's early. Six used to be early.
I stay in my pajama pants (they are actually oversized sweats), throw
a clean shirt on; wrap myself in a sweater and a scarf and the biggest
coat I won. I grab my messenger bag and sling it over my shoulder. I'm
As I walk out of my door the smells of my hall attack my nose. My hall
stinks; it is a mixture of odors that should not be mixed: old pizza,
Ramen noodles, unclean bathroom, girly perfume, and alcohol. I twist the
knob of the door that leads to the stairwell, forgetting that it's of
no use, the knob doesn't work. All I really have to do is push the door.
The stairwell smells worse than the hall; it is a mixture of the smell
of every hall in Armstrong.
Armstrong Hall was not yet twenty years old when the girl from the seventies
lived in what, I have decided, is my room. Armstrong was opened in 1961.
Perhaps she too had to endure the strange smell of college. Maybe she
contributed to the potpourri of her floor with the hairspray she used
to style her feathered hair.
I walk our of the building and step into a mist. There is fog all around
me and my face is damp from the thick air. The moisture hangs, clinging
to nothingness. Walking through it, I watch all the other students who
have nine o'clock classes; they are ghosts in this haze. Time is distorted
in the mist. The ethereal bodies around me are those of every generation
that once lived at Coe.
I have only seen a misty fog like this one other time in my life, when
I was a young girl at my grandmother's house in Mexico. We were actually
leaving her house that morning to return home. My mother woke us all at
four in the morning so that we could have everything in the car and drive
off by six-thirty. I walked outside to watch the sunrise, ignoring my
mother's yells to help pack up. It was gorgeous- I stood in front of my
grandfather's gate, rosebushes rising high on either side of me, and the
sun shining through the initials on top of the gate: ROP, Raul Olivas
Parra. My grandfather immortalized himself in his home. He put all his
effort into the house that I long for every summer.
I walk past Murray, the tallest building on campus, and stare upward.
It is actually ten stories high, the first floor has a two floor loft
for faculty members at the back of each of the two lobbies. It is tall,
but I can't really see it from everywhere on campus, sometimes I lose
sight of it, sometimes I walk right by it without actually seeing it.
Today I look; the mist and fog make it seem more imposing.
On my left is Stewart Memorial Library. It looks almost regal in the
magic of this fog. I think fondly of the brass boy sitting on a low bench
by the library, hamburger in one hand, bent studiously over his book Stop-time,
by Frank Conroy. I sat by him for a long time when I cam to Coe College
as a prospective student. I had been exploring the campus by myself and
felt lonely; my host had a softball game so I was wandering on my own.
I just sat. He sat. We were a quiet pair. I imagined a life for him as
I sat there and contemplated my college choices. I imagined that he was
born in Georgia, in the Deep South. I think that he liked the cool Midwestern
air better than the heavy heat of the South, so he made the low bench
in front of the library his permanent home in 1999. He has seen five years
of Coe's history happen. He is stopped in the middle of it all. He will
never move, but his eyes will always see new images.
I walk past Greene Hall, the all-boys dormitory. Its twin stands across
the quad- beautiful Voorhees, the all-girls dormitory. The v-shaped buildings
with stately pillars and great windows remind me of buildings in Washington
D.C., they have all the grandeur of the ancient republics conserved in
their architecture. Walking through this part of Coe's Campus always sets
me back in the middle of the National Mall, with museums on every side
of me, lush grass beneath my feet, and history palpable in the air.
Coe's own history is an interesting one. Coe was actually founded in
the parlor or Presbyterian pastor Reverend Williston Jones in the year
1851. Imagine maybe fifteen or sixteen young men sitting around the small
parlor, taking notes for their seminary. A couple of years later Daniel
Coe donated $1,500 so that an actual college could be started, with the
condition that women be admitted into the college. It wasn't until 1881
that the college was started on the campus it is now, and named after
its benefactor. When I decided to attend Coe College, people would ask
me what Coe stands for. I always thought it was a funny question. What
could Coe stand for? It is a last name, of course. Whose" I didn't
know at the time. I suppose what most interested me in my college choice
was not who or what the college was named for, but the promise of individual
attention from professors, the new atmosphere, the new people, a world
apart from mine.
I'm late. I pick up my pace. I walk by my "little island,"
it is really only a mound of dirt right in the middle of the sidewalk,
with a cherry tree, or maybe it's a crabapple tree, on top and a colony
of chipmunks underneath. I walk on the mound and under the tree's branches,
my little shortcut; this is the part of my day in which I appreciate my
short stature. The little island is itself a work of art. Landscape architecture
is what Chet Raymo calls "a tamed wilderness," and Andrew Jackson
Downing calls a "more refined kind of nature."
As I leave the magic of the little island, Hickok Hall is directly to
my right. Hickok is one of my favorite buildings. Its architecture is
so simple. It is three stories high, made of red brick, with white wooden
windowsills and doors. On the side of the building that faces Greene,
there is a small door with no door knob on the outside. I love thinking
about that, a door you can't go in, a door that is only an exit. I also
love the second window from the left on the first floor; it's gone. There
is no actual glass there; the window has been filled in with bricks. Not
many people really notice it. I haven't met anyone who had noticed it
before I pointed it out to them excitedly. A door that stops you in your
tracks, a window that will hide its secrets, some bit of Coe's history
may be found behind the impenetrable window, a couple of minutes from
eternity. I love these subtle little mysteries that make up Hickok; I
suppose that is why I always notice it, and sometimes miss Murray.
I walk on into Dows, the fine arts building. Built in the 1970s, close to the site of Old Main, an old academic building that was torn down, Dows is one of the more contemporary buildings on campus. It has a round theatre space and art rooms teeming with natural light. I hear the bell in Sinclair ringing just as I am getting to Dows' outer doors. I'm late. Walking in I realize that this building is about thirty years old. It was new when the girl with the Rocky poster on her closet door attended Coe. Dows, though, never stops. Its contemporary walls are never empty of the flurry of new work. It encompasses all time. I, part of the class of 2008, an playing a role in the play Trojan Women that was written by Euripides in the 5th century B.C. The version the Coe department is doing is an adaptation by Brendan Kennely a modern Irish poet. We have transformed it into a somewhere in the Middle East on the stage of Dows, the building that was created in the 1970s. I feel time all around me; it is concrete in Coe's campus, whether at a standstill, or in a rush of activities and change. I hear the far off bells of Sinclair Auditorium to the west of Dows. I feel like Thoreau says, "I am differently times. I am- contented. This rapid revolution of nature even of nature in me- why should it hurry me." I'm late.
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