My friend Lilly-Marie is graduating from Mills College tomorrow. She’s skipping the ceremony because it’s too darn hot and two years ago we did the whole cap and gown deal. She’s doing a reading at Mills tonight which should be great.
I still can’t believe it’s four years since we first met. It doesn’t feel like it, it feels like we’ve known each other longer. Sometimes she’ll say “Remember in high school…” I have to remind her I didn’t know her in high school, and I am twelve years older than her.
We met when I first came to Mills. I had money saved up from working as a cashier but I knew I had to get a job. I qualified for work study, which would give me money to pay some bills and BART fare. That was enough for me at the time. I went to the job fair and I tried filing, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t want to work at the cafeteria or call people to ask for money for Mills’ scholarships. I went over to the Disability Services table to see what they had. It turned out they had some openings: proctoring tests, note takers, and readers. Reading. I could so do that. I remembered the list I did a couple of years back when I was frustrated that I couldn’t find work and one of the things I was praised for was I could read aloud really well. I filled out the application, and then submitted it to DSS.
The weekend passes and I went to visit my mom back in Pleasant Hill, then I came back to campus. I cannot tell you how happy I was those first weeks at Mills. Of course, the glow wore off, but I would wake up in the morning in my dorm room thinking Oh, I’m here, I’m here. Okay, I was thirty-two, but I was still in college, I was going to get my degree.
I only had one class on Mondays so I took a long nap in my room, then I got up to go to dinner. All meals are held in Founder Commons, which is atop a hill that people if they are out of shape have to stop for a minute, breathe, and then continue hiking. I think they have it on a hill so people can get exercise before they eat. Anyway, I went up there and I was scanning the room, trying to find a table. This was always like high school. There were times I liked being alone so I could read or write, but it was dinnertime and the room was packed. I had to eat quickly so I could get to this newspaper meeting on time.
Finally, I saw some girls I knew from the dorm, and they had a space available. I asked “Can I join you guys?” They said of course. There was one girl named Rosie and I apologized for my mother calling her. Let me backtrack here: my mother copied my new phone number down and she kept on calling Rosie by mistake. It got to be kind of funny after a while.
Anyway, our friend Grace said “So it’s your mom that’s calling! You’re Jennifer Gibbons!”
“Wait, you’re Jennifer Gibbons?”
I turned around to see a girl sitting by me. She was incredibly beautiful, like she stepped out of the pages of Seventeen. She had her blonde hair cut in a page boy and was wearing a jeans skirt and a tank top. She was wearing high heels. She held out her hand. I had seen this girl before; she was in my Intro to Literature class. She held out her hand. “My name is Lilly-Marie,” she said. “You’re going to be reading for me for Kirsten’s class.”
“I am?” I asked.
“Yes, they called me today and left a message on the machine. You are Jennifer Gibbons, right?”
“Um, yeah.” I was shocked because I was preparing myself for an interview. I was going to practice reading aloud, make sure I sounded good enough. So it was a shock that I had the job so easy.
“You live in Orchard Meadow, right?” She asked. She gave me the dorm room number and I said I would come after the newspaper meeting. It was then I noticed that she had a cane with a red tip.
I walked to the meeting stunned. I had a job, and a new friend, all at once! I ran in the newspaper office and I told my friend Laura right away.
We’ve been friends ever since. I think it was Armistead Maupin who said that if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you need five good friends. I’m glad she’s one of them.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries