top of page
  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

When Life Takes a Turn, Turn With It

Thirty-nine years ago tonight I was kidnapped.  Taken from my dorm room at midnight, despite my fruitless protests.  I had come from a late-night student meeting at Gustavus where I was a senior.  I was sick, tired and had my GREs (Graduate Record Exams) early the next morning.  And I was greeted at my dorm room by a cheery Lois and Sue and a disgruntled Eric.

“Where have you been?” he said.

I said, “The question should be, ‘What are you people doing in my dorm room at midnight?’”

That is when Lois and Sue said, “We are kidnapping you two.”  I said no they were not, because I was cranky and sick and had my GREs in the morning.  They looked at me not unsympathetically and said, “Turn around while we blindfold you.”

I said no.  So they walked around behind me and did it that way.

Then they began leading Eric and me all over campus, taking sudden turns to confuse us.  We had gone a long way and my mood had not improved when all of a sudden they went silent.

“What’s happening?  Where are we going?”

No answer, just an insistent tug/push.  And tug.  And push.  Another five minutes and they said, “Ok, you can take off your blindfolds.”

We did as we were told, and there stood Cheryl, Eric’s girlfriend.  And Leandra. My not-girlfriend, whom I had just a week before had a first date with and stayed up until 6 AM telling her about all my past girlfriends and how happy I was to currently be “single”.  This after four months of wanting to date her.  Of singing with her and having my heart turned inside out.  Of four months of Eric – my chemistry lab partner – trying to convince me to ask her out and my telling Eric no, no, and no.

And now there she stood.  I would not have in a million years thought she would do something like this.  She didn’t seem the risk-taking type.  And certainly not the outdoors type.  (I have since discovered she is not only not the outdoors type, she does not understand why the outdoors were created, when you could have made one, giant, indoors).

And yet, here in the woods on the edge of campus, Cheryl and Leandra had cleared a space, laid down blankets, built an illegal fire (again, this was Leandra, the consummate rule-follower), and said, “Time for s’mores!”  What was there to do but have s’mores?

Then they read to us what they thought was a tender, meaningful children’s story called How The Porcupine Got His Quills, or How The Porcupine Lost Its Quills, or How The Porcupine Became Lunch For His Friend Mr. Bear, I don’t remember.  But in the end, they were crying, and Eric and I were laughing hysterically. As I tried to stop, I realized there was now a good chance this would be the last time I would see Leandra.  We really did try not to laugh.  We were just unsuccessful.  And if you’d read the book, you would know why.

When they had finished being offended and we had finished breaking into uncontrollable fits of laughter, we all settled down and began talking.  For two hours.  At which point Eric and Cheryl fell asleep.  And Leandra and I were left looking at each other.  No buffer of friends anymore.  Just the two of us and a lame porcupine book.

We got to talking about I don’t know what, because all I could think about was kissing her.  So it really didn’t matter what we talked about, I don’t remember and never will.  At some point in the middle of the night, between huge sniffles, I asked if I could kiss her.  Why she agreed, I’ll never know.   But we kissed our first kiss, and that was that.  39 years ago tonight, just after midnight.  On April Fools.

Then we talked for three more hours until the sun started to rise, and I said I had to go. It was six a.m. The same time we ended our first date a week ago.

Where are you going?

To take my GREs.

You didn’t tell me you had GREs today!

You didn’t ask.  It was why I didn’t want to be kidnapped.  Well, that, and I’m sick.

I’m so sorry!

I didn’t want to be a doctor anyway.

I dropped her off at her dorm.

I walked home to my dorm wondering what I had just gotten myself into.

I didn’t know that, 39 years later, I would have an answer. A rich life.

We don’t know right now, as a world or country or community or

camp, what we have gotten ourselves into, and it feels as frightening and upending and uncertain as a first kiss.  But in the end, along with the grieving and heartache and fear that will come with it, we will discover new kinds of beauty, new kinds of richness, a new way of life worth living.  Of that I am mostly – but not completely – certain.  Just as I was mostly – but not completely – certain that night 39 years ago.

And, for the record, I don’t remember what score I got on my GREs.


bottom of page