I wrote the following portrait of Venita a while back. I still treasure the many memories we’ve shared over the years. This weekend, I’m going to the wedding reception of this dear friend I made my first year in college. It’s amazing how much has happened since we first met. We’ve both earned the right to add new letters to our résumés, such as, B.A., B.S., M.A.L.S., and she’ll soon be adding Phd. Both of us have gotten our Mrs. though we were very clear that’s not why we were in college to begin with. (I’d already been dating Kevin for a year, and Shawn was yet to show up on the scene).
Some things haven’t changed, though. We both still love God, enjoy laughing, and are grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I can’t wait to see Venita and meet her husband tomorrow!
A Former Roommate, a Future Doctor, a Forever Friend
A chicken breast, half of a pencil, a piece of red string, a CD, and a book were in her coat pockets when she got in my car. Usually on Hollins campus, she was in baggy pajama pants, a sweatshirt, and a white lab coat with pockets for her pencils, stop cock grease, and beaker stoppers. She wore the Dr. to be name tag her father had made for her in anticipation of her receiving a doctorate in pharmaceuticals.
Working with dangerous chemicals which could make her long, elegant fingers go from ashy to nonexistent still gives her a thrill. When asked what she was doing during her January term, she told people, “I’m reproducing.” Eventually she explained that she was conducting an experiment over and over to make sure she got the same results each time.
She received the regional award for undergraduate research in Chemistry, but she didn’t tell her friend, also a Chemistry major, because she didn’t want her to feel bad. “My professor told me I was perfect today…but only after I coaxed him a little bit,” she reported after turning in a major project. Columbia, Duke, UNC, and others were willing to pay thousands of dollars for her brain to do research in their graduate Chemistry labs.
Little did they know her classroom demeanor showed a need for action. If she got bored and began to doze, she started fidgeting rapidly, walked around the classroom while the professor lectured. Sometimes she went up and sat on the professor’s desk so she could stare at her face and the equations she wrote on the board.
Like some other science geniuses, she had the ability to fall asleep anywhere at any time. One afternoon we were having a conversation, then not three minutes later she dozed off in the middle of a Calculus problem with her hands still holding the graphing calculator up to her face. More than once, she walked into our room, leaned over her bed standing up and fell asleep just like that.
In the middle of Bible study, her loud hiccups echoed through the room causing some to stare and those of us who know her to laugh. Over the years we’ve had many conversations about being the oldest children in our families, worrying about younger siblings, wondering what God wants us to do, talking about how our moms are taking on too much. We’ve discussed the different ways our families are crazy and how we love them anyway.
Her parents fully intended to keep her from becoming one of the flighty, hoity-toity pearl girls on campus. They even went so far as to threaten her that they’d come into town like a bunch of hillbillies, blacken their teeth, wear overalls, and have a pig roast on front quad if she started to become the least bit uppity and forget her roots. This gave her a great laugh, in part because it was easy to picture her family doing such a thing, and also because she wasn’t in the least bit of danger of becoming snooty. Stuck-up and superior isn’t her personality.
She liked the Gospel choir CDs I played, but this beautiful black Baptist from the country doesn’t have a beautiful singing voice or the rhythm to dance well. She told me: “I want to be more creative, because I’ve had a painting in my mind for years but haven’t got the skill to put it on canvas.
Her collection of Mr. Potato Head and company best illustrated her sense of playfulness. She took their accessories and interactions somewhat seriously. In her day-to-day life, she didn’t try to control others, but she loved the god-like power she had when playing with toys, Play-doh, finger paints, or her Sim City computer games. I was always uneasy when she walked around with scissors, and the thought of her fencing better than anyone else on her team amazed me. I wouldn’t let her practice in the room for fear she or I would have an accidental loss of limb. We agreed on many topics, such as reasonable forms of exercise. Her philosophy about running was pretty cut and dry: it should only be done if someone is chasing you.
She spoke aloud the trivial things people think but don’t say. At meals she came out with personal updates such as “I’m having pain inside my teeth,” or “I’m experiencing eyelash sensitivity.” When eating dinner together, she insisted on us both getting stacks of napkins. “I am a firm believer that food must hit the table, your elbow, and anything else that might look good,” she said after both of us had dropped some food.
I laughed quite a bit the day she told me: “I took my hand out of my pocket to wave to a friend and glitter flew everywhere. I have no idea how it got there."