I entered college at the University of North Texas as a psychology major, which I quickly changed to an anthropology major during my first semester. I was captivated by an area of study that I had not previously been aware of. During this first semester, I was living in a dormitory. My roommate, Kelly, was the complete opposite of me—straight blonde hair, perpetual partier, constantly nude while in our small room. I, on the other hand, was an anxiety-ridden, bushy-haired recluse who was determined to make life at university work. I had never been very good at being away from my family (particularly my dog), but this was a trial that I had to endure in order to grow as an independent person.
I qualified for the work-study program, which was a type of scholarship that gave me access to certain on-campus jobs. I felt lucky when I was selected to be a student assistant in the office of the Registrar. At first, this position seemed intimidating (before college I had only had one job—working overnight at a local Target, stocking shelves and folding clothes). The woman who was meant to be my supervisor did not quite understand the premise of supervising.
Her name was Gladys and she smelled like cold pea soup. She had an excessive amount of wrinkles and never wore appropriate clothes for the office. Each day she would shuffle in, back hunched over, wearing an old University t-shirt and pants that were made out of an ambiguous material. She would complain about her commute, and then tell me that I needed to do some filing. I always had to do some filing. There were two other student workers in the office. We weren’t allowed to speak very often, but from our silence grew an understood fondness of one another.
Bending over the filing cabinet often made my back ache. So, one day, I got down on the floor to be more level with the files. One of the student workers walked by and asked if that did not hurt my knees.
Gladys said, before I could respond, “Oh, no. She’s used to being on her knees!”
I was mortified. Gladys was laughing, expelling more pea soup aroma into the air. My peer and I just looked at each other, and then continued working as if nothing had happened. This was a different world. It was one silly comment, but it was my first reality check. I was not in my sheltered, rural hometown anymore. I could not be as sensitive as I had always been.
This is when I knew that I was going to have to grow up: when my unfortunate smelling, elderly supervisor made that first perverted joke at my expense.