By Allison, your hamburger consumer and story telling enthusiast.
In class this week, our professor had each student share their major and hometown. After students listed off seemingly every city in Texas, I resigned myself to the fact that the only out of state students would come from somewhere near Illinois or California. I’d been quickly finding that the Northeast is always underrepresented in the Baylor student body. I had yet to find someone from New York City; a girl from Long Island spoke to me briefly at the beginning of the year, but I soon lost touch with her. So I sat, listening to each student name their small, unknown hometown, following their introduction with a hurried “it’s near Dallas,” as is the Texan way of introducing oneself. Everything is near Dallas.
Yet, finally, miraculously, a voice announced they were from New Jersey.
When I’m home, New Jersey is somewhat of a rival, a disdained second cousin which one would rather not be related; yet I was willing to make concessions under dire circumstances. New Jersey downright feels like home when Flower Mound, Texas is the next best option. So I turned around to find the speaker’s face somewhere in the back of the classroom. Immediately, her red lipstick and strikingly black hair made me comfortable; it was clear she wasn’t from here, in the same way that my septum piercing and messily dyed hair scream that I’m anything but Texan.
Later, I found her in the cafeteria and approached her.
“I heard you were from Jersey. I’m from New York, and there aren’t that many of us, so I just wanted to say hi.”
She glided onto the hamburger line with me and asked me where in I lived in New York. We began trading stories, strangers made friends through our common geographical displacement. The thin state line on a map separating New York and New Jersey suddenly tied us together.
“How did you end up in Texas?” She asked me as though it was not equally surprising that she herself was here. Everyone wants to know how a New Yorker ends up in Texas; I’ve realized that I, too, am still wondering.
I do not always have a sufficient answer to this innocuous question. Saying I came for a scholarship sounds shallow, neglecting my complete infatuation with Baylor. Saying God brought me here sounds arrestingly spiritual and can be a disarming explanation to offer someone who just learned my name. So I rambled to her about how I fell in love with Baylor, how I loved the honors program, how the community here is unlike any other university I had visited. My answer was messy though it was true, but it failed to convey my full story; a story I am still trying to figure out myself.
I asked her why she was here.
“Coming to Baylor saved my life.”
I paused, unsure of what to say, but she continued. “You know how living up there can be,” she said, knowingly, an expression perhaps only two Northerners suddenly caught in the calmness of Southern culture can fully appreciate.
I smiled, wondering what she would say if I pushed her to share more, yet knowing exactly what she meant, knowing that I could’ve begun my own explanation with the same sentence. So as the conversation turned to lunch and hamburgers, we moved on, a tentative friendship formed in the closeness of state lines, but I wondered how much my life would’ve sounded like hers if we were to share our stories, our real stories. I wondered who we are, under all of these half told narratives of identity and self that we offer to others, the stories that are convenient to share on a line waiting for a hamburger. I wondered what she would’ve liked to tell me about herself. I wondered what stories I ought to be telling about myself but neglect under the pressure of convenience and simplicity; I wondered how much is lost that ought to be told.