Stepping Through Doors

(Picture of Walker Tower, University of Oklahoma)

Summer 1975 was one of those in between times for me and my group of friends. Liminal, the poets call it and it’s one of my favorite concepts. Liminal is the place, space, or time that is neither here nor there. It’s a threshold, a door. That moment before you leave something known behind and step into the unknown. We had graduated so we were no longer high school students, but we certainly weren’t college students yet. We had three months in between. That summer being in between was magical. We all knew where we were going to college, some leaving town, some staying, but none of us were worrying about that yet. We could live in the present and it was glorious.

It was a summer spent on the water. Sunny, crowded weekend days on Canyon Lake, north of San Antonio were great fun. Grabbing my boyfriend P’s family boat after a day at various summer jobs to take advantage of the long hours of daylight was even better. The lake was quieter during the week, and it was then, on still water as the sun sank below the hills, that I finally, finally came up out of the water instead of being dragged behind the boat. I was skiing!

We spent a couple of weeks at the coast – that means the Texas Gulf Coast. Port Aransas in a condo rented by the J family to be precise. Not the ambiance of the white sands of Clearwater Beach, but still a beach. Warm water, jelly fish stings, and more sunburns than a redhead should experience. The girls were there all week. The guys came down for the weekend and slept on the couch and floors. Mrs. J made certain of that. So much laughter and fun together.

One last chance to be without responsibility, to enjoy friends before we all went our separate ways. Some of us have stayed friends long past college, attended weddings, hugged babies, and mourned deaths together. But that summer it was all still to happen. The future was full of possibilities during that summer in 1975 while we enjoyed the time in between, the time before we had to grow up.

But summer always ends and on a very hot day in August (though one could reasonably ask if there was ever an August day in Texas that wasn’t very hot) my mom and I waved goodbye to my dad who was staying home with my younger brother. We were beginning the four hundred and fifty mile trip from San Antonio, Texas to Norman, Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma. As we said our goodbyes, my mom told my dad, “I’ll be driving back with my inside windshield wipers going. See you tonight.” It was sometime later that I realized she meant she would be crying on the way back home.

It’s impossible to list all of the differences between then and now. “One of These Nights” by the Eagles was topping the charts that August and the Saturday night TV lineup was filled with shows that are considered classics now – “All in the Family”, “The Jeffersons”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and “The Bob Newhart Show”. Technology was the Smith-Corona Electric Typewriter with an ejectable ribbon cartridge I had gotten as a graduation present. It was packed in its carrying case and tucked in the backseat. In my suitcase was the clock radio that was required for every college student who would now have to wake up without parental help. A hairdryer and hot curlers were the only other items I had with a cord.

That suitcase was also a graduation present. It was part of a three-piece set of hard-side (there was no other choice) American Tourister luggage. According to the ads of the time, these could withstand the rancor of a full-grown gorilla or any airline luggage handler. Years later this would be disproved when the smaller suitcase arrived on a luggage carousel looking like it had been impaled on a metal stake. Clothes, bedding, including a wonderful patchwork quilt made by my mom during her quilting phase, books, and a teddy bear given to me by P. completed the car’s inventory. Almost nothing when compared to the essentials packed into the family SUV now, it felt like a lot when it fell to the two of us to get it the ninth floor of Walker Tower, my home for the next nine months.

Once on the ninth floor, we opened the door to my room to find one built-in bed and desk completely made up. Clearly, my roommate had already moved in though she was nowhere to be found. Several trips later, my things were piled on the thin mattress on a box bed with drawers, strewn across the desk, stacked on the bookshelves over my bed. Mom left quickly, partly because she didn’t want me to see her cry and partly because she had another eight-hour trip to get home that night. I don’t think she had any special reason to get home so quickly. I think it simply didn’t occur to us there was any reason for her to stay. There were no trips to a store to get last minute items, no program for parents, All through the building, parents were dropping their students off and heading home. She didn’t even drive north to see her mother. She simply headed home.

And on that Saturday after my mom left, I experienced another component of liminality. As I stood there looking at the bare half of a dorm bedroom, I certainly felt a long way from home, from family, from friends, and not at all grown up. This new adventure, the unknown of what was to come had suddenly become very real and more than a little bit scary. I was stepping through a new door.

Each time we find ourselves in liminal space, we can react with fear or bravery. Like so many other actions in our lives, each time we do something new, whether it’s stretching a muscle in a new physical activity or saying yes to a new opportunity, it’s a bit scary. Maybe it even hurts a little bit. But if we remember we have been crossing liminal space and time  and walking through new doors all our lives, maybe, just maybe, it will be a bit less scary, a bit easier each time.

Do you remember the first time you were aware of such an experience, even if you, like me, didn’t know there was a term for it? Knowing we’ve done something like this before, remembering that we accomplished it even if it was difficult, this is one of the benefits of reflective/memoir writing. What doors have you walked through?

Take care,


(Picture of Walker Tower on the campus of the University of Oklahoma)

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