I remember moving into my dorm room at Louisiana Tech. I remember bringing my Macintosh, stereo, CDs, clothes, and personal stuff, but I cannot recall how I got there. This is very strange because I have the best memory of anyone I know, so I must have blocked it out. I didn’t have a car (I didn’t even have a driver’s license). My parents must have brought me. I met my roommates; they were nice enough. They were best friends from a small town outside of Shreveport and were sophomores. They went home almost every weekend. I would catch a ride with the frenemy once we were speaking again. She conveniently lived next door to me: a constant reminder of the person I wanted to leave behind in Shreveport, the Depressed Kerry. I wanted to go to college and start over, but I couldn’t. Depression isn’t like that.
My classes were ok. I made friends. I would hang out with my dorm neighbors and their friend Hillary, who was quirky and I could never decide if she liked me or not. We would end up being lifelong friends (and birthday twins). She got my brand of quirky. On the other side, the frenemy continued to be a basketcase.
On December 9th, my neighbor friend asked me to walk to the Student Center with her so she wouldn’t have to walk alone to the Christian group The Fellowship. I called ahead and ordered a pizza to take back to the dorm. For some reason I wasn’t worried about walking back alone. I was standing under a neon sign the said Pick Up. A tall guy in a green hoodie came up to me and said “hi, I’m Scott Faler” and I half expected him to hand me a business card. I said “I’m Kerry Branton” and he asked where I lived, where I was from, basically my life story in ten minutes or less. My pizza was ready and I said goodbye to this guy from New Orleans and walked back to my dorm (because pizza is always there for you).
The next night the guy in the green hoodie called. He remembered my name and dialed the Tech operator for my number. He called when I was Christmas shopping with friends in Funroe (Monroe), spending money I didn’t have on credit cards that I applied for in the Tech Student Center just to get a free tshirt. After all, what kind of company gives a credit card to a college student who accurately lists their income as ZERO DOLLARS? Once back in Ruston (the town with only a JC Penney and a Super Walmart), the roommates told me Scott called.
A couple of days later, he would come to my dorm room with a video tape and play for me his segment on the 700 Club. I knew of the 700 Club with that TV preacher who looked like the Keebler Elf and prayed for people through the TV. I was skeptical. My relationship with God at this time was strained at best. Before the depression, I had been a Christian for what seemed like forever. I grew up in Shreveport’s First Church of God, going mostly with my grandparents and my mom. I would go to a few different Vacation Bible Schools each summer. When I was 11 I accepted Christ as my personal savior. After that, I would help with crafts at VBS for a few years before the depression sank in. Depression makes it hard to see God, to imagine that there can be a time when the depression will not be there, that God really does care for you. That ANYONE really cares for you.
So, it turned out that Scott had been in a car accident that left him in a coma and he had to relearn to live all over again. I couldn’t imagine it and wouldn’t have believed him if he hadn’t shown me the tape. Was this guy for real? Who tells a girl all this heavy stuff the first time he comes over? He was nice and smart. A few days later I would see him in front of the Housing Office and he said he’d call me after winter break. I had absolutely zero faith in this.
My grades were not good. I had somehow failed remedial math fall quarter. How stupid do you have to be to fail remedial math. I remember telling Will and him just saying “how?” in disbelief. I went home for the winter break and told my family I was fine. Sure I was fine, I was retaking remedial math and barely leaving my dorm room and had gained enough weight to bump up to a size 18. I told my aunt that I met someone and she said “you never know, you might marry him.” Marry him? Kids and all that? It was kind of funny, I guess, but I never really saw myself as a married-with-kids kind of woman. I’d only majored in English Education because friends and family said there would always be a need for teachers and that breaking into journalism would be extremely hard. But I was going to be a writer. I was going to write for Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone, then write the Great American Novel. I was depressed. I was suffering. All great writers had suffered for their art. This was me. This was what I believed.
I went back to Tech after winter break and was back before my roommates. Scott called and asked if I wanted to go to Wendy’s to get something to eat since the student center was closed (and I didn’t have a car and would surely starve to death). I said sure. We met on the sidewalk between our dorms. He lived in Pearce, the smart guy dorm. He drove an Maxima. He now had a full beard and wore a red plaid flannel shirt. Great, a lumberjack. We went to Wendy’s and talked and laughed for three hours. It was the best cheeseburger I had ever had. We started dating. I started going to Campus Crusade for Christ with him and met more people. I was leaving my dorm room more. I met Dana Frusha. We immediately clicked. She was a bright spot that winter and spring. We were in the same major and would have classes together. We would make fun of our advisor and write haikus in class instead of paying attention. But Dana actually passed her classes. And she kind of dressed like a lumber jack. It was the 90s.
I was taking a new load of classes in the spring. I was out of my element. I was taking college algebra and physics. My high school friend Brandy was in this class with me. We sat next to each other on the first day when Brandy said “but you didn’t take high school physics!” after the teacher of the “easy” physics course said “this will be a continuation of your high school physics class.” Oh, hell no. I immediately went to Keeny hall and dropped that class. So, I was down to taking maybe 9 hours. Pathetic. To make matters a whole helluva lot worse, I had moved in with the frenemy because she talked me into rooming with her because her roommate had moved out and she didn’t want a stranger to be moved in with her. Plus, during winter quarter, one of my roommates AND her boyfriend walked in on me in front of the mirror giving myself a self breast exam. Topless. You just don’t pretend your roommate’s boyfriend saw you naked. So, I moved in with the frenemy. I was a glutton for punishment. Seriously. I didn’t know how to say no. I had never learned that skill. It goes without saying that she was the worst roommate ever. I spent most of my time in Scott’s dorm. Sleeping.
One day while in Scott’s dorm room I was sleeping when three guys came to the door saying Scott was getting a roommate. One of the guys with them, helping carry the roommates belongings, was a guy from high school who was good friends with Will. He saw me half asleep, probably without pants. I can’t sleep in pants, it’s a long story – they’re constricting. Scott was studying. He was always studying because he was in engineering. I was never studying because I didn’t care about my grades. I failed algebra. It was summer. Later, Scott told me he had asked the guy who helped his roommate move in about me, since we had gone to high school together. I was sure he told him I was crazy.
Summer came and went. I worked at Talbot’s in the mall until the manager waved to get my attention when an African American couple walked in and she mouthed “watch their hands” and did jazz hands. You know, because only black people shoplift. It made me sick. I quit.
I was 20.
Fall quarter started and I was retaking college algebra. I had a new roommate, Casey, who was a delightful firecracker who loved The Lion King. We had another roommate who snored and drove us nuts. I also took an education class with Dana. It was fun.
One day I found myself in the Student Center with some people. I was eating a taco salad. Guys were playing dominoes rather loudly. Snoop Dogg was singing “Gin and Juice” on the video jukebox that was newly installed. People were talking loudly. The music was loud. The dominoes were loud. My heart started racing. I started to cry. I couldn’t move for a minute, then I got up from my taco salad and ran toward the doors to get outside. I don’t run. Let me repeat that: I don’t run. Once outside, I walked very quickly to my dorm room to have the heart attack I thought I was having. I was shaking. I somehow managed to unlock both the door to the dorm and my dorm room. A few minutes later I was ok. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Big rooms started to bother me and I spent even more time in my room. Then I lost interest in everything.
I went on a retreat with Campus Crusade that I didn’t have the money to attend. My Resident Assistant, Kim May, loaned me the $40 so I could go. We went to some camp place in the woods. I did not like it. I am a fan of the great indoors. There was canoeing. Scott talked me into getting into the canoe. Almost immediately I started to freak out. I was stuck in the tiny boat on open water with my boyfriend. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t move. I told Scott we had to go back, that I would drown, that I was having a heart attack. I was crying hard. Each tear burned. Scott kept telling me I was ok and there was no reason to be afraid. But I wasn’t afraid. I was shaking. I was convinced I was going to die. I was going to die in a canoe in the woods where they were having a bonfire that night. I would die and they would be singing and making s’mores. But I didn’t die. I got out of the canoe and went to the bonfire with a tear-stained face and made s’mores for the first time in the woods and I tried to act like I was ok. I wasn’t.
Scott broke up with me over nothing. I went to counseling at the counseling center and talked about that. My counselor was getting her masters. She didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t say the right things. It was pointless. Right before the end of my second session she said she wanted to explore my relationship with my father as being the root of my issues. My father was the hardest working man I had ever known. We didn’t have this adorable daddy/daughter relationship, but I loved my dad and I knew he was only the root of any sense of being grounded I had. I told the counselor to fuck off and left.
I knew something was wrong with me sophomore year. I never felt awake or energized or remotely human. I went to a doctor who we will just call Dr. Quack McQuackterson. I opened up about how I was feeling and the depression, racing heart rate, and all. He kept me in his office for 3 hours, ran tests, talked to me about the importance of taking care of oneself in college and stds. His office called a few days later and brought me back in. He said I had low iron, then showed me HIS OWN brand of vitamins he suggested I buy (in bulk). I left. He didn’t help me. No one could help me. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
Scott and I got back together. I was on edge most of the time. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have a car. I was failing algebra again. At some point that quarter my Resident Assistant, Kim, told me to apply to be an RA because I needed a job. She tried to help. I’m pretty sure she knew I was going through something. I got the job for fall quarter. Summer came. I worked as a sitter for a family that was going through divorce. They had four boys. I would babysit when the mother went to therapy and to see her psychiatrist. She told the boys she was going to the doctor. The five year old said his mommy went to the doctor a lot. It was almost time to go back for fall quarter.
I was 21.