It’s nearly 10p.m. and West Los Angeles is typically well-lit, even in total darkness. We exit Sunset boulevard, rattle down the poorly paved, narrow road to the backside of the UCLA campus. We make a sharp right turn and I catch a glimpse of the high-rise dorms where I lived on peanut butter, ritz crackers, sunshine and adrenaline for two years as an undergrad. My heart beats faster with anticipation and my chest is warmed by the nostalgia. Drake Stadium looks majestic in the low light of the moon and the bright reflection of 100 foot street lanterns. I’ve always loved the view of it at night.
It feels good to be home. The next morning, my mom and I are hustling through a continental breakfast, strategizing about the ambitious day ahead. We’re at the UCLA guest house, where my mom used to stay for parents’ weekends and birthday trips to Disneyland and random occasions when I couldn’t function as a semi-adult without her. From the time we sit down, I have approximately 9 hours to secure housing for 14 days from now, when I’m scheduled to leave my home in Sacramento to begin my second year of law school, back at UCLA.
9 hours is about 300 fewer than I need and I’m feeling flustered, but dangerously confident.
I get up to grab one more miniature croissant off the buffet line and in a fury of distraction, nearly mow-down a shortish brown-haired guy who appears to be having a much more relaxed morning. When we make eye contact, his face registers as familiar but I can’t pin point how I know him. It’s the new age of recognition, where social media transforms total strangers into acquaintances before you’ve actually met in real life.
He smiles with big white teeth and a scruffy black beard. He extends his hand, and as if there’s someone there to introduce us to each other, says, “I’m Nick. You must be Katie.”
Less than gracefully, I whip my head to the right looking for the evidence he used to identify me, see nothing, and turn back just in time to get my wits about me and realize how we know each other.
His name is Nick Stamos and we’re transferring to UCLA from the same law school in Sacramento, our hometown. To say we had mutual friends is an exaggeration of how connected I felt to anyone in my first year law classes, but we knew just enough of the same people that we’d both gotten word of the other’s plans to transfer to the same school for our second year.
He asks me if I’m “moving in” and I tell him, eventually, as soon as I find a place to live. His eyes widen with the same disbelief and judgmental concern my classmates’ used to exhibit when I would tell them “no, I haven’t started outlining yet.” He seems serious, and from what I’ve heard about him, he studied his ass off to get here.
I, on the other hand, am barely a law student. I’m wearing cut-off denim shorts and a black sweatshirt with a smiling yellow sun on it. It’s my most prized possession, the hoodie me and my best friend designed for our final summer at Camp Have a lot of fun, the program we’ve been running together for the last five years. My complete pre-occupation with this year’s summer camp season is the primary reason I don’t have housing yet for the move I’m supposed to make in two weeks.
I didn’t have to study much to be good at law school test-taking. I taught 6 weekly yoga classes, dated a hot yoga teacher who lived down the street from me and among other irresponsible activities, routinely ate sushi and drank sake bombs with him on Tuesday nights. I’d never set foot inside my school’s library and my best friend’s boyfriend, a classmate, was deeply resentful of what a fun and carefree life I had for all of my success.
It’s Saturday and Nick tells me he’s moving in today so he can prep for a big week of interviews that start the following Monday. He found a sweet set-up on Craigslist, a guest house type building behind one of the impressive ranch-style homes across the street. One of those places that would be modest in Sacramento, but costs five million dollars because of it’s proximity to campus and Beverly Hills and Hollywood productions and other meaningless things that drive up the price of real-estate all over the state.
There’s a name for the interview process, that six years later, escapes me. It’s something almost every law student goes through, especially at the fancy schools like UCLA. It’s the reason he transferred, Nick tells me, to get a job at a big firm that does intellectual property. I smile, make good eye contact and nod my head as if to imply I have any idea what “intellectual property” means.
He tries to disguise it, but I can tell when I share I’m not participating in the interviews, and that I have no real intention to become a lawyer, he is skeptical of my decision-making and suspicious of the legitimacy of my admittance to the same school(s) as him. Later, I would know him as fiercely polite and overly concerned with what other people think of him. Unknowingly, on the day we met, I was the benefactor of the finest example of these qualities.
Some time between the initial introduction and subtle awkwardness of our distinct career-pathing, our moms found their way to us. They are excited to meet each other and as they engage in lively, motherly conversation, I can tell my mom is still observing my first encounter with an obvious prospective suitor.
I, on the other hand, am completely oblivious to Nick as a romantic prospect.
Nick wraps up our conversation with a promise to connect by the first day of school. He offers to “keep his eye out” for good housing leads, and though I can tell he’s sincere, I detect an unspoken “good luck with that” underneath. We exchange a new-friends hug before I turn my back to him, stuff the tiny crescent roll in my mouth, grab my mom and scurry down to the parking garage.
As soon as I pull onto Hilgard avenue, my mom wants to know more about Nick. How old is he and does he have a girlfriend and what do his parents do for a living? I remind her that I only know about him what I learned from the interaction we just had and I’m certain she was eavesdropping for most of it.
“What’s with all of the ‘F’ bombs?” she asks.
I have no idea what she’s talking about.
“Every other word was the ‘F word.'”
“Shit. I didn’t even realize it.”
She gives me a predictable, and familiar lecture about my “unladylike” behaviors that drive men away. She reminds me of the allure of femininity and that “it wouldn’t hurt to soften up a bit.”
I giggle and roll my eyes. I tell her, patiently, for the hundredth time, that I won’t be softening for anything, or anyone, especially not an ultra-studious future lawyer.
If Nick can’t stomach a few F-bombs in casual conversation, he’s probably not the man for me.