Pandemic Project: Scattered Autobiographical Memories of a Liberal White Woman, Part I

Twenty-three years ago this month my then boyfriend graduated from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas with a physics degree. A year later, I followed suit, the only difference being my piece of paper said biology instead of physics.

A few days after pomp and circumstance, I was on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany with something like 100 other A’Capella choir members and alumni; starting a choir tour and my first trip outside of North America. We spent 10(ish?) days singing and traveling through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The vast majority of us were hopelessly Midwestern, our crew was overwhelmingly Methodist, Southwestern being a Methodist institution. At one point we were oh so shocked (or amused, perhaps) upon finding the church kitchen we were in had a tap. For beer. In a church! Did I mention we were hopelessly Midwestern and overwhelmingly Methodist? Oh, how worldly and grown up and sophisticated we felt to having all these new experiences!

Days after my return from Europe, I loaded up a UHaul with my sparse belongings (yes, if you’re wondering, there was a papasan chair involved) and moved into an apartment in a Kansas City suburb. Less than a month after receiving my first college degree, I was attending orientation at Kansas University Medical Center, where I subsequently spent a full calendar year completing the clinical laboratory science practical year of education, then was grated another piece of paper.

Prior to my year at KUMC, I had spent essentially no time in an urban area. The area around the medical center had a reputation for being a bit on the seedy side. Whether or not that was warranted, or simply a reputation the area gained because there were black people about, I do not know. During orientation, a hospital police representative encouraged us to utilize their escort service if we had to walk to our cars at night (though, if God forbid, you were parked on the Missouri side*, you were SOL). My coursework never required me to be there after dark, so I didn’t have a need for such an escort; but it was nice to know it was available.

If ‘woke’ had been a utilized term in that day and age, I’d have fancied it applicable to myself. Ahhhh youth. Was I ‘woke’ the morning I returned from my phlebotomy rounds and regaled my {all white} classmates with the tale of the young black man I visited, who was recovering from a gun shot wound and yet was terrified of my li’l ol needle? God, I thought that was so damn funny. Big tough gangbanger scared of my phlebotomy tray. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Jesus Christ, have mercy on dumbass 22 year old self. I’ve previously referred to the Indigo Girls lyric, “Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh.” I need an additional verse: “Sometimes I look back 20+ years and want to punch my young, stupid self.” I didn’t have the knowledge to deem him a gangbanger. And, for shit’s sake, WHAT IF HE WAS? What on earth gave me any right to judge??? My only job was to collect a blood sample, ideally in as compassionate a manner as one can possibly poke someone with a sharp object. Nothing about the situation required any commentary from me.

Woke. How incredibly inane. I’ll extend my 22 year old self a little grace here. Regardless of anything, there is only so much I could have possibly known as a 22 year old product of a largely rural Kansas upbringing.

I’m going to leave it here for today. It is so incredibly typical for me to be dealing with the heartbreak and unrest of my metro area by writing about myself, making it about me. Right or wrong, I’m feeling the need for a lot of self-reflection these days. Why I’m choosing to share said self-reflection in such a public manner is undoubtedly egotistical. But I hope there is also some vulnerability and confession coming through. More to come. Bear with me. Or don’t. Put one foot in front of the other and lead with love.

*If you are unfamiliar, and need some extraneous information, Kansas City covers two states, Kansas and Missouri. The medical center is very close to the state line.

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