The Perks of Dating a Grad Student

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The Perks of Dating a Grad Student

I walked into room 206 and noticed the desks had cushioned seats. I chose one in the back, next to a blond girl who looked like she could be my friend. The syllabus for the class was on a desk by the door. The room had that awkward first day of school silence, so me tromping across the room to get a syllabus just added noise to the awkwardness. I was nervous and even the cushioned seats couldn't make me feel comfortable. I was a Junior in college and this was my first creative writing class.

A man sat at the table in front of the classroom. He seemed preoccupied with his white MacBook, but looked up whenever the classroom door opened. He was bald on top and had Bozo the Clown hair: curly and brownish red, a little wild but it seemed intentional. He had a full beard and black-framed glasses. He stood up at nine o'clock and started the class.

“Um, hey guys.” His voice was deep and almost monotone. “I'm PR, your TA for Intro to Fiction.” He was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a button-down shirt with cowboy snaps. A pack of American Spirit cigarettes created a perfect rectangular bulge in the left breast pocket of his shirt. “Does everyone have a copy of the syllabus?”

As is customary in creative writing classes, PR allowed time for each student to give a brief introduction. It is important to know your classmates. In a workshop-based class you pour your soul out in black letters on white pages and then let people you don't know examine what's inside you. When it was my turn, I smiled and told everyone I really wasn't fourteen-years-old, I just look young. I told them I was a political science major and creative writing was my minor. I finished with: “And when I grow up, I want to be a stay-in-bed mom with a Master's degree I will never use.”

The class laughed because they thought I was joking. PR looked at me sideways. “A stay-in-bed mom?” he asked. “With the shades drawn?”

“Oh, no, not that type,” I replied.


I met Brandon Alva in early September 2007, during one of those rare moments when I decided to be myself and candid with a stranger. I forgot to be shy. He was sitting in the lobby at the Institute of Religion, the place on campus where all the Mormon kids hang out. He was talking to my sister's friend, Stacy, and I was eavesdropping on their conversation. He looked young, maybe nineteen or twenty with a smooth face and high cheek bones. His hair was really dark, “midnight brown” as he would later describe it. His light brown eyes lit up when he smiled. His laugh sounded like a donkey. He was concentration camp skinny and by the look of his long legs, one resting on his knee, I could tell he was tall.

He caught me looking at him and smiled. “Who is your friend?” he asked Stacy.

She introduced me with enthusiasm. “Brandon, this is my friend Sarah!”

I smiled. “So are you in school, Brandon?”

“Yeah, I'm getting an MFA in creative non-fiction.”

“Hmm, intersting” I said, trying to appear unimpressed. “Creative writing is my minor. So, where did you serve your mission?”

He laughed and answered my next question. “Eugene, Oregon.”

“My friend is serving there,” I said. “You must be pretty old, then.”

“What?” he asked.

“Yeah, if you served a full two-year mission and are old enough to be in graduate school, that would put you at about twenty-five.”

“Is that how old you think I am?”

“You look about seventeen, so I really have no idea.”

He grinned and then looked serious for a moment. “I'm twenty-eight,” he admitted.

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