DIBIASE: Writing leads to reflection of years now gone

Justin Dibiase

Your editor gives you 1,000 words – a half page. It’s your last column, your last chance to wow them, your swan song, your goodbye to Villanova. In the morning, you sift through the day’s newspapers and Web sites looking for the subject of your last footprint on Villanova as an undergraduate. You want it to be perfect.

“LeBron: The New Jordan” looks like a good lead. “Home runs at the new Yankee Stadium” appears to have some potential. “Matt Stafford and the new Lions” could turn some heads you think. Then, you stop. You wonder how a column about a gunslinger from the University of Georgia can somehow suffice as the emotional goodbye you are ready to deliver to your school. As you struggle with this dilemma, your mind wanders to what once was.

You think back to that rainy day in late August of 2005 when you kissed your mother and hugged your father one last time before they sent their boy off to college in hopes that he would return home a man.

You remember that first friend you made, the Bugaloo, your orientation counselor and those tense first moments in the hot and stuffy room on the fourth floor of Tolentine Hall.

You remember settling into freshman year – your first class, your first party, your first experience with the hell-on-earth that is finals week. You were so different back then, you think.

You snap out of it and stare at the blank loose-leaf paper that is to be ravaged with the words and erasures that will make up your final column. The more you think about it, the more it doesn’t feel right. You can’t write about Stafford.

You put your pen down and, like so many times before when you should have been doing work, find yourself on Facebook. You click “view photos” on your profile page, and you start with picture one of 657. You were a few pounds lighter and a few drinks smarter. There’s a picture of that first concert you went to in Jake Nevin. A picture of 50 Cent at Hoops Mania. One of the legendary basketball comebacks against LSU. A picture of the girl whobroke your heart and another of the friends that helped patch it up. Pictures of those college summers that seemed to never end. A picture of that Halloween and a few of the wonderful NovaFest weekends. The junior ring ceremony. That service break trip.

Then your phone rings. It’s your parents. They ask you how your column is coming. You tell them you haven’t started it yet. They ask you a few things about graduation weekend, and you stop them before they both hang up. You tell them thanks. They ask you, “For what?” You tell them, “For Villanova.”

Back to the column. Maybe you could do a top 10 sports moments at Villanova list. Nah, too structured. How about an open letter to sports fans everywhere? Nope, too vague. As you’re ripping your hair out, you look up at your wall. You smile immediately.

It’s a picture of you and your friends in front of Ford Field in Detroit. You remember the amazing ride that 12 basketball players took you on not as millionaire stars but as classmates. You remember the road trips to Boston and Detroit, the euphoria, the dejection, and the deep sense of pride you felt after the buzzer went off one last time in the motor city.

You can’t focus on the column anymore. Your mind is clouded with memories of the past four years. You decide to work on your English paper. As you look through your barely legible notes, a piece of paper slips out of your binder.

It’s a sheet that your professor handed you the first day of class. You quickly discarded the paper when you received it in January. It’s your professor’s list of the rules of writing. You skim through the quotes, agreeing and disagreeing, and then halfway down the page, one rule reaches out and grabs you.

It’s from the venerable New York sportswriter Red Smith. “Writing is easy, just open a vein and bleed,” he writes. You refuse to acknowledge the simplicity of writing and wonder what he meant, as you put your English paper to the side and again try to settle on the topic of your final column. You think about the Stafford idea and the LeBron idea, but the Smith quote itches like a mosquito bite in July. You just have to scratch it. You put your pen down and step outside to run some errands. You avoid the column for now, but the quote never escapes you. Morning becomes afternoon, and afternoon becomes night. The sun rises; the sun falls; and you are back staring at that blank ocean of white on your desk.

Writing and college. They’re kind of similar, you muse. The beginning and the end crawl, but everything in between flies at the speed of light. In some ways, you think, your writing is as much a part of you as your hands and feet. It is an appendage for all to see.

And then the Smith quote hits you like Ali hit Frazier, like Jackson hit October, like Secretariat hit the Belmont. It makes sense. You shut off the radio, lock your door, and prepare to bleed. For hours your heart rests in your left hand as your right dances like a ballerina from left to right, top to bottom on the paper. Before you know it, it’s 1,000 words, a half page. It’s college. You blink, and it’s over.


Justin DiBiase is a senior civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].