When Wole reached his 21st birthday, we had been together for over a year. I knew I had to do something awesome for him, because I loved him and the international community on campus and I were his family.
I started with a plan to toilet paper his dorm room door. I do not understand or remember why defacing your loved one’s door on their birthday was a sign of affection on campus, but it was. I gathered together a picture of Wole from the year before (this was before the digital age, so it was a big deal to have a developed picture that had turned out half way decent), a printed Happy 21st sign, and a roll of toilet paper. My backpack loaded, I made my way to the guy’s dorm. Security was not really a high priority, so I was not worried about getting in without Wole knowing. I just knocked on the lobby door and the residents sitting there watching TV let me in, recognizing me as Wole’s girl. This always brought me a sense of pride, as we were identified as each other’s.
I headed up to the second floor and as I opened the door, right in front of me was Wole’s RA in a towel. Now Wole was and is the most beautiful man in the world to me, but Nick was intimidatingly handsome and cool. He was sincere and incredibly nice to everyone, which for some reason made me even more nervous around him. So here was Nick in a towel with me somewhat breaking the rules by being in this dorm unescorted about to vandalize a door. As I averted my eyes, Nick, cool as always, just greeted me by name with a giant smile, probably enjoying my discomfort, and continued on to his room. Definitely my favorite of Wole’s RAs. I decorated quickly, while all passerby just smiled and nodded.
After this I snuck downstairs to bake a cake. Now when I say bake a cake, I mean prepare a box mix and icing it with icing from a can. I made this in the dorm’s basement kitchen that probably broke many a health code and Lord knows where I got the mixing bowls and pans. I left the cake in the kitchen, which thinking back leaving a cake in a dorm full of hungry college boys was probably not the best idea, and headed to the local pizza place that had $5 pizza on certain days of the week. I had saved up $20 just so I could buy the pizza for this party, so I bought my four boxes and then lugged them across town (neither Wole nor I had a car).
Now you will notice, nowhere in this 21st birthday discussion is alcohol mentioned. At the time Wole and I never drank, though teaching changed that quickly for me! I do not judge those who celebrated being of drinking age on their 21st birthdays, but it just was not part of our experience.
All the international students were invited to the dorm basement at 6pm and I had the pizza and cake ready in plenty of time. Our motley crew involved several other Africans from the West and South, some friends from the Caribbean as well as Wole’s roommate who was from India. Wole arrived shortly after all his friends and was mildly surprised. When I asked him about the door, he just grinned at me. (He left the door decoration up for weeks.) The basement was furnished with a pool table and ping pong, so everyone enjoyed a nice low key night eating and playing games. I got my butt handed to me in ping pong several times and then left the games to the boys, while I gossiped with the girls. We talked and played games well into the night. I tell this story, not because it was some earth shattering evening, but because we had fun with no money or car, just being together.