Chapter 3: The USC Campus Ministry, Freshman Year (June 2001-June 2002)
In June, I met Lori A, the women's ministry leader for both the Campus ministry and the Central Region. Her and her husband Jon lead the region and campus, with an emphasis on the USC ministry for them. When I met her, I knew that there was something wrong, but it took me years to figure out what. I was dressed how I normally dressed- jeans, t-shirt, hair back and in a ponytail, and no makeup. Maybe I looked a little tomboyish, but my clothes matched and it's not like anything was hanging out. Lori and I eat dinner, and then she asks me about makeup and such, do I wear it, etc. I did have some in my backpack that I used rarely, so I let her do my makeup and hair. She told me that if I looked the way I did that day at her house when I was at USC, nobody would respect me. Later, I figured out that it was her that wouldn't respect me, not the people at school. I had done just fine in the Teens looking the way I did, and they didn't seem to mind. This should have been the alarm bell going off that this Campus Ministry was not going to be the same as the teens.
When I started with the Campus Ministry, they assigned me to be discipled by Kristen. Kristen and I didn't get along at all. We were night and day. I came from a poor Mexican family who barely had money to get food and pay rent, and she was spoiled rotten, rich, and lived in a huge house in the hills outside of LA. I was an experiment for her- they wanted to see how she would do with some responsibility, and she failed with me. I remember I was having severe money trouble, and she invited me to go to the mall and window shop for our d-time (discipleship time... the confession/rebuking time we spent with our disciplers). I said okay, knowing I didn't have any money to get anything, but just wanted to go out and I was trying to get along with her. She ended up buying over $100 at one store and I was shocked- I could have fed myself for a month on that. She said if I was tight for money, I could do her chores (aka clean her house) once a week for $100. I thought about it, and eventually I was insulted by it- not only was she trying to get me to be her maid, but to do her chores for her (and probably keep some of the money for herself). Kristen started struggling and eventually fell away (left the ICOC) and so I moved onto Machelle as my discipler.
When school started in August, I moved into the Shrine House (named such because it was across the street from the Shrine Auditorium- all the households had names) with 7 other girls from the church. My roommate was Jenny, a pretty, half-Mexican scholarship girl just like me. I started getting pressure right away about my looks- what clothes I wore, that I didn't wear makeup, the same stuff I heard from Lori. I didn't think much about it, thinking that they wanted me to fit in at USC, so I tried to fit in with them. It turns out that I was basically living in a sorority house- just without the Greek letters. There was talk about getting fake Greek letters for the house, that's how much they all wanted to be sorority girls. If you shared your faith with a sorority girl, you were looked upon with respect. Nobody actually converted a sorority girl while the Shrine House existed, but that was their dream. I was not a sorority girl- I was a tomboy and a bisexual so in the closet that I didn't even know I liked women (which I will talk about later).
This conflict of personalities lead me to try and be something I wasn't, and it didn't turn out well for me. I wasn't accepted for who I was, and instead I had to try and conform. The girls in the house didn't like that I slept past 9am on Saturdays when I didn't have class, so they would wake me up in the morning to make sure I didn't sleep too late. I let them go through my clothes and throw out anything they thought was “unacceptable” and would go shopping with them so I would get proper clothes. I tried wearing makeup when I would remember, but pretty much failed on that part. They watched what I ate, when I ate and would tell me stuff about my weight (I was around/under 200 pounds). I wasn't the sorority girl they wanted, but I tried to be. This “new” (read: fake) me didn't go well with the people I made friends with for the most part. Yeah, they were friends with me, but they saw I looked one way but acted another. I didn't convert anyone for the whole time I was in the Campus Ministry, and in fact, my friend Julio (baptized in late May 2001) was the last person I brought out who got baptized. I think it's because people saw that I was fake and they didn't want that. Remember that what brought me to the church was how real my friend Chris was.
Not all the girls in the house were bad, though. I had 2 roommates the first year, Marianne and Lia, who were just wonderful. Marianne was the household mother, who took care of all the bills and bought all the household items, like toilet paper and laundry detergent. At the beginning of every month, she would put a post-it on our beds or computers and tell us how much she owed us for the previous month's bills. It was a great system for me... Just one bill at the beginning of the month when I got paid, and then it was all taken care of. She would help me out emotionally as well. When I was having a hard time in school and crying, I knew I could count on her to be there for me. Lia was wonderful, too. She has fibromyalgia and sleeping issues worse than mine, and the household understood and was quiet at night so she could sleep. Not only that, but Lia was a wonderful friend, very kind and giving. I could always count on Marianne and Lia if I needed to go to the store, to get a ride to church, or to go anywhere. I can't drive because I get blackouts, so I didn't have a car and needed help doing simple things like going to the store, and they were always there for me. I didn't know how bad things were going to be the next year. Had I known, I would have moved out then and there.