I remember being horribly anxious the day I had to take my college placement test in Spanish—because I was so afraid of making a bad showing and disappointing both Britte and my Spanish teacher Mr. Washburn. I’d had two years of high school Spanish by then, but they were only the equivalent of one semester of Spanish in college. So my goal was to place in Spanish 2. As it turned out, there were so many words I didn’t know on the test that I had to laboriously study the syntax of each sentence in order to figure out what all those unfamiliar words probably meant before I could essay an answer. So I was one of the very last students to leave the auditorium that day. When we received the results, I found to my astonishment that I’d actually placed in Spanish 4—even though, among other things, I didn’t know the subjunctive tense yet. In the end, I was obliged to go to Prof. Murillo, the chairman of the department, to get his permission to take Spanish 3 instead.
One of the exercises we did in that class—after reading a story in Spanish—was to write one of our own in the same style as the author’s. A story I only vaguely remember now was about a privileged—and spoiled?—girl named Isabelitica. In very few words, I told a tale of how she gave a stranger—a handsome young man passing beneath her window—an invitation to her birthday party that evening. He was a revolutionary, it turned out, who killed her father during the festivities.
That first semester I studied ferociously, earned a 4-point, and won a Regent’s scholarship. To maintain the scholarship throughout my college career, however, I would eventually have to abandon my intention of minoring in English. Most of the final exams in English would involve answering a list of questions in a series of essays—and I was so perfectionistic I couldn’t write fast under pressure.
Meanwhile, I’d settled on Spanish as my major simply because it was the safest choice. Though my dream was to become a singer and I’d done well in art in high school, I didn’t identify as an artist at that point in my life and lacked the confidence to major in either art or music—areas where, in an ideal world, I belonged.