From January of 1985 to December of 1989, I attended what was then Miami-Dade Community College – South Campus. I majored in Journalism/Mass Communications, and since I took so many history courses during my time there, you could make a good argument that I minored in that subject as well.
For most of my frustrated quest for an Associate in Arts degree, I was a staff writer and editor for Catalyst, the campus’ student paper. And because I was there for so long – I probably set an unofficial record for longevity there – I played many roles, rising from staff writer to managing editor in four years.
I started out as an Entertainment beat writer during my first semester on staff; that had been my beat on the student newspaper staff at South Miami High School a few years before, and writing reviews is, frankly, what I do best when I wear my “journalist” hat. But my journalism mentor, Prof. Peter C. Townsend, always pushed me to try different beats and styles of writing. As a result of “T’s” prodding, I not only wrote articles for Diversions (Catalyst’s name for the Entertainment section), but also for News, Opinions, Features, and even – once – Sports!
In 1987, almost two years after I wrote my first byline, Catalyst introduced a section called About Time. In it, we published pieces about different personal experiences, ranging from humorous to bathetic topics based on events in the writers’ lives. The common thread was that each piece was given a right-leaning shadow box with a “topic” heading inside that had the word “time” in it.
I contributed two pieces to About Time during its one-semester run. One was a piece about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (it had the topic “slug” of Time to Mourn). The second one was tagged Heartbreak Time and dealt with my first serious college crush as a freshman.
Here, in its entirety, I present Heartbreak Time.
He once met a girl named Maria
It was love at first sight. I first saw her as she was walking into class one spring day.
The classroom was nearly empty – most of our fellow PSY 1000 students hadn’t arrived yet, so I couldn’t help but notice her.
She was exquisitely beautiful – dark curly hair, fawn-like brown eyes and a smile that caught my attention at first glance. I got goose pimples of excitement at second glance and sent my heart to the moon at third.
“Hi,” she said in a soft friendly voice.
“Uh, hi,” I replied, feeling about as articulate as a mango. “Hi.”
She smiled, waved at me (sort of) and sat down at her desk. I stole a furtive glance at her, hoping she wouldn’t catch me.
Suddenly, her eyes met mine.
I froze, thinking that soon I would be flying across the room.
I closed my eyes, expecting the very worst.
I opened my eyes.
There was a 10-second pause – the whole world seemed to have come to a screeching halt. We exchanged glances, then, coming to my senses (or what remained of them, anyway), I turned around.
A few weeks later, my notetaker couldn’t make it to class, so I had to cope by memorizing lectures.
After a few days of this, my nameless dream girl, sensing that I was in trouble, walked up to me after class and asked, “Would you like me to take notes for you?”
“S-s-sure,” I stammered, wishing that I’d said that with calm and confidence. “I’d like that very much. Thanks.”
She smiled and turned to leave. My heart raced. “Wait!” I said before she reached the door.
She turned to face me and smiled at me. “Yes?”
“What’s your name?” I asked in a more subdued tone of voice.
“Maria,” she said. And with that, she left the classroom.
From then on Maria and I established a routine. On those days when I arrived on campus early, she and I would meet by the benches between Buildings Nine and Two and talked about who we were, where we were from and where we were going.
Maria, I soon discovered, was from Managua, and had come from the United States not long after the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua in 1979. She told me about the horrors of war and how glad she was to be in America.
In turn I told her how much I loved to write and how I planned to have a career as a journalist. I also told her about the little things that interest me – books, movies and music.
There would be moments when we’d just sit on a bench and watch other students walk by or the occasional squirrel scampering along the sidewalk. We would say nothing at all – we’d just share a smile.
In class, I would find myself turning around to steal a glance at her. Sometimes she wouldn’t notice, but most of the time she would look up from her notes and smile.
But spring semesters are short, so when finals drew near, I asked her to have lunch with me before school ended.
“Yes,” Maria said. “I’ll meet you here after class tomorrow.”
I felt lightheaded. It could have been something in the spring morning air, but somehow I doubt it. “Great,” I said happily. I went home that day humming “Maria” from West Side Story.
The next day, showing up early as usual, I looked for Maria at our usual “rendezvous,” but without much success. Instead I ran into my friend Richard, who was looking all over for me.
“Where’s Maria?” I asked.
“In class,” said Richard. “She told me to tell you that she can’t meet you for lunch after all.”
I was stunned. It couldn’t be true. If it was true, then we’d have only a few minutes to exchange addresses and photographs – and then no more surreptitious glances in class, no more squirrel watching.
Worst of all, I would be here in Miami, and Maria would be in California.
After class (during which I had hastily scribbled a short note in which I gave her my address), Maria walked up to me.
“I’m sorry I can’t have lunch with you. I really want to, but my best friend is flying in from L.A. this afternoon, so I’ve got to go the airport and pick her up.”
“It’s okay,” I lied. “Look, you have my address – and my photograph – in here,” I added, handing her the letter I’d written.
“I’ll write you first chance I get,” she said. She then reached into her purse and handed me a photograph. On the back she’d written, ”With all my love, your friend Maria.”
I looked into her eyes one last time, then walked away, softly humming “Maria” to myself.
I waited all summer for her letter.
I’m still waiting.
© 1987, 2021 Catalyst and Alex Diaz-Granados. All rights reserved.
 Now Miami-Dade College – Kendall Campus. It was renamed twice since I dropped out after the Fall Term of the 1989-90 academic year. The first name change was to M-DCC Kendall, because when the Homestead Campus opened, my campus was no longer the southernmost in the M-DCC system. The second name change occurred when the publicly-run institution began offering four-year academic programs for several majors. Thus, it was no longer strictly a junior (two-year) institution.
5 thoughts on “Remembrance of Things Past: ‘He Once Met a Girl Named Maria…’ (1987)”
Tis better to have loved and lost….
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Than never have loved at all….
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Awww… Alex. What a poignant story.
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Knotty! Thanks for the kind words…your comment really means a lot to me.
I still remember writing this on an IBM Selectric typewriter in the Catalyst office after one of my classes. It took me about an hour to do, and even though by then (Winter Term of the ’86-87 school year) I was an experienced editor, I still had to hand in my copy to my journalism prof, who would then proofread it and make appropriate changes.
I no longer have the typewritten original, but I do remember that Prof. Townsend only made one tiny edit and said, “I really like that bit about being as articulate as a mango.”
Thanks for reading, my friend. I appreciate it.
It was my pleasure.
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