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Chapter 1


The Composition of Life




Cadence stared in disbelief at the board’s directions, the ones that accompanied her first academic command of college—compose an essay. Where were the inspiring introductions and philosophical lectures that made professors legendary? Alumni promised four remarkable years, but here she was facing a writing sample and the most pressing issue of the moment was remembering to Skip Lines? She had not imagined the first day at her dream school would begin like this.


She wasn’t certain when she first had fallen for Charleston, but it was many years before the historic haven became a fantasy destination for the world; perhaps it was during field trips in elementary school when the port city’s wonders lay open for exploration. The journeys here left her with memories of marshes, museums, gardens, galleries, even graveyards and ghosts; of burly carriage horses, rainbow buildings, beautiful beaches, the Battery, and the beaten hands of black women weaving sweetgrass into artistic marvels on the Market. She recalled two bridges that once jumped the Cooper River: one gliding smoothly into Mt. Pleasant where the stately Yorktown reposed safely in port; the other a rickety rollercoaster where riders clenched fists tightly in fear, sweating the climb to its double crest. Once over, wheels clacked louder and faster, rushing down Grace’s aging joints while rusted railings raced by the windows. Only the courageous dared look down into the water’s green-gray ripples. Cadence remembered this speedy thrill into the city and how the affair continued with her acceptance into Charlestowne College.


When the admissions letter arrived, she dismissed the possibility of attending any other school. With its cover picture of the Grand Lawn where a young woman sat cross-legged engrossed in a book, the college’s brochure emitted a siren song. Cadence lived vicariously in that photograph and knew that one day she would be nestled beneath the protective oaks, surrounded by the sensualities of Charleston, immersed in the dream of college. Now she was in that photo, but the romantic image to which she clung was cruelly corrupted by a woman wanting written work on day one.


“Fail to skip lines and I will not read your work,” the professor reiterated with the tone of a drill sergeant. Her penetrating stare, enhanced by the intense “V” her eyebrows formed, made the students feel they had entered the underworld.


She was scary, so Cadence wrote the instruction—SKIP LINES—on her left hand, underlined it three times, and peered again at the assigned topic: Choose the most important word in the English language and argue its significance. With little thought, the term came easily to her, so she focused on loyalty and wrote passionately of it gluing friendships, marriages, and businesses. Ideas flowed effortlessly, but her muscles burned furiously as her hand devoted lines to the word.


With confidence, Cadence exchanged her essay for a syllabus, which the professor reminded all students to read for the next class. Unimpressed with her introduction to higher education, Cadence quickly forgot this disappointment when she joined the masses flooding outside into the courtyard; under the magnificence of majestic trees and the campus’s mesmerizing antebellum architecture, she drew in a deep breath and exhaled it with that particular brand of excitement that marks life in a brave new world. With her first class down and lines skipped, the chronicle of her college life began.



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