September 10, 2010


Her roommate moved out during the third week of that fall semester.   I always believed Res Ed knew how impossible it was to squeeze two people into that room when they didn't assign her another roommate.  She had a single for the rest of the year.  I lived across campus with the other third of our threesome.  Down the street from our Friday/Saturday night home but a long, cold winter walk to the rest of campus.  She broke up with her long-term, long-distance boyfriend without consulting her other two-thirds the first week of that semester.  Quietly, independently, she broke her own heart only to have him break it again weeks later. 

She got up every morning, went to her morning classes (including her 7:30am teaching seminar, on Tuesday mornings), and completed our threesome for lunch on MWF.   During Tuesday lunches she participated in the dissection of Newsweek, gritted her teeth at opposing political comments, laughed at humorous tales of the day, and picked at her food.  She went to afternoon classes and completed her homework, because that's what we did.

On Friday nights, we piled into the basement of a campus house down the street for beruit games against the backdrop of Guster and Coldplay.  Dirty, white, brick walls, exposed white piping, and concrete floors with a large piece of plywood in the center placed over an old, wobbly table.  There were a couple of chairs arranged around the table, but most of us piled onto the mattress on the floor next to the table.  Let me say that again: most of us piled onto the mattress on the floor next to the table.  It didn't phase us that we were sitting on a mattress with an unknown history in the dirty basement of a house that once a frat called home.  We loved that basement as only nineteen year olds could. 

Four of our group didn't drink much on Friday nights.  We had to be on the quad at 8:45am on Saturday morning to do community service projects with middle school students.  Saturday mornings are a story for another time, but I will say that we loved it enough not to drink on Friday nights and to drag our un-showered, heavily-caffeinated selves to that quad every single Saturday morning.  I saw her smile more on Saturday mornings than any other time of the week.  Her Saturday morning laugh had a different source than her Newsweek Tuesday laugh.   I didn't worry about her on Saturday mornings.

She drank on Saturday nights.  While the PBR, or whatever beer we were able to get our hands on for that weekend, turned up the volume on our friends' stories, laughter, screeches, cheers, song, she felt silent.  While the others drank beer at all the designated times, she downed mixed drinks and asked for another.  These were the nights I worried about her.  Not about the drinking, but the silence.  I worried about her silence.

Our threesome always went home together.  Walked past a campus house, and a non-campus house, and through the wet, night grass until the snow fell and we had to walk down the sidewalk.  I don't remember the first time we fell asleep together in the same bed.  If I had to guess, I would choose a night during our first year of college when we were waiting for one third of our threesome to come back from a protest in D.C., and we fell asleep in her bed watching a movie.  Perhaps at some point after the first Friday night in the basement I declared, "I'm tiny.  You'll sleep in my bed." and she did, and the rest was history.  On Friday nights I felt asleep comforted that her silent single across campus was empty, and she was safe with me.  On some Saturday nights, she would try to tell me how fast the room was spinning, and I would fall asleep glad that she broke her silence.  On some Saturday nights, we would sit together on the bathroom floor, and she would tell me not to rub her back.  Sometimes she would cry or get angry, and I was so, so, so grateful for everything that was coming up and out.  Anything but the silence. 

We didn't dress up for Halloween that year.  I was selfishly grateful, because I hated Halloween as much as she would in the years to come.  A couple of days after Halloween, I went up to her single mid-week and found her stash of alcohol.  We joked about her becoming an alcoholic because she was drinking alone, midweek.  I knew that for her it wasn't a sign of alcoholism but a sign of devastating heartbreak.  I also knew that she wouldn't talk about it the way I would - which she found out the next year - so not knowing what else to do, I slept in her single that night.  She had two lofted beds, one empty, but we fell asleep watching a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie on VHS in her bed. 

We missed our other one-third.  My room across campus had four windows and three doors and an attached deck.  So she slept in our room, in my bed, almost every night for the rest of that semester and the next.  She would get up each morning, drive up to her single, and start her day from the dorm on the hill.  At night she would finish her work and drive over to our side of campus in her comfy pants and sweatshirt and end her day with us.  The times when her day would end after ours, she would walk through our unlocked front door, slip through our unlocked room door, and climb into bed with the lights off.  Quickly I became a habitual right-side of the bed sleeper, and on those late nights, when I had already fallen asleep, she just had to climb into her empty space and fall asleep. 

She never talked about it much, but after a while (months) her silence dissipated, as did my worry.  She had to work through her decisions and her heartbreak and her life alone, but I always felt lucky to stand next to her while she did that.  Lucky to have a friend willing to let me in when it went against her nature, her experiences, her coping skills.  She let me in, even if it was just to stand next to her.  In the years to come she let me in more often and with more communication.  And I let her in.  I let her stand by me, support me, and carry me in times when it felt terrible to stand alone.  Some of my favorite time with her are from the times when I felt like life had left me alone.  We have had so. much. fun. together. over the years, but I've always cherished it when she let me in on her hard times.

She's fallen silent.  Months ago.  I can't invite her to sleep in my bed, or note that she's picking at her food, or watch for a private stash of alcohol, or listen for a Saturday morning laugh that lets me know she will be okay.  She pushed me away.  She won't let me just stand next to her or join her in her silence.  Share her silence.  Carry it for a while, if she'll let me.  It's breaking my heart, and I don't know what to do about it.

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