Jenny and I met the second day of our freshman year of college. 1991. I’m pretty sure Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me was playing on the radio when she walked into our dorm, and I’m even surer that she stifled an immediate urge to change the station to old school rap. I had spent the months leading up to that first day talking to Jen’s high-school-aged brother on the phone as she was otherwise occupied by a swanky Franky trip to Italy. In her absence, I worked out bedding and colors and shared electronics with a 16-year-old boy. She tells me now that her brother thought I was the coolest. That we’d click instantly. That we’d hate our other roommate. A bright one, that Anthony.
I still remember the day she walked into our room. She was beautiful and thin and had the longest hair I’d ever seen not attached to Crystal Gale. She was a new Jersey girl like myself, a fact that bonded us instantly. She looked like the people I knew from home. She had a sharp tongue. She was a writer, an English major. She felt things intensely as I did; Jen was much more book smart than I, although I brought the common sense to our relationship and never let her forget it. Our first years of knowing each other were a blur of soup made via hotpots, college hookups that now make us cringe (and quite possibly did back then), and late-night trips across the railroad tracks to buy smokes (for me) and pounds of penny candy (for her, primarily, and for me to steal from her stash). This is no cliché. We have been through it all.
Jen knew me during the multiple-year great depression of the 90s, a time I successfully dissociate from on a regular basis. That period is a complete block in my memory, a span of years about which I could not possibly exaggerate. I found myself at age 18 in a hole so large and so black that I’m not sure that even now I’ve found my way out of it entirely. I vaguely remember not caring and even knowing if I wore the same clothes to class every day, one of them of all things an East Stroudsburg University sweatshirt, the arms of which eventually unraveled without my intervention. After the initial few years in the depths, although remaining there, I began to cope relatively well. While still very much clinically depressed, I became an automaton of 4.0s and sorority functions and drinking binges. I can’t say that I was numb. I wish I had been. I was very aware at all times that the self I was inside who was nowhere near the person she had been. For those of you who have never felt it, I can only describe those years as what I imagine it would be to swim to the surface of a pool, only to find it entirely covered in glass. I am proud to say that I’ve worked my ass off to move as far from that time as possible. As sad as I feel for the girl that I was, I hate even thinking about her. Jen was there. She loved me then.
Jenny has known me through my few true loves. She was closest to the first of these men, having spent hours on the phone with him, mediating silly late-teen spats that likely had to do with phone bills or him not visiting each and every weekend from a long-distance college. She was the close friend I first talked to about sex and the roommate who took one for the team by sleeping on the suite couch when he visited. She listened to countless dramatic long-term plans and covered up for me in a series of cruel lies I created that would ultimately lead to the relationship’s demise. Jen was one of the first I called 11 years later to tell her that he had died, that before he and I could ever reconnect even only to compare life stories, he had a heart attack at age 31. Very few people knew what my relationship to that man had meant to me, and why many years later, after he had married another and we lived on separate coasts, I sat incapacitated by tears on the couch I still own.
Jen has also known me through a ridiculous, almost unlimited amount of fun. When we were 17 and 18 – I of course the younger, more vibrant of the two of us – we used our obnoxious third roommate’s 3-foot fan to create a fireworks display by feeding it pop tarts and fig newtons and class notes while it faced the offending roommate’s bed, all the while running at its highest speed. At 19, during finals week, we donned pantyhose as headgear and, wielding supersoakers, drenched each and every woman in the study lounge without ever getting written up by the college powers that were. At 20, I lied my way sans ID into a bar to be there for her 21st birthday; I later held her hair back as she vomited on the bar’s front lawn. Through her nose. At 23, now living together in a group house in northern Virginia, we confronted an uncomfortable roommate who had taken our beloved faux living room foliage and placed it in the community center trash across the street, leaving us a note to tell us the perfectly intact tree had disintegrated in the rain. Too bad we were so damn crafty and our informant neighbors liked us better. At 29, I did my best to bring laughter back into her life after a broken engagement and the Florida bar brought her to live in my boyfriend’s apartment in Tallahassee; some not-half-awful Merlot and a fly in my salad dressing did the trick, if only for mere moments.
This woman knew me when I crashed a fraternity formal with another woman as my date. When I used to take rides from truckers and West Virginians filling their tanks at the Citgo so I could get to a party across town. When I cheated on a boyfriend. She’s known me through pegged jeans and losing my religion and gaining and losing 30 pounds, admittedly more than once. Through new friendships that never threatened who we are. We are sisters, relatives although not by birth, for whom time and the spaces between us just don’t matter. We’ve survived bad living situations and awful life decisions and even worse haircuts, not to mention a 1997 bathroom miscommunication that brought her the coveted title of Only Woman Other Than My Mother Ever to See Me Naked.* I’m quite sure to date it is her proudest moment of knowing me.
I never cared for that phase of nearly-black lipstick she went through, just as I don’t need to guess at her disapproval of my high-waisted, Lee-jeans years (which are almost on the verge of closure, thank you very much). She is terribly pigheaded and I am even more pushy. But I love this woman with all of my heart. I loved gabbing with her this weekend while she was next to me in the king bed. I loved filling her in on recent follies over a good Pinot I had handpicked and glasses that I’m pretty sure the grown ups use. I loved greeting her in the street with wine and a smoke. I loved not worrying about who I was or how I looked or what we might say to one another. I loved every minute of it.
I miss her already.
*Although if things go well with my roommate at BlogHer, that may change, my friends.