She was the last girl on the hall to arrive. Next door, Jane and her new roommate were settling in, and across the hall, Kate and Maryanna the she-devil were probably already running out of things to say to each other. The room that was our room, at the top of the stairs, just to the right, was bigger than you might think, which turned out to be a good thing considering the personalities it would need to accommodate.
Any minute the group of us, newly met freshman girls from Texas, Alabama and Rhode Island, would be forced to venture out to a well-planned mandatory social event. A crawfish boil? A cook-out? A speech about the honor code? One of those.
I remember that I was starting to feel slightly nervous that she, my unmet roommate, wasn’t going to show. Then, she kicked open the door, clutching a box, wearing a snakeskin cowboy hat and a genial expression, and barked “Howdy!” in my general direction. Her mother followed, also wearing an excellent hat. Then came her grandmother.
I don’t remember what she said to us first, but I do remember her now-infamous fat-shaming of us both. “With all these stairs to walk up, you’ll look like HER in no time.” ‘Her’ was the skinny blonde Maryanna across the hall. You know, the aforementioned she-devil.
Later that night, Alex and I would sit on her twin bed and watch "When Harry Met Sally" together. But I think we really acknowledged that we were sunk into the proverbial soup side by side the night I got drunk and decided telling Maryanna (the cruel, shallow, ignorant unkind creature who was forever taking the bagels I was sent from a family friend, and Alex’s Mint Milanos) what was wrong with her as a person was a good idea.
It was a riveting speech. I don’t remember it, but it must have been good. Alex, terrified of confrontation, literally ran into our room and hid under her pillow.
I don’t remember what set me off that night (I mean, other than being 18 and perpetually angry and sad and dying for a fight and drunk, drunk, drunk) but I do know that Maryanna had decided that Alex and I were lesbian lovers, a fact she told anyone who’d listen. To be fair to her, we did have a sexy cowgirl picture on our door (Alex’s grandfather mailed it us for reasons unknown) and I was, at the time, listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco.
I didn’t care that Maryanna thought we were gay. I was pissed that people existed who were puerile and small enough to behave like a row-rent villain in a high school comedy set in the 1980s: Nobody makes me Anthony Michael Hall without my consent.
My beautiful bellowed take-down over, Maryanna proved her awfulness with this witty retort: “Yeah? At least I’m wearing pants.” Let the record show that while drunk, I did still have pants on. Well, shorts. In her defense and my own, it was a very long T-shirt and I was a very angry (if exceptionally well-spoken) asshole.
Alex and our hallmates Jane and Kate were all people who inspired me to fervent defenses. I could snipe and grumble at Alex, but no one else could. I could roll my eyes at Jane for discussing her two favorite topics (her height, and the fact that she was from Texas), but woe betide you should you think this was an invitation for you to do the same. For the first time in my life (though I was not aware of it), I had made real friends. You know, in the parlance of Anne of Green Gables, bosom companions. This was doubly applicable as we were all exceptionally well endowed.
As an 18-year-old in college I fell in love roughly eight hundred times. When I joined a sorority (this is a long and hilarious story that I will save for another day) my nerdy sexless crushes were so well-known that my nickname was “Crush.” For most of my freshmen year, I mooned after whatever guy I was mooning after in whatever play I happened to be acting in at the time. If this meant falling for a guy who frequently and without irony wore a top hat publicly and would later be kicked out of school, so be it.
Many were the nights I found myself walking across campus, punch-you-in-the-face stars stamped out in the sky, the well-tended stones of our tiny mountain kingdom sending up a soapy clean smell as I walked and begged a god I in whom I believed only when it was convenient to let me be loved.
The thing is that I was. I was virulently loved and continue to be and didn’t see it. That is because of the voice that burbles up in my head issuing its toxic assault: Nobody can be loved all the time for no reason. Love is something you have to work for. Nobody will love you if they know you. Who you are is showing, better hide it fast while there’s still time to undo the damage of letting awful you leak out and be made visible. But all the while there were three people ready to love me in all my farting, panic-attack having, drunken screaming, heartbroken awfulness.
I doubt it even now. I will forever doubt that I am loved, that I deserve to be. I try to believe it but it doesn’t always fit me well. It’s like your skin when you get out of the shower and wait too long to put on lotion: It gets tight and strange. It itches.
Alex and Jane, though. Around. Loving me, loving each other. Since we were 18. Alex is my roommate now in New York. She knows better than most people do. She knows all the hateable things about me and she doesn’t hate me. If I told her I’d accidentally -- or intentionally -- killed someone, she would probably help me hide the crime. She would also suggest killing Jane though, as her moral compass is vastly superior to ours and as such would insist on going to the police.
Alex will forgive me almost anything other than the things I do that cause myself pain. Murder? Sure. Letting someone make me cry more than once? She has a harder time with that.
Jane still lives in Texas. I never call her because I never call anyone. But if I did and she was able, she would pick up the phone and we would laugh and talk over each other and roll our eyes and continue to love each other in the absentminded confident way in which a child clings to their mother’s legs: Because they are not going anywhere.