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I am supposed to do an interview tomorrow. I woke up Wednesday morning, three days after the death of my roommate Angela, in a daze. Unwashed. Hungry but too numb to eat. My bed full of crumbs from a pizza I had been eating directly out of the box the day after she passed.
An email reminder buzzed on my phone. I am supposed to do an interview tomorrow.
I stumbled into the shower, passing by her toothbrush that still lay above the sink. I put my head under the water, letting my nose be covered, ceasing to breathe for just a moment as our dorm bathroom filled with steam. I have an interview tomorrow. I need to answer the questions. I am the first black female President of the Harvard Lampoon, the world’s oldest continually published humor magazine. How does it feel? Have I always been funny? What’s your favorite joke?
“I don’t know,” I said aloud to myself. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” I repeated it over and over, letting my head slide back and hit the shower’s slick wall. “I don’t know no no no no no.”
I became the President of the Lampoon in December. Since then, it’s been an odd and surprising whirlwind of interview requests, congratulations, and threats written on white supremacist websites. It’s also been spring semester classes, problem sets, Lampoon parodies, and now tears.
I’m not a crier. But there I was, skipping 9 am class on a Wednesday to bawl like a baby in our tiny shower.
Mornings are hard. Angela and I rarely saw each other at night, her busy with Mock Trial, Model Congress, and everything else, me always holed up in the Lampoon Castle. But sometimes I would see her in the morning. Just run into her in the bathroom as we rushed to and from class.
As I exit the shower, skin burning, I fight the urge to take her toothbrush and break it clean in half with my bare hands.
I’m in the anger phase right now, I guess. Denial comes in and out, but the anger remains. Everything and everyone angers me. The vigils. Memorials. Stupid platitudes spouted by stupid people who didn’t even know her. Not like I did. People who only feel bad because her death reminds them that they could be next, that no one is safe. I hate it.
I hate eating in the dining hall with all our classmates. I hate the sad eyes people give me. I hate the distance they put between themselves and me, afraid that I’m too fragile for real conversation. As some people threaten to crush me with their emotions and sympathies, others have conveniently faded away, unable to offer more than a brief hug and a whimpered “My condolences” before rushing on to the rest of their day. No. I hate all of it.
Angela hated when I was angry. She was very non-confrontational with me. Even when I felt slighted by her and went into a rage, I could never stay mad at her because she was the person I’d run to with all my good news and my heartaches. She was my biggest cheerleader and my best friend.
Angela and I had been roommates since freshman year. She was there when I applied to be on Lampoon in the fall, was rejected, and felt like it was proof I didn’t have what it takes to write comedy. She was there when I succeeded in getting on staff the next semester. She was there when I became President.
When the news of my election broke, and when complete strangers suddenly had interest in my obscure comedy magazine and what it felt like to be a black woman at Harvard, she was right there, collecting my press clippings, shrieking with joy as I told her good news, begging me to let her make my Wikipedia page. I didn’t let her, thinking it totally obnoxious to even have a Wikipedia page. I regret that now.
She died in a car accident on her way back through New Jersey from a Mock Trial trip. Thinking about the details now gets to me. Little words. “Ejected from the vehicle.” “Painless, instantly.” “Closed casket.” It’s all just so clinical and horrible to imagine.
I went into her bedroom down the hall from mine soon after it happened, stood amongst her belongings not touching anything, and sobbed for what felt like hours. She always used to say I was the strongest person she knew. Tears with sadness mixed with those of shame, feeling like I had already let her down by being unable to stay strong in the face of it all.
“I love you so much Alexis. Now go out there and be funny,” reads one of the last text messages she sent me. Reading it now infuriates me. How am I supposed to lead a comedy organization and take interviews and go to class and function like a normal person without her? How am I supposed to goof around when her body lay in a New Jersey morgue for almost a full day before they could contact her parents? How can I be OK, let alone funny? I don’t know if I can. I really don’t know.
But I’m going to try.
I take solace in remembering her laughter and her desire for me to make others laugh. In her honor, I tell jokes. In her honor, I am going to be the funniest that I can be. That’s what she would’ve wanted. So that’s what I’m going to do.
But not this Thursday. On Wednesday, I cancel the interview. On Thursday, I sit down, take a deep breath, and write this.