Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Which I Make a Friend, Lose a Love, and Run Away from Home

Memoir Mondays

A few weeks back I wrote a post on Keep in Touch With Mommakin that referred to my first year of grad school as 'Around the World in Eighty Lays'. This prompted my roommate from those days and I to want to relive them through writing a joint memoir. I write a chapter, she adds a 'journal entry' to show the same story through different eyes. At this point I'm referring to it as The Texas Project. I hope to come up with something better soon. Until then, without further ado, Chapter 1 of The Texas Project (subtitle: Around the World in Eighty Lays)

Chapter 1: In Which I Make a Friend, Lose a Love, and Run Away From Home

“Thank God you’re here!” My friend Terri had just shuffled in to Teaching Biology. She raised her head at my voice and I watched her expression change from one of eager greeting to concerned dismay as she took in my appearance.

“What the hell?” She made no effort to conceal her reaction. I was dressed in over-sized gray sweats with the hood pulled up in an attempt to conceal as much of myself as possible. My hair was unwashed and uncombed under the hood and my face was red and swollen. The overall effect was, I imagine, rather manic.

“Jeff left me.”

Concern remained fixed on her countenance, but now it was tempered by something else. It softened. “He’s left before.”

“It’s different this time.” I absentmindedly rubbed the finger the tiny diamond solitaire had occupied for almost a year. “He took his ring”, I added unnecessarily, waving my excruciatingly naked finger at her before thrusting my hand deep into the pocket of my sweats. “There was no screaming or fighting. He even seemed a little sad. He says he loves her. It’s over.”

Terri glanced furtively at the front of the room where the professor was preparing to take his place behind the podium. Students were bringing their small talk to a close and were beginning to take their seats. “Let’s go”, she said, throwing her arm protectively around my shoulder and steering me towards the door.

We may have talked as she guided me through the oak grove to my off-campus apartment. We may not have. I don’t recall. I only remember her presence and her support. She was going to be there for me. I wasn’t alone.

Now Terri hadn’t always been my best friend.

Three years earlier I was one year into my relationship with Jeff. I loved him with the sweet, slavish devotion which is generally reserved for nineteen year old girls who are certain with their unique brand of certainty that they have found ‘the one’. He loved me with the same sense of devotion, but he didn’t allow that devotion to preclude him from extracurricular dalliances when the opportunity arose. And it arose a lot. Jeff was charismatic and charming. People liked him. Girls liked him. I grew to hate the sight of him walking up my street with a rose in his hand. It was always the same. Tears in his eyes. A heartfelt confession. “Bottom line is, I love you and I don’t want to lose you.” Yep, young Jeff was a bottom line type of guy. I accepted his apologies, because, the bottom line was, I loved him and I didn’t want to lose him. I would forgive him anything if he would just stay with me. Pitiful, I know, but try telling that to a nineteen year old in love.

One fall day, early in the new semester, I looked out my window and saw that familiar Member’s Only jacket and the even more familiar red rose.


I braced myself. When I opened the door and he leaned in to kiss me, I turned to offer him my cheek rather than meeting his kiss head on. That was my nineteen year old version of being cold and tough. It needed a lot of work.

“Bottom line is…”

I held up my hand and shook my head to stop him from explaining further. I knew the story. Variations on a theme.

“Cut to the chase. Who? Where? And who knew about it? Who do I need to avoid for the next couple weeks?”

“You don’t need to avoid anyone, baby. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Don’t ‘baby’ me - it’s so humiliating. Asshole. I don’t want to face the people who know – the people who SAW you making a fool of me. They always look at me like they pity me. Like they think they know something I don’t. Just have enough respect for me to tell me who to avoid.”

“Oh, baby,” he said as he tried to hug me. I shrugged him off. “That’s not going to be easy.” This was getting way old. Cue the tears; his, at this point, though mine would follow soon enough. “Last weekend? When you went home?”

“To teach Sunday School?”

“Yes” he answered, squirming a little bit.

“When I went home TO TEACH SUNDAY SCHOOL?”

He nodded. “Well, I missed you, you know – and your roommates were having a party – and I figured if I couldn’t be with you, I could at least be where you lived…”

“Oh my sweet loving God…”

“I just – this one chick…”

“In my HOUSE?”

“No, God no. The party was at your house, we sort of, you know, got to talking and whatever and I took her home.”

“From MY house.”

His silence was all the answer I needed. Well this was just great. How was I supposed to avoid the people I lived with?

“Who was it?”

“It doesn’t matter, we were drinking, it was – look – the bottom line is…”

“Who. Was. It?”

“You don’t know her. French Horn player.”

“Long dark hair? Really pretty?”

He looked up now, slightly panicked, and nodded. “You DO know her?”

“Not really, but I know who she is. She’s in my MAJOR for God’s sake. We have CLASSES together.”

“Shit, Tam, I’m sorry.”

“So everyone in my house knows. And I have to look at this chick in my classes every day.” I put my head in my hands. He’d really done a number on me this time. There was nowhere to escape knowing eyes. He rubbed my shoulders in an attempt to comfort me and I allowed it. He kissed my hair and I allowed that, as well. He looked at me and expressed his undying bottom line love with such sincere remorse that I allowed quite a lot more than shoulder rubbing and hair kissing. He was always especially romantic and unselfish after an indiscretion and it was time for that part. I always liked that part.

Not many nights later we walked into a party together, and who was there, sitting at a table playing quarters? Why, none other than his paramour and my classmate. He blanched and tried to lead me out the door, but I pulled up a chair to her right and got in on the game. He backed up helplessly against the wall. It felt as though all eyes were on us, just waiting for the inevitable drama. The quarter came to me and I bounced it into the glass. “Drink.” I said calmly, raising my left elbow to indicate her, as everyone knows it’s considered bad form to point. She complied and the quarter was passed to her. She bounced it into the glass easily. She didn’t say a word as she raised her right elbow to indicate that it was my turn to drink. Apparently she, too, knew it was bad form to point. Too bad she didn’t know it was bad form to sleep with someone else’s man. The intense dislike between us was almost palpable. Jeff didn’t know what to do, so he opted to do nothing, which was pretty typical. He watched us battle, prepared to pick up the pieces when the inevitable cat fight ensued.

Looking back on it, I feel a little bad for everyone else at the table. It had definitely become a two woman game. Now the problem with using drinking games as a tool of vengeance is, by nature alcohol tends to soften one up. At least, that tends to be the effect it has on me. Your mileage may, of course, vary. As we both started feeling the effects of the booze, we started to notice – each of us – that the other wasn’t so bad. I started to realize that he hadn’t only made a fool of me that night; he’d made a fool of her as well. She came to the same conclusion at roughly the same time. And that is when our demands for the other to drink became sprinkled with giggles. Jeff sure didn’t know what to do with that development. She and I noticed his unease and reveled in it. Why had I been so quick to judge her? She hadn’t cheated on anyone. She’d just seen a chance and taken it. Shit, Jeff had had a girlfriend when I’d met him the year before. Nope, the wrongdoing was all on him. Why had I – even for a moment – tried to place it on her? She was awesome. He was a dog. Before long we‘d thrown our arms around each other and were looking at Jeff with our newfound realization that he was the common enemy – she and I? We weren’t so far from the same boat. And that boat was adrift in cheap college issue beer.

It wasn’t long after that that Terri had cemented herself as my best friend. It started as a means to keep young Jeff in a constant state of discomfort, and quickly morphed into a deep and lasting friendship. Suck it, Jeff.

“So what are you going to do?” Terri asked, pushing my hood back and brushing back my disgusting un-groomed hair without so much as a grimace, “How can I help you?”

“Well”, I began tentatively, “Were you looking for a roommate in Texas?”

Terri had been accepted into a graduate program at Texas A&M and would be leaving our home in Pennsylvania to attend there in the late summer. It had not been my intent to join her – the words surprised me as much as they did her when they escaped my lips. Of course it had been my intent to get married and live happily ever after, so, that offer off the table, I was sort of left – one week before graduation – with no intentions whatsoever. When she reacted by jumping up and down and hugging me and saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” well, there was really no question of turning back. I needed to put a lot of geography between me and Jeff. Here was an opportunity, presented to me on a silver platter.

It would be fun.

It would be an adventure.

Texas or bust.

Terri’s Journal

May 15, 1984
Hard to believe I'm actually graduating from college next week. I somehow thought I'd be on this campus forever. Although I admit I can't wait to move on to the next chapter--graduate school at Texas A&M!!!

The greatest thing happened today! I walked into Teaching Biology today and as soon as I looked at Tam, I knew something was wrong. She'd obviously been crying and was wearing her "I'm so depressed" outfit of all grey sweats. Of course, the first thought that popped in my head was "What the fuck did Jeff do THIS time?!" And I was right. Only this time he didn't just cheat on her--AGAIN. He ended it. He's 'in love' with someone else, if he's even actually capable of such a thing. Personally, I think Jeff doesn't have any room in his heart to love anyone but himself.

So we walked, we talked, Tammy cried. She told me what he'd said and how he'd asked for his ring back. It all fills me with the urge to find him and cause him physical pain. Severe physical pain. So that it will not just meet but exceed the pain he has caused my best friend over the past 4 years. Naturally, I ignored the urge to maim and instead asked Tammy what I could do to help her. Her answer shocked me. And thrilled me! She asked if I need a roommate in Texas and if she can move there with me!! I can hardly believe it and I hope she's actually serious about this. I hope she doesn't have second thoughts or change her mind.

Tammy and I in Texas!! Thousands of miles from home. My best friend is going with me! I'm so excited! And the entire state of Texas had better look out!

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