Thursday, April 12, 2007

One simple moment

So, let me tell you about how I met my best friend.

My (eventual) college roommate and I lived in the same dorm our first semester freshman year, but never really connected. Might never have connected, if it weren't for one simple, life changing moment.

My first semester in college was abysmal: I was hideously uncomfortable with my roommate, who cried in Korean to her mother in California, skipped classes, smoked pot, & bathed in perfume. (This is not an exaggeration: I lived with her for 4 months, 10 years ago, and I still have things that smell like her. Her perfume of choice was very old-lady-ish - a combination of dying roses and overripe fruit. The whole dorm complained about the smell, and here I was, hypersensitive to smells and stuck with someone whose nose had obviously stopped working years prior.) I knew a few of the girls in my dorm, had talked to some of them in/after classes, but I hadn't really connected with anybody - I was the sick girl, the girl in the wheelchair, who went home every Friday morning after her 10:00 class & took naps during the day. I was not ignored, but I was still, very much alone.
My illness was in a different stage than it is now, but still, it overwhelmed me - I could only walk a few steps on my own, and the wheelchair went from being an occasional help to an everyday necessity. Adding that awkwardness to my (real life) shyness and an inability to 'blend,' as I plowed through that first hellish semester, I was pretty sure college wasn't going to be for me.
It was too hard - not the work per se, but the effort of getting to class, of trying to compensate for my illness, of putting up with my roommate. It was just too much. Even though my grades were good (OK, stellar), I had decided that over Christmas break I would tell my parents that I couldn't come back in the spring. I would disappoint them - and myself - because I just couldn't manage.

Then one December night, in the midst of finals and all the partying that accompanies the end of any semester, I came back from the bathroom to find that my roommate had doused herself with so much perfume that I couldn't go back into our room. I mean, I couldn't even open the door to the room.

With my keys inside, and my energy on empty, I knew the dorm lounge (downstairs & an elevator ride away), was out of the question. So I folded up the chair, and sat myself down in the slim hallway outside our room. I was supposed to be studying, but I had no books. I had nothing except my toothbrush, and I didn't really care.

I was Done - Capital D - Done. I just sat there on the floor, closed my eyes and rested my forehead to my knees. And I stayed that way for hours, just sitting.

People in the dorm passed me, asking if I was OK or wondering if I'd locked myself out.

"Fine," I said, "just thinking."

Somewhere in the second hour of my thinking, one of the few tentative friends I'd made, came bombing down the stairs and spied me on her way out the door. When she asked, I told her I was thinking, then waited for her to continue on her way. Instead, she took off her coat, and slid down the wall to sit next to me: "I've been thinking too," she said, "And I've got an idea for you."

She told me that a lot of the girls would be switching roommates after the break: this one was moving in with that one, some were transferring to live with friends they had made in other halls.

"And there's this girl," she said, "on my floor? She's in our English Comp class - Ms.S? Well, she's the absolutely the nicest person here, besides you. I think you should talk to her about moving in with her next semester."

And, in that one conversation, she changed my life.

Even though it was totally out of character, the next day, I went up to Ms. S's room, and introduced myself: She knew who I was (wheelchair girl on a small campus, everybody at least knew my name) & we talked about our crazy English Comp teacher, who rang little chimes at random moments during class. She said how she had a boyfriend at home who she talked to every night before bed, and would that be a problem? I said I could sleep through just about anything, so no, it wouldn't matter to me. She was usually gone on the weekends too, to be with her boyfriend, so she didn't think it was odd that I'd go home just to rest.

I told her about my smell issues, and she told me that she thought my roommate smelled so bad it made her want to throw up even though she lived two flights up.

She told me that her then-roommate would just take things - her drinks, her printer paper, her shoes - without asking, and that she couldn't stand it. I told her I had four sisters, so I knew how it felt.

We didn't really talk too much, but we both decided to try it out when we came back in January.

It was, without a doubt, one of the smartest decisions I've ever made.

Without Ms. S, I would not have graduated from college. Hell, I wouldn't have even made it through a whole year. By the end of our first semester together, we were friends. By the end of our college years, we were best friends. We've been there for each other through finals and projects, funerals and weddings and her daughter's birth. Her miscarriage, my hospitalizations. I typed papers for her, while she made sure that I ate. She lectured our friends when they stopped including me in things, I reassured her boyfriend when she went a little wedding-wild.

Our friendship is different now, since we're at different stages in our lives, but one phone call is enough to get her here, enough to make me pack a bag. (She totally agreed with all of you, btw, about my Sister-in-law's stupid comments: she suggested I might want to run her over and then tell she if she felt like "getting over it.")

I was sitting here today, stuck in the gloomy weather, mired in my gloomy mood, trying to snap out of it. Trying to force myself to think of some of the blessings in my life, and this story came back to me:

Me, sitting there on the floor, knowing that I would have to give up on yet another dream. Preparing myself for the conversation with my parents. That feeling of "I just can't do this anymore" was a physical weight in that moment. The loss and the confusion and the "What now"s just swirling in my head.

And then my friend came down the stairs.

Her sitting down next to me, just then, saved me.

It was exactly the right thing, at exactly the right moment.

And I'm glad I remembered it, glad that I had it in my heart to pull out today, just when I needed it.

The exact right thing, at the exact right moment: Again.


Maya's Granny said...

I'm glad that you were able to remember it just now, as well. To remember that you had a friend who introduced you to another friend just when you so needed them both. We never know what ripples will follow the stone that is thrown into the pond, do we? Your roommate chose to wear too much perfume, and it changed your life.

Lady S said...

It makes me sad that your college did such a bad job with your first roommate. I am glad that you were given a second chance.

Never That Easy said...

Lady S -
That's exactly what it was - a second chance. (Oh, and my college did such a horrid job of placing me that when I showed up on campus, on moving day, I was in a building with no elevator. Seriously.)

Maya's Granny -

Ripples - what a nice way to put it. Isn't life funny?