What seemed like a lifetime ago, I met someone named Kelley. Actually, that wasn’t her name, but I kept calling her that so she answered to it after a while. While we were both teens, we went to summer camp together. Kelley was hilarious, took risks, breathed life at double-speed. I was in awe of her.
I was thrilled when she enrolled at Edinboro. I was sure everything was going to be just like it was in summer camp. Hell, we were even staying in the dorms together again. What could be better?
Yet things had changed, as they always do, and Kelley and I were no longer as close. We had differing interests and friends, and trying to keep our friendship going proved as pointless as taping together torn Kleenex.
I barely knew Kelley’s roommate. She seemed nice, and she definitely made her side of their dorm room look really cool, but I didn’t take the time to get to know her and we remained polite acquaintances, satellites of one incredible planet.
It would surprise me, at the time, that I lost Kelley and gained her roommate. Now it surprises me not at all. Her roommate and I had many things in common, but more than that, we fit alongside each other. We accepted each other at face value. We listened, and needed, and laughed.
I don’t remember how long it took for us to become friends. I think it must have happened overnight, as these things do, the graceful glide from “hey, I know you,” to “hey, I know you.” We partied together. We pledged a co-ed honor fraternity together. We drank coffee and smoked too many cigarettes together. I once nearly burned out the clutch of her car. I taught her how to muck. She saved my life. You know, that sort of thing.
No, she really did save my life, see. I had withdrawn from the real world in favor of the online one, and if it hadn’t been for her, knocking at my door, asking me to come down to her room and eat something, or even just to take a shower … I don’t know what would have happened. Something bad. Something absurd and drastic. During that time, I lost nearly everyone but her.
I wrote a journal entry about what happened to me. More importantly, I wrote a poem about it. It’s the only completely autobiographical poem I’ve written. It is indeed a snapshot from my own life, and it hurt like hell to finish it. I showed it to her. She understood. She will always understand, it seems, even when our lives have diverged and our friendship now spans thousands of miles instead of a few feet.
Today I celebrate the life that saved and enriched my own. Happy birthday, Lara. I could never write enough words to tell you what you’ve meant to me.
Now, about that poem …
From where I sat, behind the pressed-wood desk, I
could see the perfect purple of outside, beyond a
crusted hotpot, dead full of old noodles, its black
cord curled and still along the sill.
There were no trips to the store, except past midnight,
when I was sure no one I knew would find me creeping
among the bright packages, the faceless million fruits,
skirting edges of undone boxes, half packed, waiting.
Waiting. Furtively, I filled a red plastic basket with
eight bags of noodles, a tiny sack of coffee beans,
some oranges: a thief who paid for everything she stole.
Days were slept away, broken only by the heartless
pounding on my door, again and again the pounding, the
pleas, to please let him in. Please let me in. I could
picture him with his beautiful cheekbone pressed against
the metal doorframe; I could see it but I wouldn’t let
myself feel it. Please let me in.
At seven o’clock, a mother would come, every night. She
was the closest mother I had, the only person I would take
orders from. Open the door, get in that shower, eat this,
sit here, talk to me. Talk to me. She called it “airing
me out” every night; she would make me watch “Jeopardy”
with her as she doled out little presents for me, cups of
coffee with thick, amaretto-flavored cream.
Again, back in the room, eyes and fingertips pressed so
urgently to a screen I didn’t believe in, time was whittled
away into sawdust underneath my chair. The hotpot was
scraped out, used, and left again to ferment on the sill,
to stare out at each purple dusk, and wait.
— Halsted M. Bernard