Sunday, April 8, 2007

For Eric.

During my formidable collegiate years, I lived in a house with six other girls for about 2 years. Stuffed in those 2 years were sync'd up periods, general (and specific) bitchfests, cleaning schedules taped to the fridge, how-did-your-bra-end-up-in-my-laundry?, 50 different shampoo products in the showers, sly comments in the morning after a misguided drunken hookup, and oh so much more. While we very well could have qualified to be a sorority house; from the exterior of the house, people assumed it was inhabited by raucous Natty-Lite swilling frat boys. (We had a beerpong table. In the front yard. IN THE FRONT YARD.)

One of my more tame roomates was one-half of a nauseating couple--you know, the kind that you can easily picture getting married, buying a lovely townhouse in Washington DC, owning a yellow labrador and hosting vegan dinner parties every Friday night that are scored with softly playing emo music crooning delicately in the background. She and her boyfriend Eric were like walking, breathing Barbie and Ken Go To College dolls, perfectly proportioned and compatible in every possible and enviable way: She was a psych major, he was studying architecture. She loved vintage clothes and read New York Times bestsellers. He went biking every Saturday morning with "the boys." She got up early and jogged every morning for 3 miles. He wore glasses with designer frames who barely drank and never smoked a cigarette. They met and had begun dating in their 10th grade high school geometry class and were still going strong well into college despite a few speed bumps and detours along the way. In short: they were healthy, wholesome people who could have easily starred in a summer campaign for Ralph Lauren.

In our last year of school together, Eric went off to Copehagen for a semester abroad while she stayed at school. They sent each other care packages and spoke on the phone regularly. Then he got sick, was misdiagnosed with pneumonia, and airlifted back to the States when his condition worsened. She drove every weekend back up to DC to be with him for months on end. Eventually, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma and flew to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant from his younger brother.

He died that Easter before graduation.

When it was time for all of us to say our own goodbyes to him, there was a crowd outside the architecture building, and each of us released a red helium balloon. About half of them got caught in a tree which made us laugh, breaking the tension.

There is a moment that always comes back to me around this time every year. Two weeks after the balloon incident and his funeral, when all of us were getting ready to venture off and make something of ourselves, I walked in on my roommate looking like she was sitting in a fog. "Are you OK?" I asked her tentatively. And she turned to me and smiled and said, "I will be. I'm beginning to smile now when I think about him."

I haven't spoken to my old roommate in about five years now--change of addresses, change of careers, change of plans have led to us growing apart. But I'd like to think that she's doing it all: the successful career, a great husband, that townhouse in DC, the yellow labrador greeting her at the door, and soy-based Friday night dinners with Pete Yorn or Jeff Buckley crooning in the background. And smiling whenever she looks back and sees the big picture.

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