jen


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She was tall and blonde and a Reagan Republican, and would have loved a descriptive paragraph about her beginning with all those adjectives. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if the blonde was natural or store bought, but it doesn’t matter. If it was paid for, it was expensive and effective, two more adjectives which easily applied to her and which she would have also approved.


We met in the rush of freshman orientation the first week of college, standing in long lines filled with folders and pamphlets and branded backpacks. She was loud and light and looking for an adventure and our first night out she helped me break the ice by crashing through it.


We were huddled on a street corner, a group of tipsy eighteen year-olds in Paris, suspended in the moment just before we found out planes could be flown into buildings and the whole world changed.


“That’s so gay,” she blurted in response to something and I might have coughed, shifting uneasily from foot to foot, running the internal calculation I was just getting used to — is this when I should tell people? Before I finished, she laughed and quickly followed up with, “oh, I’m sorry, that’s so fucked up. But it’s not like anyone is gay here, right?”


I awkwardly raised my hand and she laughed harder, thinking I was in on the joke. When it stayed up, she was embarrassed — all apologies and sincerity and in that moment became one of my best friends.


She drank champagne and wore heels inside and loved old movies, swept up in grand romances and long kisses and happiness that doesn’t fade when the credits rolled. Sometimes she acquired an accent when we were drunk, introducing herself to strangers as British or Irish or French and sometimes they believed her. She was fearless in the way people consumed with fear can be, determined to outrun the demons.


We talked a lot about fathers and mothers and politics, arguing because we liked to argue, because we needed to argue to figure out if what we had been told growing up was real and if we really believed it.


We talked about boys and men and the difference between them. We sat together in cafes and on couches, giving each other advice on how to call them and confidence when they didn’t us call back.


We grew into adults together, and then we grew apart.


The last time I saw her was on accident, on a street in New York. I heard my name and turned around to see her, waving and smiling and we caught up, standing on a corner promising to call and hang out soon before we crossed the street, back to our separate lives.


Years after that was the last time I heard from her, inviting me to celebrate her 29th birthday. I declined, busy with another orientation, this time learning how to be a second grade teacher. A couple weeks later my phone rang and I found out she died.


We huddled at her funeral, old friends drinking champagne and talking about her, about romance, about fathers and mothers and boys and men and how loudly she lived and quietly she died. We stitched together stories of an illness and recovery and missed calls, feeling guilty and sad and resolved to live better, for each other and for her.


I still see her sometimes, on streets and in dreams, flashing me a smile and asking if I’m happy. Then, just as quickly, she fades away and I wake up and cross the street, back into my life.


This is post #21/30 in a 500 Words-A-Day Challenge. Read them all here.