There’s nothing quite as satisfying not having to spend an hour conducting polite small talk to catch up with an old friend. It’s the best: To just jump into the good stuff, like no time has passed. I felt like that yesterday when I traveled up to Evanston to see my friend Colleen and her husband, JD, who were visiting Chicago from their Ohio home.
I met Colleen my freshman year of college. My attraction to her was immediate. I was pulled like a magnet to her creamy red hair and her rebel with a cause attitude. She was the first girl I ever saw effortlessly live this balance of I-don’t-give-any-fucks and I-give-the-right-kinds-of-fucks.
On her dorm room wall, she hung a list of things she believed about herself and about life. It bullet-pointed her trust in feminism and a belief in the power of the American vote (she was a Political Science major, of course). I had never seen an 18-year-old care about these things, and the earnestness of it tapped directly into the earnestness of my own self. I didn’t know you could make lists like that! I want to make lists like that!
Her music collection was the stuff of kids I’d only seen in the indie movies, and she had a beta fish. Like, before everyone had a beta fish. Before beta fish even knew they were beta fish. But there he was, captured potential swimming blue and bright right above her desk.
We quickly became friends that fall semester. Partying, studying, talking. She introduced me to Fiona Apple’s full albums and my now favorite band, The Distillers, gifts of which I think I can only adequately repay by giving her my first born.
One breezy afternoon that first college fall, we decided to go to the piercing shop in town for a nose piercing (for her) and a Monroe piercing (for me). My Monroe didn’t last very long. I took it out for a job interview at a pizza shop. I didn’t get the job, and lip hole closed up almost immediately. But before that happened, it led me to Carrie, my other best friend from college.
Carrie says she first saw me late one night while we both waited for the bus outside the dorm where Colleen and I lived. Carrie was also a resident there but on the first floor; Colleen and I lived on the second and, with so much stimulation sparking those first exciting few months, going to another floor might as well have been going to Mars.
At that bus stop as the full moon watched, it was her turn to be pulled to me like a magnet, my Monroe stud a pin in her heart’s map. She even called me Marilyn until she learned my real name. She loves to tell me she had an instant friend crush on me, just like I did her when I finally met her. Just like I did with Colleen.
Sophomore year, when I got my first byline in the school newspaper (a recap of a visiting speaker event), Carrie clipped out the entire 1,000-word story and hung it on her tiny dorm mini-fridge like a proud parent. It stayed there, taking up all that magnetic real estate, all year long.
That gesture. That support. It meant everything to me as I learned to trust myself, in writing and in life.
Nearly 14 years have passed since that fall. I’m sure our lists of things we believe now would be unrecognizable to those tender, ruby-faced selves, furious as bees trapped between window and screen.
We have life partners and careers and real pets now instead of beta fish watching overhead. But every time I smile and my Monroe dot scar sets like a dimple, I think of that fall these women and all they taught me.
I think about how I’ll forever love them with an 18-year-old’s earnestness.