By Reilly Van Dyke
At 18, I am living. It’s 9:30 pm on October 23, 2012, and I am sitting in my dorm room at Brooklyn College, staring out the open window, the slight fall breeze coming through the screen. I can see a group of guys yelling and laughing in the courtyard, clearly drunk. One falls over, taking down his friend in the process. I wish I wanted to be them. Instead I’m staying in on a Friday night, working on a cognitive behavioral therapy project for my Psychology 101 class. My roommate Julie is sitting next to me, putting together a power point on her laptop, while I write terms on index cards. It’s lucky we both ended up in the same class and got to pick our partners for this project. It makes it easier, not having to introduce myself to someone new. I don’t have the energy for that right now. Julie was the only person I’d met so far since coming to college. It’s not like I’m antisocial- I’m just not me right now. I haven’t been me for almost a year.
I glance over at the picture on my desk. It’s of our camping trip to Old Orchard Beach back when we were fifteen. Sam’s wearing his favorite Pearl Jam t-shirt and green swim trunks, his dirty blonde hair wet from the ocean. I’m to his right, my long brown hair in a ponytail. I’m wearing jean shorts, a red tank top, and a Phillies baseball cap. They were Sam’s favorite team. I can’t remember a time I’d ever been happier.
“Who is that?”
“What?” I look up, startled by Julie’s question. I’d only known her for a couple months. Don’t get me wrong, she’s nice and everything. We’d just never really talked about anything personal up until this point. I guess I just don’t click with some people.
“The kid, in the picture. You never talk about him,” she says.
“That’s Sam,” I say quietly.
“Is he your boyfriend?” She asks as if it’s the most basic question in the world. From what I’ve gathered, Julie is a little nosy and persistent, and the only reason she’s staying in with me on a Friday night is because she is determined to get a 4.0 this semester. I, on the other hand, simply don’t have anything better to do. It’s pathetic.
“He’s my best friend,” I answer, not wanting to go there, to a place I haven’t visited in a long time.
“Oh. Well, where does he go to school?” she asks innocently, while organizing her note cards into number order.
“He doesn’t,” I say awkwardly.
Sam and I have been best friends since we were 8 years old. It’s kind of unusual to stay friends with someone for that long. Most people get to high school and things change. I had other friends, but everything was conditional with them. Sam was the only person I didn’t have to try with, because it was easy being friends with him. It always felt natural, like it was meant to be.
It’s a Sunday afternoon in late November. Sam’s room is a dark blue. His walls are covered in Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters posters, with a picture of Louie Vito up in the air on a snowboard on the wall next to his closet. There’s a collage of pictures he’d taken with his camera on the wall above his dresser. Photography was one of his many hobbies. He’s been trying to teach me, but all my pictures always come out unfocused. He’s also been trying to convince me to come on the snowboarding trip to Killington with him and his dad over winter break, but I think we both know I’m not coordinated enough for sports- especially ones that involve sliding down a mountain. I sit in the corner at his desk in one of those black office chairs with wheels, slowly spinning in circles while he lies upside down on his blue and white plaid comforter, throwing a hackie sack up into the air. He’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. We’ve been silent for a few minutes, but it isn’t uncomfortable. The sun coming in from the window behind his computer casts a light on the hard wood floor. I can see dust floating through the air. The aquamarine crystal pendant on my bracelet sparkles in the light. It’s my birthstone. Sam gave it to me for my 17th birthday.
“So how was your Thanksgiving?” he asks casually.
“Oh, the same as every year,” I say, annoyed just thinking about it.
“Yeah?” he says grinning.
He always thinks my rants about my family antics are hilarious, mostly because he’s not around for them. My family manages to be polite in front of him, so he always hears everything secondhand from me. I tell him every little thing, especially all the explosive arguments my relatives get into over the holidays.
“Relatives asking me about school and calling me Charlotte no matter how many times I tell them to call me Charlie,” I say exasperated.
He laughs a little.
“Yeah, you hate that. That’s what your mom calls you when you’re in trouble,” he says jokingly.
“Exactly! So my relatives all got into this big argument over politics and religion. Half the table wanted Obama, the other half wanted to vote for Romney. I had to sit at the kids table and listen to the whole thing while my Great Aunt Judy blew her cigarette smoke over my food. You know, it’s called a kids table for a reason. I don’t know why she even had to sit next to me. And then she started asking what I was going to do after college for the rest of my life. Nobody knows that when they’re seventeen.”
The hackie sack makes a final plop onto his chest. Sam slowly turns onto his left side, the hackie sack falling onto the bed. His arms are crossed out in front of him as he lays on his stomach, his blue eyes looking up at me. The sunlight crosses the left side of his face, catching his hair. He looks down, holding a serious expression on his face.
“What?” I say.
He opens his mouth, smiling. He hesitates, as if his thoughts can’t catch up to his voice.
“It’s like they don’t appreciate you. Who you are, right now. Like they can’t wait until you’re done with college and have a job, and then you’ll be somebody. The thing is, you’re already somebody. And one day you’re going to get out of Pennsylvania and go to school for graphic design like you’ve always talked about. But you’re already doing that. And you’ve never been someone who needed permission to do anything. You know who you are. And you’re never going to be the person who sits at the table and argues over stupid things that don’t matter.”
“But I’m not going to become a doctor like you, or find a cure for cancer. They’re my family, but they make me feel like I have nothing to offer,” I say.
“You know you don’t have to be one thing. You can be anything. And I make no promises on curing cancer,” he says, laughing.
“I know. I guess I just figure you’ll be a world famous doctor or something one day.”
“Who knows?” he says, shrugging. He smiles that big grin that makes me so happy.
We’re quiet for a minute. It’s fall, but with the sunlight shining in, the room is comfortably warm. I get out of the chair and swiftly cross the small room in three steps. I sit next to him, playing with the thread at the end of my sweater.
“Hey Sam?” I say quietly.
“Hm?” he says, turning his head to look up at me.
I smile. “Thanks.”
“That’s the last time I ever saw him. My mom called and I went home for dinner.”
Julie looks uncomfortable. “What happened?”
My eyes gloss over. I swallow. “He was on the way to my house to pick me up before school the next morning. This other guy was texting and hit him.” The silence that follows seems to last for hours. It’s like standing at the edge of a cliff, wondering if I dare to jump. I touch my bracelet, rolling the small pendant in between my thumb and index finger. Sam was always kind and thoughtful. I don’t think he even knew how to be mean. It just wasn’t in him.
“Your friend Sam- you’re really lucky to have known someone like that, even if it wasn’t forever,” Julie says quietly.
I stare at her, wondering how I could’ve spent the past 2 months trying to avoid someone who lives in the same room as me, someone who’s never been anything but nice to me. And here she was, listening to my life as if it was the most interesting thing in the world, all because I’d declined saying much of anything to her up until this point. I felt bad. And why were we sitting in this room on a Friday night when there was a whole city to explore?
“I’m sorry,” I blurt out.
“Why?” she asks, confused.
“I’ve been a jerk. You’ve been trying to get to know me and I’ve been blowing you off, and I just- I’m awful sometimes. But you have to know, I’m not myself right now. I’m still-”
“I know,” she cuts in. “I can see it. You’re trying to work through this. I kind of figured you were going through something. I just assumed you would tell me when you were ready.”
I felt even guiltier. Maybe Julie wasn’t as nosy as I thought she was.
I ask Julie where she’s from. She says she’s from Ohio. Her favorite color is purple. She has a younger brother Andrew and an older sister Sharon. She grew up riding horses. These are the things that make up a life. They are simple questions, but it’s a start.
At one point, I’d thought about moving back home. Anything to be closer to Sam, to my old life. Everybody always said I’d be somebody someday, and Sam knew that I didn’t need to wait that long. He knew I was enough then. That whoever I was then or would be in the future, it would always be enough for him. I never thought I’d be okay again without him. But I can feel him here and wherever I go. And that’s enough for me.