Back in my long-ago college days, I had a close-knit group of friends who weren’t much for partying. I mean, we weren’t much for your typical college-style partying. We rented movies on Friday nights or else played Azuma and got crazy on Zima. We concocted bizarre scavenger hunts the details of which I cannot divulge except to say they often ended badly. Once, very badly. We drove to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to eat at a restaurant that we discovered to be out of business when we arrived. We lived in an off-campus trailer. We walked to class when it snowed. We ate frozen Patio-brand Mexican dinners that were plainly disgusting.
We loved Beastie Boys. Also Crash Test Dummies (the sideways line from the T.S. Eliot song was always so, so much more fun when we’d had a couple of those Zimas…) and The Presidents of the United States. Also, Grover’s “Wubba-wubba-woo” song from Sesame Street.
I went to college in Cullowhee, North Carolina. It was pretty remote, in the mountains, and the joke went, Cullo-where?? Sometimes, if we were really feeling crazy, we got got all gussied up—skanked up, we called it—and drove down the mountain a little ways, to the crazy discotown of Asheville, NC.
We were pretty dorky. But, oh, did we ever have fun.
It wasn’t always dancing and road-trips, though. Most of us in our little group had a major emotional breakdown at least once during our years there, on our mountain. I had one that lasted for the entirety of my junior year. It was boy trouble, mostly, but these boy troubles led to other troubles which accumulated into a huge crisis of faith, which in turn led to a crisis of identity. You could say I lost my way, and I don’t mean that my grades dropped (they didn’t) or that I adopted any truly wild behaviors. I just changed every other single thing about myself and tumbled into a depression so deep and so lightless, that the only relief I found was when I finally gave in. I simply quit trying not to hate myself.
My friends were mostly horrified by the change in me, by my new photographer/cyclist/vegan/allen-ginsberg-quoting/tin-cup-wielding/anti-establishment-ranting boyfriend. They tried talking to me. I remember my friend Becky taking me down to the river—literally—to try to talk some sense into me. They tried ignoring the crazy in me, just waiting it out. They didn’t know what to do with me. We were so young, and they were, most of them, battling their own demons. Like I said, we all had our big and large identity crises in college. I wonder, doesn't everyone?
In the end, their patience was extraordinary to me. The fact that they were still there, ready to take me back the minute I was ready to return to normal life.
I especially remember the kindness of my friend Tanya. Tanya, the tiniest person I know, but with one of the sturdiest faiths I have ever butted up against. She loves her friends fiercely, but quietly. Steadfastly. In the middle of everything, when I was the most unreachable, she wrote me a letter. It was a bunch of God-stuff that I just couldn’t stomach at the moment, but her love for me, her belief in me, it shone right through. In turn, I saw the God she wrote of, reaching me not through her actual words, but through the heart of the letter. The faith and love for me—and for God—that had compelled her to write it.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever outright thanked her for that, or my other friends for simply being there: thank you. Thank you all—and you know who you are—so, so much.
This life, the writing-life and the non-writing life, the everyday struggles and the bigger ones, the crises of faith and the crises of no longer knowing who you are or why you are: it’s pretty awful sometimes. Relentlessly lonely.
I’m grateful for the people who love me, who put up with me. I’m grateful to my God, who saved me. Who keeps saving me.