What is the secret that neurotypicals know about having a lifelong friendship with someone? Today, I grapple with this question whenever someone tells me about someone they’ve been friends with since kindergarten, or how they still get together with college friends. I think about my college roommate, my then-best friend, and wonder.
Linda was an elementary education major, but she was too honest to teach young children. I watched her get frustrated in student teaching when the teacher told her to never admit being wrong in front of the children, and wasn’t at all surprised when she ended up working in computers, instead. Her mother was a math teacher and a bit blunt for most people’s tastes and her father, an engineer. Linda seemed to skate the line between “computer savvy” and “girly-girl” better than the average girl interested in computers in the early 1990’s. While Linda had had a high school boyfriend or two and had dated a few guys during college, I was timid around boys, but bossy and demanding around women, which meant that I was hopeless whenever we (rarely) had the male of the species around our women’s college and it took a special woman to put up with me. Linda fit the bill, and we became roommates our second year at college.
I remember when Linda turned 21, nearly a full year before I did, and could drink at dances (our bartender was a nun who definitely checked IDs) and she’d get very excited whenever “Brown-Eyed Girl” came on. She insisted I had to dance because I have brown eyes. I’m still not at all sure what code girls get to just “know” they are expected to dance at that time.
She was “normal” in a lot of other ways, too, like when she fell for this “hot” guy in her martial arts class. I didn’t see what she was so excited about, but I kept telling her that the age difference was going to be a problem. The kid was 17 or 18 and she was three years older. They had nothing in common outside martial arts class, but she sobbed when he dumped her. I tried to help her to see the error of her ways, but oddly logic didn’t help her to feel better.
I remember trying to “help” her another time, when we were taking this horrible speech class which seemed randomly put together. I mentioned that I’d noticed she was using a lot of interrupters in her speech, but I must have misplaced the timing and she turned on me. “You know, I think your Lord Pettifog thing is pretty minor,” she said, referring to the guy who played the wizard in Snow White opposite my evil queen. “Obviously if you like him so much you should just tell him.” Someone had told him, and he wasn’t interested. Guys weren’t interested in me. That didn’t stop me from narrowing my vision on one of them from time-to-time and just waiting for the failure to come. I didn’t see why she had to remind me of my incompetence around men when I was trying to help.
Linda was always trying to help me to fit in, joining activities with me and helping me to make friends with other girls. One time, freshman year, she and our sophomore friend, Megan, took me shopping and found me a nice dress, the kind that was fashionable, and we went out to dinner. Then, they surprised me with a hotel room where we were expected to drink and hang out with a guy friend from high school I’d had a crush on, and a girl I had mentored in high school forensics, a few years younger than I who ALSO had a crush on him. For some reason, I immediately felt sick, and he drove me home and returned to the hotel room. I found another friend and told her what had happened and that I felt a funny kind of sick. I remember telling her that, while it was a horrible comparison, I felt as though I’d been raped, but I couldn’t explain the thought. The next morning, we all went out to breakfast together, my disappearance forgotten.
It was another year before Linda told me what happened that night, the night that the guy they imported to try to get me a boyfriend, did, in fact, rape her. She told me in the computer lab, where we both worked, over a crude form of instant messaging we were testing out. She expected me to blame her, but, since Linda didn’t want it reported, I went into “slash-and-burn” mode and simply told as many people as I could what a low life he was and what he had done and warned the mutual friend off of him. I learned then that the rules about reporting rapes were not really rules at all, and that a girl couldn’t count on the two other girls in the room to save her from unwanted advances. I also learned that no one really cares if some guy from high school is a rapist, so making sure everyone knew didn’t much matter. Most of my class is “Facebook friends” with him today, and at least some of them actually know what he did.
Linda did eventually meet and marry her engineer, as her mother had before her. I remember having to drop out of her wedding because I couldn’t afford both the dress and the alterations. I also managed to make and send out the invitations for her party and yet forgot the day of the party myself, so I didn’t go. Years later, I found some guy online and we married. She didn’t make it to the wedding, since she’d been put on bed rest when pregnant with her second child and anyway, we hadn’t spoken to each other in at least five years. We keep trying to connect, and it never quite happens.