‘You’ve Survived Tougher’

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 / 2:07 PM

I want to tell you about 2008.

The first year of college is a rough one. That’s not a revelation. I was struggling with a lot of personal stuff along with adjusting to being full-time away from the familiarity of home. I was vulnerable and there was someone who took advantage of that. He was a loser, but quite good at manipulating me and I got easily tricked. When I tried to speak up, nobody believed me.

I felt myself disappearing. I quit my job. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I was failing my classes (I still have the GPA record to prove it), and I discovered easy ways to get alcohol and other things that either kept me wired or knocked me out.

One night, it was particularly bad. I got back to my room where I had left my laptop on, signed into AIM (because that’s what we did back then to make sure we didn’t miss people’s messages), and Alan was messaging me — probably about an essay or something for HumCore we were supposed to read. By this point, we were friends and we talked about dorm drama, but nowhere was it written we were close enough for me to call him about this. But I did, and told him I was tired and couldn’t do it anymore and I wanted to disappear completely.

In minutes, he showed up outside my dorm. We went for a walk. We listened to music and he made me laugh. We went back to his dorm and watched videos and talked more.

He gave me a place to go that night and opened his door every night I needed a place.

When I think back to that, I always felt guilty for being a burden. Our old exchanges on Facebook are proof of that, the ones that happened during the time we fought because we were jealous the other person seemed to be getting closer to other friends. But he told me since that he needed the friendship as much as I did. The journey our lives went on was proof of it, and everything we had gone through — all the advice and more — we needed each other, even if I still sometimes feel like I asked too much of him.

I’ve been reminding myself to breathe lately. It feels like my shoulder has been disconnected and I’m just walking around lopsided right now. It’ll probably feel that way for a long time, and it’ll definitely feel that way when birthdays come and go or memories pass by.

I wanted to tell you about that moment because I’m not who I was 10 years ago. I grew up, graduated with honors and as my commencement speaker, and moved across the country in pursuit of a dream. I attribute so much of that to Alan and no amount of words I write or say can ever really capture the depth of what our friendship meant. And whatever happens next in life, I know I’ll always try to live in a way that honors that.

And I hope I made a difference for him too. In between the life moments — the academic achievements and professional ones and, of course, the meeting of his real soulmate and watching their love story — there will always be a part of me that knows we did well and that our 18-year-old selves would be so fucking proud.

A couple years ago, we were Skyping and he was asking me for advice about a tough decision, and I was sick and trying to be helpful. I didn’t think I was making much sense, but he told me I should write a book someday for when he needed advice but didn’t want to bother me when I was busy running the world. I rolled my eyes, popped a cough drop, and he asked me what the wrapper said.

“What?” I asked.

“Halls wrappers are like fortune cookies!” he said (he would know that).

I looked. It does have sayings on it, by the way, for when you need a pep talk while you’re sick.

“‘You’ve survived tougher,’” I read.

He wrote that on my Facebook wall as a reminder and attributed it to Halls.

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