Originally mailed on February 4, 1997
Splash's going-away party on New Year's Eve was a rather unpleasant collegiate affair: a bunch of very young people playing quarters and "sink the submarine" in pitchers of cheap beer; the air unbreathable with pot and cigarette smoke; couples in every corner doing things I think rightly belong in a private room with the shades drawn; music so loud it was nothing but unintelligible din with a driving beat. I wandered around for awhile nursing a big plastic cup of warm beer someone had given me, but I decided to clear out before the upchucking started. I never had a chance to talk to Splash.
Two days later, I was scheduled to have breakfast with Splash and help her pack her car for a 10 a.m. departure. When I arrived at the appointed time, Splash and Romney were asleep in the bed and her room was a mess of flattened packing boxes and debris that had been emptied from the drawers and closet into big loosely-categorized piles. When I woke Splash, I nearly reeled from the smell: cigarette smoke, stale sweat, and morning-after booze breath. I grabbed her shower stuff and prodded her down the hall to the bathroom.
I steered her toward the toilet. "Which end, Doris?" I said.
"Huh?" she said.
"Do you need to throw up or do you just need to pee?"
"I just need to pee, Harriet. I'm not hungover."
I said, "Splash, you look and smell like you've been drinking for two days straight, but I'm willing to concede that appearances can be deceiving. Sit down and do your business and I'll get the shower started."
I turned the shower on to heat up, then headed to the sink where I put toothpaste on her toothbrush. When she came shuffling over from the toilet, I handed it to her and said, "So, what's the plan, Doris?"
She said through foam and bristles, "What do you mean?"
I said, "I mean, you're supposed to leave less than two hours from now, but you're not packed and you're in bed with Romney. Do you want me to take off and come back later today or tomorrow morning, do you want me to stay and help pack, or what?"
She spit. "Gad, Harriet, would you stay? Every time I try to pack it's like this lethargy takes over my whole body, and all I can do is sit in my room and stare, or pick things up and set them down again. I'm never going to get out of here if I have to do it on my own, and classes start day after tomorrow."
I said, "OK, I'll help. What do you want me to do?"
She groaned. "I don't want you to help, Harriet. I want you to be in charge. I don't know how to do this at all. You tell me what to do."
I said, "OK, then, Doris. You get in the shower and wash twice. When you get out, brush your teeth again just to be on the safe side. I'll go back to your room and try to find some clean clothes for you."
I headed back down the hall and found Romney awake and shakily getting dressed. I said, "Hey, Romney, I'm glad you're up. When you're dressed, head out to the Royale and bring back at least two large coffees with lots of cream, and a half-dozen bagels. We'll have breakfast here."
Romney said, "No way, man. I'm wasted. I'm going home to bed. Tell Splash I said goodbye."
I said, "Your tender affection for our mutual friend warms the cockles of my heart."
Romney said, "Oh, fuck you," as he headed out the door.
I wandered down to the kitchen and found some of Splash's housemates. "Hey, I'm buying if someone will go get bagels and coffee from the Royale." A skinny gay boy whose name I can never remember said, "Sure, sounds good," and headed out the door with my twenty-dollar bill. Another of the housemates said, "You know, you're just enabling Splash by helping her out like this. She's been complaining for a week that she can't get her shit together in time to make classes in Illinois, but she's been partying and screwing around with that weird boy day and night instead of getting ready to go. You should just let her fuck up and take the consequences, and then maybe she'll have some chance of getting straightened out instead of always thinking that some pathetic codependent friend will fix things for her at the last minute."
I said, "No coffee and bagels for you, preachy one," and headed for the stairs.
Splash, naked and wet, was rooting around in the piles on the floor, sniffing and discarding sweatshirts and undergarments. I said, "Don't you have anything clean?"
She said, "I've been meaning to do laundry." She sounded close to tears. I dug her robe out and handed it to her. "Here, there's no reason you have to be fully dressed to pack. Put this on and then gather all your laundry into a pile. I'll start taping boxes together. By the time you get your first load into the washer, that boy will be back with coffee and then all will be well."
Splash pulled the robe on. "Romney went to get coffee?"
I said, "No, Romney went home to sleep it off. He said so long. One of your housemates went to get breakfast for us."
She sighed. "I guess Romney isn't good at saying goodbye."
I said, "That's generous of you, Doris."
She was sorting whites and darks. "Are you pissed at me? You always call me Doris when you're pissed at me. Why are you helping me if you're mad?"
"Shit, Splash," I said, "I'm sorry to see you go, I hate having to help you leave me because I know you'll never call or write, and I am a little cranky that you're not ready when you said you would be. But I told that skinny blonde girl downstairs that preachy people don't get bagels, so I won't say more than that because I'm hungry."
She laughed. "Well, I guess you have a right to be annoyed. Hell, I'm annoyed. This would have been so much easier if I'd started packing a week ago."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Splash. I'm only good at this when it's not my own stuff I'm packing. Go put your wash in and we can tackle books and desk stuff until breakfast arrives."
Eight hours, four loads of laundry, ten Advil, six double large cups of coffee, two medium pizzas with double cheese and mushrooms, and one trip to the store for additional supplies later, the boxes were packed, the trash hauled to the curb, empty beer bottles gathered for the housemates to return for the deposit, and the floor swept. Splash left a crystal hanging in the window, "good luck for the next person who lives here," and before I know it we were out in the wintry afternoon twilight loading the last few boxes into Splash's rusty blue hatchback. She slammed the hatch shut, and turned to me. "I'll call you."
"I doubt it."
She grinned. "Well, OK, but it won't be because I don't love you."
I said, "Yup, I know," and she hugged me. Her housemates and I waved as she drove away, and then the preachy one said, "Well, Harriet, if you know anyone who's looking for a room to rent, give them our number."
I said, "I sure will."
I've been almost too busy in the month since to notice that she hasn't called or written at all. I started as print shop manager at work and have been working overtime; the overtime won't be permanent, but I'm still learning so everything takes twice as long as it will when I'm good at it.
Nona and I are in a lovely groove right now, getting settled in together at her house. Yes, it's a lot sooner than we planned, but my landlord wanted to rent my apartment to a nephew of his who started grad school at Michigan State this semester. He knew I was planning to move anyway, so he offered me a break on my last month's rent and guaranteed the return of my entire security deposit if I would leave by February first. I said, "Put that in writing, Mr. Simmons, and it's a deal."
Nona and I spent most evenings and weekends in January working on her house. We wanted to figure out a way to make it ours, rather than just having me move into a place that screamed "Nona" from every wall and tabletop. We made the spare room into our bedroom, because that felt like a fresh start, and Nona's old bedroom is now the office/guest room, with both our desks and my futon in it. We painted both rooms and decided together what pictures to hang and what stuff to put back, but the truth is I like Nona's stuff so much, and have so little of that decorating-type junk myself, that Modern Nona is still the primary decorating scheme.
I've been officially living there for almost two weeks; I was out of my apartment well before the February 1 deadline. I like it so far. No more choosing between Fang and Speedball, and Nona; no more hauling an overnight bag everywhere I go; no more feeling split because I'm trying to live in two places. And with two people to cook for, it's worth cooking at night. Nona does the shopping and washes dishes, and I cook. It works partly because I come home from the noise of the print shop and I'm wired, with energy to burn. But Nona gets home from work and wants to sit like a slug for a little while. So she relaxes with a cat in her lap while I put a meal together, and then after we eat I get to have cats on my lap while she cleans up. We're still working out how to spend our evenings; there's something subtly different about living together versus living apart but spending most evenings together, but we're enjoying experimenting with how we want our lives to look day-to-day.
I wish things were going as well for Louella as they are for me. If anything, her depression is getting worse. Some days it's hard for her even to take care of the basics; when we found out from the kids that they'd had Spaghetti-O's three nights in a row for dinner ("Guess what, Harriet? We've had the best week!") we got really worried, and we're not sure what to do. We don't want to step on her toes or make her feel bad by just jumping in. I mean, how would that sound? "We've come to clean your house, Louella, because we can't help but see it's a big dirt pit. By the way, would it help if someone came by to help dress the boys for school? Grandma noticed during after-school baby-sitting that Mark wore the same shirt, complete with Spaghetti-O stain, for most of last week. And have you considered getting professional help?"
We keep saying, "Let us know if there's anything we can do, Louella," and she says, "I will," but she doesn't. She almost never calls and she's started letting her machine pick up the phone most of the time. But it's her responsibility to deal with all of this, isn't it? I wonder sometimes if Splash's housemate wasn't right, if I don't take too much responsibility for my friends. Maybe I need to just sit back and maintain my boundaries. We told Louella we're happy to help her out; the rest must be up to her.
Oh, this is ridiculous; my best friend is in obvious distress and I'm worrying about being codependent if I try to help. We should all go over there and talk to Louella honestly about the things we've noticed, tell her we're worried, and suggest as strongly as we can without being domineering that she accept some kind of help. And the sooner we do it, the better. Excuse me while I get Nona away from the TV and call my grandmother.
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