Monday, February 28, 2011


The summer before I went to the University of Kentucky, my roommate got into another, better, school and I found out that I was going to college all alone.  "All alone" is really an operative phrase, because most of my high school (the ones who were attending college and not jail) and all of Louisville would also be there - but it's all relative, right?  It was too late in the summer to exchange the usual letters with my new roommate, so I entered Blanding Towers, that housed over 600 women, not knowing the identity of my roommate, my freshman year.

I went early because of Sorority Rush, so I was able to pick my bed and set up all of my stuffed animals according to my appreciation for them.  I spread out my matching bedding, organized all of my sorority paraphernalia after I'd joined, and organized my closet full of preppy clothes.  There was the green and navy section, the pink and green section, and the Kappa section.  I had bows to match everything.

Enter Jackie.  Jackie was a 22-year-old, who had been to two state colleges already, through the magic of financial aide, and she was dating a 30-year--old father of three who worked at a liquor store on campus. ( I later learned that Paul was her third in a row, of live-in boyfriends, and she decided to go back to school because he couldn't afford an apartment with her and his child support.)  She entered our room for the first time with Paul at her side and a cigarette dangling out of her mouth as she introduced herself.  Then, she promptly asked me to wait outside so she could "say good-bye to Paul."  I was mortified.

Jackie had been around the block a few times and we could not be more mismatched. My friends on the dorm floor and I started calling her, "Jackehhh" as we shook our heads,  because that is the way she pronounced her own name as she exhaled smoke from her orifices.   I would actually make her walk several feet behind me if we were walking to class together, because she would always smoke on the way.  She would just laugh and say, "OK.  I'll catch up to you when I finish my smoke."

She wore gray jeans, flannel t-shirts with Paul's rocker t-shirts underneath, and dirty Reebok tennis shoes everyday.  I, on the other hand, preferred sorority sweatshirts with a fancy round-collared shirt peeking out over the top, Levi boyfriend jeans rolled up just so, and ballet flats - all with a coordinating bow and belt.

I can't tell you how many times I would come back from class to find her scrawled "please knock" sign on our door indicating that she and Paul were in the throws of one of his impromptu conjugal visits on his break from the liquor store.  Jackie and I were friends, though, and Paul would bring us treats from the store and we would stay up late talking about our lives.

My stories were filled with upcoming Grab-a-Dates and boys. who I identified by their names and fraternity houses,  and hers always included Paul and his kids and how Paul was having trouble keeping a balance between the two.  Apparently, Paul was "separated".  She found me shallow and pretentious (she was right), and I thought she wasn't self-conscious enough, and had too many bills.

When I think of Jackie now, I remember talking about financial aide a lot.  She seemed to always be looking for that check or had plans for the check or something.  She was "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as my mother would say - only not her "Paul" - the government "Paul".

One night, Jackie came home destroyed because Paul had finally done what we all knew he was going to do - break up with her - and she was devastated.  "When I think of loving him in the back of the cooler at the store," she would start and we would wince and change the subject.

I loved Jackie and I did not like to see her upset, so my sorority sister down the hall and I promptly tried to cheer her up by making her over in our fraternity-lovin' images. We giggled and cackled as we dressed her in what we thought would be "more appropriate" attire for campus life.  When we were done, she was half in the bag, reeked of Ralph Lauren perfume and generic cigarettes, and was in head to toe Laura Ashley.

We set out for the bars and used her to sneak us in, because she was the only one with a genuine ID. When I think of that night it was like an Eliza Doolittle moment.  We were presenting her to Greek society, only she failed miserably.  At the end of the night, we were literally peeling her off of the bar floor, and carrying her home as she sobbed and smoked and lamented her life with Paul.  You can take the girl out of her desperate, underprivileged experience, but you can't take the desperate, underprivileged experience out of the girl.

Later that year, I was at a fraternity party, dancing on the dance floor as I was prone to do, when someone grabbed me and said that my "roommate" was asking for me in one of the rooms.  "She's really messed up.  Is that really your roommate?" they asked.

I bolted from the dance floor, mid-interpretive dance, humiliated at what was happening to ME.  There was Jackie slumped over in one of the bunk beds, smoking a cig, and apparently in a blackout.

"What are you doing here?" I hissed, trying to keep my sorority girl composure.
 "I miss Paul so much," she slurred, "I usually go to the liquor store on Friday nights (when Paul worked) and I didn't have anywhere to go, so I came to see you."

Now Jackie and I were great friends.  We studied together.  We drank together.  We knew everything about one another's lives - but this was all in the privacy of our dorm room.  Our social lives were entirely separate.  I thought she understood this arrangement, but it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that she didn't get the memo.

"You need to go home, Jackie.  You are not supposed to be here.  You're wasted and you are embarrassing me."  I whispered as I helped her to the door and put her in a cab.  I gave the cabbie money and our address, "Now, I'll see you in the morning.  Go sleep it off."
 "I'm so sorry, " she moaned as I sent her on her way.

Right before finals, I broke my ankle and it required surgery, so I  had to leave school early.  The girls in the dorm actually raided my closet and stole stuff from me before my parents were able to get back up to school to retrieve everything.

I found this out from Jackie, my only visitor from school that summer, while I was laid up.  She was leaving school because she was denied further financial aide at UK and she had been accepted into a junior college near her home.  My parents and I gave her our dorm refrigerator and wished her luck.

When the door had closed behind her, my dad, in his infinite wisdom turned to me and said, "Now that is a real friend.  You will be lucky to have three of her in your lifetime."  He was absolutely right like he always was, but it was too late.  I didn't deserve someone as loyal as Jackie.  I had too much growing up to do before I could be worthy of someone like her.

My favorite liquor store in town is the state liquor store on 5th Avenue.  You have to pay in cash and it makes me feel seedy when I open the door for my three kids and sidle up to the money machine in front.  They usually have good cheap alternatives for the expensive liquor of the moment.  Three Olives vodka is a great example of this.  My neighbor, we'll call her "Megan", is a connoisseur of sorts, when it comes to Three Olives.  She'll do a free commercial for you, if you ask nicely.

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