My friends were so generous with their guest posts, that I was able to include one more bonus story for all of you.
I’ve known Stephen for a few years. We met over a love of writing, and even though he prefers humor, he’s also got a knack for the serious stuff. Today, he’s sharing a story about college friendships and how they get us through so much more than the occasional difficult class.
The funny thing? I had an acting teacher who was like Stephen’s in every way (except the resemblance to Elaine Stritch).
When I decided to finish my lucrative education at Hudson Community College (I think I stopped and started a good 37 times from the ages of 18-24), I said to myself, “You can do this Stephen! You’re going to finish! And whatever happens after that, well, let’s just get through college first.”
Of course, going back to school after a couple of years is nerve-wracking. First of all, you’re not the youngest in your classes anymore. Most people know that community college can be very diverse in age. I always thought it was funny when there was a 65-year-old woman sitting next to me in class. Why the HELL is she here?? is what I’d always think. Doesn’t she have anything better to do? Like, I don’t know, drink coffee or watch reruns of Mary Tyler Moore? I’d much rather be doing those things than sitting in a Sociology class talking about, well, whatever it is I learned in my Soc class.
When I walked into my acting class one fateful fall day, I was nervous and anxious and I had to pee really badly. But, I kept telling myself that I was older than these “kids.” I should be an example. And if that didn’t work, I could just lie since people tend to think I’m younger than I really am. But that first day of class was when I met Willow. And I don’t know why, but before we even spoke, I knew we were going to be friends for a long time.
Willow was loud and funny and crass and everything I was looking for in a new friend I really wasn’t looking for. She walked in with a huge smile on her face. I could tell she was the typical “theater kid.” She’d been doing the performing thing for a long time, but she didn’t carry that pretension with her that most actors have. You know the ones who smell their own farts and think it’s the most beautiful smell they’ve ever smelled in their life. But no, she wasn’t like that.
I remember when we introduced ourselves.
“Wow! Like the Buffy character!”
She just looked at me like she hadn’t heard that one before.
“I’m Stephen,” I said.
We were interrupted by the slam of a door. The horrible old man walking across the front of the room looked like he just got out of a colonoscopy. Or, he was really really constipated. I didn’t like him right off the bat. First off all, I was in the middle of talking to my new best friend, and second, he reminded me of Elaine Stitch, except he was a man. I don’t really like Elaine Stritch. She reminds me of a porcelain puppet and that kind of scares me a little. Do you know what it’s like to have that “teach” you for four months out of the year? God forbid I ended up getting this creep again the following semester. I was not happy.
At the end of class, I said goodbye to Willow, and for some reason, when she went to say bye back to me, she couldn’t remember my name. Hmmmm. That’s not normal, I thought. Was she being serious? Or was she really that offended by my comment about her name?
The next class we had she handed me a bag of Peanut M&M’s with a tag that said, “To: Steven.”
”Oh my god Willow! You’re nuts!” When we met in the previous class, we were having a conversation about our favorite things. I had told her I loved Peanut M&M’s. Then I saw how she spelled my name. “Oh. That’s not how you spell my name.”
After a glare, and few choice words (her) and a million thank yous and a hug (me), I like to think that Willow and I became best friends that very day.
As my acting class progressed, I felt like I wasn’t really learning anything from Elaine. He was irritatingly mean, like when he would call me by another name even though I know he knew who I was. And he was nothing but a pompous has been, always telling us about his past endeavors. Like how he did a lot of books on tape. Not books on CD. Books on tape. And he would brag about how he did live theater across the country for the love of the craft, just like A LOT of out of work actors. He just seemed very delusional and out of touch with reality.
Willow and I would sit in the lounge at Hudson, venting to one another about Elaine. I would whine about how unfair he was, and she would just call me a big baby, which was true. I do have a tendency to complain, especially when I can’t control the situation.
I think back on those moments Willow and I shared, just sitting in the café, with the floor to ceiling windows, looking out on trees. It was a nice spot to sit and eat and gather thoughts. It wasn’t loud like the larger student common area. And it wasn’t smokey like the outside quad. No, the lounge was perfect, and I always chose it over the spots.
I remember one specific day, I think it was right before finals, Willow and I were sitting in the lounge like we always did, and it was snowing. It was such a nice little moment. From all the pent up frustration I had towards Elaine and some personal issues I was dealing with, sitting there with Willow, watching the snow fall and knowing that Christmas break was a week away, I had butterflies. It was the most perfect moment. I wish I could take a mental photograph and put it in a frame.
See, when I decided to go back to school, I was at a point in my life when I really didn’t know what I was doing. It’s normal. I think everyone goes through it. I wanted to figure out who I was. I wanted to do more than wake up every afternoon in a dank basement, interrupting my parents daily dose of Millionaire on my way to the bathroom.
Also, at the time, I was losing an old friend. It was by choice, and it wasn’t sad, but there was a lot of anger involved. During our “get to know one another” phase, Willow told me about a close friend of hers who kind of did her wrong too. They ended up going separate ways, just like what I had gone through.
I always look at my friendship with Willow as fate. If I didn’t go back to school, if I hadn’t walked into that good for nothing acting class, if we didn’t bond over our recent out-of-the-blue break ups, I really don’t think I would even know Willow.
Since we both finished college, neither one of us has the time to see one another like we used to. We get together so I could force her to watch horribly stupid horror movies, and she was the first person to ever drag me out to a gay bar to do karaoke (before I knew I was even gay!). We do text one another and have the occasional phone call, but those December days in the Hudson Community College lounge are the moments with my friend that I relish the most.
Even though we’ve only known each other for a few years, we have a December tradition: Karaoke at a popular gay bar in the city. It may sound weird, but what better place is there to talk about the horrible memories we share of a man who is an out of work actor and who looks like Elaine Stritch?