For a few weeks now I've been wracking my brain for a story to tell about a summer love. The trouble is I've never had a summer love. (Mainly because I dated the same boy for nine years and we were having fun times wallowing in our melodramatic, dysfunctional relationship during the summers, but I digress.)
The year I finally let go of that boy, I felt awesome. Until summer approached.
I was away at college, and the truth is I was afraid that if I went home, I'd slide right back into the familiar melodrama.
Enter: my best friend, Tom.
He had sublet an apartment and invited me to be his roommate. I had no job. No money. No car. But I did one of those leap and the net will appear thingys and said yes. Somehow I managed to find two jobs. A paid (but not much) internship at a magazine downtown and a hellish waitressing job (that still gives me nightmares) at a Perkins restaurant.
Because Tom is such a ridiculously nice guy, he agreed to drive me back and forth to both jobs.
A word here about our relationship. As soon as it became known that Tom and I were going to live together, the rumors began to fly. I don't know if this kind of thing would be said today, but back then, if a girl lived with a guy, it was called living in sin. Also, shacking up. This, by the adults in our lives. But even some of our friends wondered if "something" was going on between us.
One of the guys I dated told me point blank (after he learned that Tom was my best friend) that he did not believe it was possible for men and women to be friends. I argued with him, but now I think he was envious of what Tom and I had. For a few years we were so close there wasn't much room for other people in our lives.
We met the very first week of freshman year. Somehow we got fixed up and went out on a date. A movie (Creator) and dinner (Houlihans, where--to show you how not with it I was back then--I ate potato skins for the first time). I regaled Tom with stories I thought were funny about my angsty high school experiences. (He told me later that I scared the crap out of him.)
The next day he called and asked me if I would give him one of my friend's phone numbers.
So that seemed like the end of that.
But somehow we kept orbiting around each other. We liked the same movies and music and books. We had deep philosophical discussions, the kind you don't ever seem to have except in college, about the meaning of life and the importance of Art with a capital A and the inherent injustice in the world. We majored in the same subject, Creative Writing. We went to a lot of parties. We vetted each other's romantic partners.
We said, only half joking, that if we didn't find our true loves by the time were old--30--we would get married. We weren't physically attracted to each other, we both agreed, but in every other way, we were perfect.
That summer we put this idea to the test.
The apartment was the most disgusting place I've ever lived. Filthy. Smelly. Infested with cockroaches. I slept on a futon rolled out on the matted, dirty, shag carpet. Tom had read somewhere that cockroaches would not cross over boric acid, so we bought a container and drew lines of boric acid around the periphery of the rooms. Later, it occurred to us that if this was true about the boric acid, we had just effectively trapped all of the cockroaches inside the apartment.
Both of us were broke that summer. Me, for real. Tom, because he was asserting his independence from his family. We prided ourselves on our frugal grocery shopping. We ate a lot of hotdogs, ramen noodles, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and tuna fish. I paid my half of the rent and utilities to Tom in quarters I got off the big tippers at Perkins.
Most of the summer consisted of Tom driving me to my internship in the morning and picking me up in the afternoon. Then driving me to my hellish job later in the afternoon and picking me up after midnight. In between we hung out at the apartment pool or ate our mac and cheese and watched TV while screaming (me) and throwing shoes at cockroaches (Tom).
Tom and I went back to school for our senior year closer than ever.
In November I met a sweet, interesting guy at a party, and when it looked like there might be something developing between us, before it went too far, I leveled with him: Look. My best friend is a boy. If you have a problem with that, let me know now.
The guy was totally cool with it and we ended up falling into a serious relationship that year. (Reader, I married him.)
Unfortunately, things were never quite the same between Tom and me.
We still keep in touch though.
His name is prominently featured on the acknowledgment page of my first novel. It should be. In addition to chauffeuring me around town for an entire summer, he's also read every single story and book I've ever written (some in multiple versions).
A few weeks ago Tom called and said that he's going to drive down for my book launch (a 754 mile trip).
Turns out, he is still a ridiculously nice guy.