So... freshman year of college.
The highs. The lows. The horrifying goth roommate who listened to the Cure all day. The Janet Jackson-adoring lesbian roommate whose refusal to buy toilet paper led Vanessa and I to passive-aggresively hide the toilet paper, which didn't seem to matter as that bitch still went in and did her business sans TP, inexplicably.
What? That was just me? Oh.
The long walks on the Promenade, gazing at the breathtaking Lower Manhattan skyline from just across the water in Brooklyn Heights. The drunken nights at the Clark Street bar on the corner of Clark and Henry, where the kamikazes and amaretto sours flowed for the underaged. The 2 train, the 5 train, and the 6 train, all to get to class. The $4 movie theater. Montague Street. The Greasy Pickle diner.
And my Kenneth.
I used to call him that. My Kenneth. A kindred spirit among so many foreign souls. My world had been so small growing up, and though I was loving all of the interesting people I was meeting (for instance, the former ladies' man turned gay occasional cross dresser, Paul), I was struggling to forge friendships with men and women I couldn't understand. I longed for the familiar. Before my Kenneth, I promptly located the familiar in smarmy men (for certainly, they exist in towns both small and large). I broke up with a nice boyfriend at home after falling for a smarmer; really, I had fallen only for common ground. In an environment rife with theater majors and transvestites, for a solid week or two, I felt as if Smarmy Man understood me.
Yeah, um, not so much.
Psychoanalysist HomeValley says in hindsight: I was desperate for the comfort of a relationship to fill the void.
When all along, I just needed a Kenneth.
Kenny appeared in my life instantaneously: one minute he was not there; the next, we were BFF. I had seen him at school and marveled that he was cute with his short, curly blonde hair and blue eyes. During the second semester, he moved into my Brooklyn dorm. He was living with his fellow high school alum Paul, and was completely at ease rooming with a gay man. ("I told him he'd be fine, just to sleep with his ass against the wall," Paul later told Vanessa and me.)
A bunch of us went out to the Pickle for breakfast one weekend morning, a smorgasbord of sexual orientations and backgrounds. When Kenny learned I was from Pennsylvania, he noted that his girlfriend was also from the state.
A beautiful, platonic, short-lived relationship ensued. Which, you understand, was precisely what the doctor ordered for Freshman HomeValley, in all of her glorious bobbed hair and naivete.
My Kenneth and I hung out. That's it, really. We spent time together talking and laughing, and he remained happy with his PA girlfriend, who I met a few times. If he was trekking to see her for a weekend, he would give me a ride home.
I have one picture of us together taken during our freshman year. We're sitting on my bed, in front of the wall adorned with Matt Damon clippings from magazines. And we're smiling. I am beaming. I am utterly at ease with Kenny.
The next year, K and I both left Marymount. While I was at Pace University, he was living at home in Long Island. Occasionally, he and his cousin Thomas would come to pick me up and take me there, where we would just hang out. That's it, really. Then, sometime near the end of my sophomore year, our friendship had run its course. Kenny left my life the same way he entered: abruptly. There was no reason for it; we just drifted, until one day I woke up and it was 2002, and I realized I hadn't spoken to Kenny in years.
In true HomeValley style, I called him one night after draining a bottle of vino at my apartment. I learned, via his mother, that he done grew up and got married at 22! And not to his PA lady friend. Another girl. "Wow," I marveled to Mom of Ken. "Well, tell him Melissa says 'hello'!"
This is the point in the story where I would normally wax poetic about the nature of relationships: how some are fleeting, some are forever, but all leave an indelible mark. Our time as BFF was meaningful albeit brief, and with the clarity of years passed I can understand its significance.
But Christ, y'all, I hadn't even considered its significance until composing this post. Because today? Seven years later? My Kenneth? My goddamned motherfucking Kenneth was in the lobby of a Stamford, CT, hotel, at the same motherfucking time as me.
I was waiting for an appointment, when he breezed past me and sat at the table next to mine. Our eyes locked for a moment, and then I looked away and went back to typing emails. Of course I didn't recognize him. I am hopelessly oblivious to my surroundings most of the time.
But then, I overheard him introduce himself to the man he was meeting in that lobby and my mouth fell open. And lo - that man ran back to his room to change clothes, and I yelled Kenneth's full name and beamed.
He jumped up to give me a giant hug as he said, "I thought that was you! That's why I looked at you!"
For the record, we both look exactly the same (well, no more bob for HV). We are both just oblivious nerds.
We played the catch-up game, which was lovely. Married! Buying a house! Two kids!
He gave me his card, and though I was unable to reciprocate (what - you are surprised to learn I never remember to bring cards anywhere?), I am not sure I will contact him. Our time has passed. Still, how wonderful to see him once more, and to learn that he is happy. He seems truly happy. Go, BFF. Go forth and prosper and be ridiculously contented always.
That is what I wish for you, my semester-long soulmate.