Alison loved the color blue.
She loved irises, her cat Tigger, writing, music, acting, dancing, Sylvia Plath, order and neatness. She loved soothing candles and homemade soup that she’d make with specific friends in mind to show them she cared.
She tucked in her shirts. She wrote thank you notes on thick stationery. She tied delicate blue ribbon to all of her gifts.
We’d escape often to the music department, hiding out in the piano practice rooms where we’d sing Tori and Secret Garden and forget that we had papers to write and books to read. We’d dress up and go to The Kennedy Center, drive to Baltimore for shows at the Lyric, shower in adjoining stalls so that our obnoxiously public singing could include harmonizing.
We sat outside, reading in the dark, watching for falling stars.
We laid awake at night and wondered about the existence of a forever.
We planned our semesters abroad, ate Ramen, talked about sometimes hating our parents.
We decorated our room for the holidays. And ourselves, without any embarrassment or irony, unapologetically joyful.
When Alison laughed, she often looked down and away. She sometimes hid her face behind her hand. When she walked, there was a lilt to her gait, part nervous energy, part condition in one of her legs, and she always looked at the ground as she got from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
When I took her home to Pennsylvania to meet my family, she didn’t once call us rednecks. We are. Instead she played with my cousin and shook my grandfather’s hand and sat next to me in her blue top and her pleated khakis and her perfectly matching belt and we played on the swings as if life was and always would be easy.
Some days with Alison were dark. Angry poetry. Foreboding music. Other days didn’t seem to end, tap dancing on the tile floor of the laundry room in the middle of the night.
She got a summer job at Barnes and Noble learning how to make mock-worthy drinks that included the word frappe, and there she met a man – a real, grown, not college boy man – who snipped out and brought her articles related to the books he saw her reading on her breaks. On their first date, he caught his pants on a nail and they tore. She wrapped her sweater around his waist. They fell in love. She dared me to kiss a new boy for every night she spent away from me with him. I obliged.
When I pledged a sorority, becoming a member of the tribe we passionately hated, she supported me. In return, I rushed her, putting ridiculous signs covered in stickers on her side of the room. When I kissed a very special boy for the first time, I called the neighbor of her homestay in Chile and said, “American, please.” I waited for the person on the other end to walk next door, and when I heard the voice I wanted to hear a few minutes later I said, “You will NEVER believe who I kissed this time.” “Was it Jason?” “How did you know?” “Of course it was Jason. That was just a matter of time.”
Her dark days eventually became darker. They lasted longer. I lived in London and we wrote often, her iris stationery always a comfort, but I had no idea. I didn’t understand.
The days that wouldn’t end tormented and exhausted her.
We stayed friends. We grew apart. We attended each other’s weddings, me in my dress with the blue velvet trim at hers, her looking tiny and frail and holding the hand of her husband at mine. I just had no idea.
She emailed me in October of 2003. I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Emma. She said she had to talk to me about something, and I wrote back yes, soon, please! And are you pregnant?? I apologized for being hard to talk to right now. I spent my days in pain, either working or sick or sleeping. I spent my weekends in the ER. I never spoke to her.
The last week in October, Alison took her life. Her husband emailed and asked me to call him. I slipped away to a work room during my free first period and heard him say that this time there was no stopping it. This is what she wanted. She had been tormented long enough. She was gone.
On November 1st I sat in the back pew of a church, clinging to Jason’s hand, crying as I listened to Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue playing through the cold, stark building. I hugged her mother and accepted her congratulations on my pregnancy. I walked around and looked at the pictures of us together. I nodded when I was reminded how much I meant to her.
I was a horrible friend in her illness. I didn’t slow down and listen. Her mania exhausted me. Her depression scared me as I battled my own depression and anxiety. She was the friend I dreamed about while surviving small town days when I felt hopelessly alone. I loved my Alison. I still do.