Today is August 25th, 1974. It is a Sunday. I have been unpacking my stuff in my dorm room since around 1:45. I am a freshman, awaiting the arrival of a roommate who I know nothing about except his name and his hometown. His name is ...
"Chris," he said as he extended his hand. "You must be Joe. It's nice to meet you."
Gee, imagine that; meeting a fellow college student who has some common courtesy. I figured I'd be stuck with "Rocco the Magnificent" for at least the first year. I had not known anyone coming to this same school so I did not pick my own roommate. My fear was that he'd come in, throw his stuff all over the room, and take off, immediately knowing that I wasn't going to be his type of roommate, finding me bearable, barely, until the school year ended.
"Are you up to helping me unload my car so I can move it? I'm not in a legal spot."
"Yeah, sure. I'm glad you said 'car' and not moving van, " I said with a laugh.
"No, don't worry. I don't have a lot of stuff. My brother would take my room at home if I brought everything."
We unload his car in four trips and then he moved it to the freshman designated parking area.
"Wow, did you see that '68 Camaro in the lot?" he said when he came back to our room. "Lucky freshman; wonder if daddy spoiled him with that?"
"Nope, daddy didn't spoil me with that. I had to bust my nuts to afford it."
He was instantly red and embarrassed. "Well, that'll teach me to shoot off my mouth, won't it?"
"Well, for today at least. But the school year is young."
He lowered his head. "Sorry."
"Hey, don't sweat it." I patted him on his back. "I don't suspect you're the mouthy type anyway. Help me finish up my stuff, and then I'll help you."
Chris was wearing a dark green Boston Celtics T-shirt, blue jeans, white socks, and work boots. I was wearing a navy blue Boston Redsox T-shirt, blue jeans, white socks, and Nikes. He carried himself well. He looked like he had just stepped out of the country. Our backgrounds were similar. His family owned a hardware store out in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I was from a dairy farm in the northern part of NH, three hours from college.
He helped me get my clothes from boxes into a footlocker that I had bought earlier today, put the rest of my clothes onto hangers, and then make my bed. I helped him put his clothes away, make his bed, and hook up the receiver and turntable that he'd bought. I looked at his album collection -- James Taylor, Billy Joel, and Chicago for starters. Thank God I wouldn't be listening to metal for the rest of my college life, except outside our door, scattered throughout the dorm. He tuned his stereo in to see if he could pick up his favorite Boston radio station. Cool, clear as a bell. The same station was on my car stereo. I liked him already, and told him so.
"Nothing too complicated about me, you'll see. I like simple things. I don't know how long my life will be, but at 17, I don't want to be wasting it on stupid stuff."
"I hear that. Seventeen? Jeez, you an early bloomer?"
"No, a late year baby. I'll be 18 in December, on the 5th"
"I got nine months on you. I'll be 19 in March, on the 9th"
"You were being born while my folks were just messing around. Looks like we got a lot in common except our age, but that's close enough. Hope that doesn't mean I have to look up to you, though."
"Well, I'm afraid it does. I'm an inch taller than you are. Sorry."
"Aw jeez, the burdens of a college freshman. Okay, I can take it if you can."
And there was born friendship on this warm August afternoon, friends from common roots that we planted to see us forward. Over the next few days, we discovered even more how we were alike. Pizza was my favorite food; his too. Star Trek was my favorite TV show; his too. Basketball was my favorite sport; his too. Soccer was second; his too, and neither one of us were too crazy about football. Fall was my favorite season; his too. For the same reason -- it was just before winter, which meant skiing. He was into downhill while I was into cross-country. I ran. He did too.
We took a break for supper and ate our first meal together in the student union, sitting with a couple other guys from our wing. One was Brad, from Connecticut, and the other was Matt, from New Jersey. We discovered that they too had signed up to play basketball later in the fall. Matt was going to play soccer as well. Brad had to work a full-time job so basketball would be his only diversion.
We walked around the quad after supper. The sky was somewhat washed out from here, because of the lights.
"I need to find a nice quiet place to look at the night sky," I said, looking at the heavens. "On my dad's farm, I could see the Milky Way. Can't even see most of the major constellations from here."
"Cool idea. I've spent summer nights lying in a field near my house, sometimes with my brother Eric, watching the meteor showers. I think I'm going to miss that here." "Maybe not; I think we can find a place, depending on how far you want to go to see the night sky."
"I'm game for whatever we can find. Every now and then, it'll be nice to get away from the hubbub."
The dorm was rowdy when we got back, speaking of hubbub. Chris turned on his stereo and we settled onto our beds to listen to the music, making comments about what we liked and didn't. Seems like we haven't stopped talking since we met this afternoon. Seven hours into four years and I already knew a lot about him. I hoped we didn't run out of things to talk about.
I grabbed my tube of toothpaste a while later and went to the bathroom to clean up. He went after I came back. I was pulling off my jeans and socks when he came in. He closed the door. When he took off his T-shirt, the muscles on his back rippled. He slipped off his jeans and socks and got into bed. We talked about baseball and a little while later, he found that he was talking to himself. I'd fallen into a restful sleep.
This was orientation week. Class would start next week, on Wednesday. I was awake at 6:30, later than my usual, thankfully. There were no more 5:00 a.m. risings for the cows, except when I was home on vacation. Chris was still sleeping when I sat on the floor to start my warm up. About halfway into my routine, he woke.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Going running."
"No sweat. With 8:00 classes, I'm going to have to get used to getting up sooner than that. I'll catch up to you if you're leaving now."
"No, I'll wait for you. I'm a little stiff since I haven't run in a week. I need a few more minutes."
He sat on the floor and stretched, then leaned against the wall and stretched his hamstrings. He slid on his running shorts and after ten minutes for him and fifteen for me, we were ready to head out. He pinned our room key to his inside of his shorts.
We didn't know this area yet, so we were going to have to map out a course. We wanted a mix of hills and flats, so we planned on mapping out at least two courses. My usual was twelve miles; his was eight, but he said he'd run the twelve if he could.
On the first day out, we ran ten, knowing that the campus was five miles north of downtown. It was mostly hills. He did the ten quite well, just a couple minutes behind me. He met up with me at the main gate to campus. I'd clocked my ten at around 62 minutes.
Chris and I walked from the main gate to our dorm, about half a mile away. We did cool down stretches in the lounge at the end of the hall and then went to our room to grab towels for the shower. At 7:30, only one other shower was in use, of the four we had.
By eight we were sitting with OJ and a doughnut, which we split, in our morning orientation drill. We still had some paperwork to get out of the way. At 11:00, I was sitting with the MIS department head, working out a schedule for my tutoring, mostly of freshmen. I also had an interview on Friday with the owner of a local gas station, and on Sunday with a local restaurant.
Chris had to go to the library to work out his schedule as well. I was kinda glad that he was paying for part of his way, too. It meant, at least I thought that way, that he'd take it a little more seriously if he had to fork out bucks too. I didn't want to spend four years just partying it away, though I was as social as anyone was. Chris' dad paid 1/2 his way, while mine couldn't afford more than occasional pocket money for me. I knew I'd have to work, even two years ago when I started planning, so it didn't bother me and I finally convinced my dad that it should not bother him.
Around 2:00 we caught up again, and went for a walk around campus. We wandered down over a set of long paths that led down to the river. From the top of the ridge to the bottom river edge, it was a ten-minute walk. It was an unbelievably quiet sanctuary, away from the noise of campus. The source of the river was eighty or so miles to the northeast. Today we saw a mamma duck and four little ones, swimming in a row. I'll have to bring bread next time, I thought.
There weren't going to be that many days for us to sit here in the afternoon. Class would soon keep us busy, as would work. We sat here in the quiet, hardly talking, nodding our heads occasionally at silent agreement of our enjoyment of the moment. There was nothing else to draw us away today, so we sat and watched the sun set, having spent about five hours together in this spot. Was he always going to be like this? I hoped so.
We had dinner, walked afterward, and listened to his stereo while we read our favorite novels (mysteries for me; science fiction for him). Bedtime prep routine, then talking past "lights out". We were like schoolboys at summer camp. We sure enjoyed the other's company.
On Tuesday, we drove around the area and mapped out three different running routes. The first was six miles exactly from campus, with a stone marker being our turnaround point. The second was the downtown route we had run yesterday morning. It was 10.5 miles round trip, the more hilly of the two so far. A third route was an eight-mile medium terrain route, and ran in a large loop, for those days when we could not or did not want to run twelve miles.
After the morning orientation routine, we went out to the mall for lunch and to window shop. My bank account had about $500 in it, but most was on reserve to pay first semester bills. I was also waiting for a scholarship of $1000 from the state farmer's association to come in. Chris' dad had given him $100 spending money until his first check from work-study came in. I bought us lunch for $7 and change; big spender.
We waited until an hour from sunset and then went to a ridge above the river to watch the sun go down. The full moon was already past, but we could at least try to see more of the stars later. We lucked out with the sunset. It was bright and orange/red, a hot flame on the horizon as far as we could see, reflecting off the water on the river below. Neither of us had a camera yet, so the vision would have to be saved in our memory. I was lucky to have a cool new friend to share this will, because alone it would not have meant half as much.
Over the next half-hour, the horizon turned purple and then black. The evening stars were the brightest objects to be seen. I told myself I needed to know which planets were out there, though it's likely Jupiter was one because of its immense size. Chris and I sat and watched some of the familiar constellations appear. The crickets started their nightly chorus, with a couple of frogs here and there. Our small New England college campus seemed to be a million miles away. Chris and I sat and enjoyed each other's company as we enjoyed the night symphony.
It was past 11:00 by the time we went back to our room. We brushed our teeth in the steamy bathroom. One of the guys liked a late evening hot shower, so around 11:00, the bathroom was always sauna-like. I was back in our room first, stripping out of my jeans and socks when Chris came back in.
"Nice butt," he commented with a sly smile. My briefs hugged my butt, and of course I wasn't shy about being in my underwear, or naked for that matter, with Chris. Sports tended to relieve some of the shyness around guys.
"Glad you appreciate it. Let's see yours, since you're checking mine out." I winked at him.
He took his jeans off and purposely bent over to take his socks off, taking his time. His humor and sense of timing was priceless. He was not modest either.
"What two fine young hunks we are, huh?", I said as I giggled at him.
"Yeah, we are that," he smiled. "I hope someone appreciates us some day, even when we're not so young any more."
"Are you kidding, Mr. Baby Face? You'll be young forever. You get carded in bars, don't you?"
"Yeah. I kinda like it though."
Chris admittedly had a very handsome face, and his blue eyes were amazing. You couldn't look at him and not be drawn right to his eyes. I wasn't really kidding much with the "Mr. Baby Face" joke either; he had an incredibly boyish face.
I didn't have a baby face, but I could hold my own in the looks department. My eyes are hazel and probably my best feature. Both my folks had brown eyes. My brother and two sisters have brown eyes. Mom joked that I belonged to the milkman (well, I did belong to the milkman).
We lay in our beds and talked again. This time, he fell asleep before I did. I lay there, with the light still on for a few minutes, and watched him sleep. He lay on his side, facing me, his arm under his head. His blond hair fell across his forehead. He did not snore or make other noises in his sleep. I was a light sleeper, dreaming all night long, and waking to most any noise. He slept deeply and contently. I used to watch my brother Brad sleep, too. People were different when they slept.
I finally turned off the light and listened as his deep breathing lulled me to sleep. I felt strong comfort in our new friendship. He was special, but I couldn't tell you what that meant. The feeling came from inside me, very deep. I felt it for the first time while I watched him sleep that night.
I'd not thought much about being attracted to guys, but if I ever were, it could be to someone like Chris.
In the morning, we slipped out of our briefs, into our jocks and running shorts. Mine were red nylon, Nike, with a white running top. Chris too wore a white top with shiny blue Adidas shorts.
There was a 10K-race coming up in Boston in October. Chris was deciding whether he wanted to enter. I already made up my mind I would. To run on Cape Cod was not an opportunity I would pass up. This would be my second race ever. The first was in Maine, along the coastal terrain. I don't know where I finished in the pack, but my time was just under 42 minutes.
Today, since it was raining, we decided to run the eight-mile course. Weather rarely stopped me entirely, but running in the rain, especially on pavement, was hard to get used to. When I was on my dad's farm, I would run in any condition except ice. I had 500 acres to run on. Since my college was north of a larger city, unlike my country-bumpkin lifestyle, many things would take getting used to. City running was entirely different than country roads or open farm pastures with rolling hills. For the most part, our running would be on secondary roads to the north and east of the city limits.
We kept a steady pace with each other today, settling into this twin rhythm that we did not break until we got back to the main gate. The whole eight miles had been run as if we were one body. He found my rhythm and mimicked it. I'd looked at him two or three times during the run, but he was concentrating. He was an amazing man, and single-minded. Our time was fifty-seven minutes and a few seconds. We kept a steady seven-minute mile pace, despite the hills. I wanted to get back my six-minute mile pace if I could.
We showered, changed, had breakfast, and then hung out until our first orientation briefing at 9:30. Chris could start work in the library this afternoon if he wanted to. He decided he would. Even three days extra pay would put a cushion in his pocket money.
I headed back to the dorm while Chris worked. I settled onto my bed with the collection of short mysteries I was reading. I left the door open. Someone would eventually pop his head in and see what I was up to. I got involved in a backgammon game in the lounge for a while, and then in some Nerf football in the hallway. It surprised me how much rug burns really hurt. It made me glad I was wearing jeans instead of shorts. I ripped up my elbows and arms. When Chris saw them later, he asked me who beat me up and was surprised to find they were primarily self-inflicted. The rug burn on my chin was from being tackled.
The rain had become torrential, so we waited for a break before going down to dinner. When it slowed up a bit, we ventured out, still ending up more wet than dry by the time we sat down to eat. Hardly anyone was out tonight. Night classes had not started yet either, so the campus was quiet. We took our time in walking back to the dorm from dinner. Walking in the rain was peaceful. We were already wet, so being wetter wasn't a big deal. The lights around the quad reflected off the slick pavement, the round globes of blue/white light spreading across the ground.
We walked up, down, and around every footpath we could. The campus covered about 200 acres, mostly tree-lined and neatly landscaped. I looked at him and he looked at me, acknowledging that he liked the peace and quiet, knowing it would not last long. Within a week, the campus would be crawling with night students, adding to the chaos of the day to day life here. Small did not mean quiet. But it was still better than being on the large campuses, lost in a sea of bodies unknown.
In the dorm, we got involved in an impromptu dance-riot in the hallway. Music came from every room and very little of it was the same. The music became noise as everyone tried to outdo his fellow suitemates. The air was filled with laughter and hollering, bad singing and great promise of future rock stars, and of partying at its best. We lasted until 1:00 a.m., decidedly partied out. This may have been the first dorm blowout, but it would not be the last, thankfully.
We got lost in the flow of days, due to lack of a routine with classes. We got up early despite the late bedtime. We ran the twelve-mile course, and had an early breakfast. No orientation routine today, so the whole day was ours. We decided that this would be a day in Boston. I drove. It was just about an hour later that we were parking in Government Center to start playing tourist. Neither of us knew Boston well. This was my first time here in about 18 months. Chris was here occasionally for Celtics, Bruins, or Red Sox games. So we grabbed a tourist street map and walked.
Government Center itself was quite an attraction. Boston's City Hall looked like some modern Incan Indian complex rising out of the brick. Behind it was what became one of our favorite places in all of Boston; Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. It was an area of converted warehouses made into shops and eateries built around a long main building with a domed center. We decided that we would have dinner here at day's end, so we decided to move on.
The day was bright and sunny. Water; we wanted to see water, so we navigated around Congress Street to Tremont Street until we came to Boston Common, to the Public Garden, then over Beacon Hill and to the Charles River. Sailboats and crew teams embraced the river. Across the sun-sparkled water, we could see parts of MIT. Cambridge would be a separate trip in itself. We couldn't possibly see everything today. So, the river and Back Bay were our focus.
We sat on a strip of grass between the paved walkway and the river's edge. Ducks swam by. Runners, cyclists, and roller skaters went by in a blur. Sometimes one or the other gave little room to their peers so cursing was a likely side effect. Can you just play nice? Don't you know how short our time is? There's no room for the stupid stuff. Chris lay down. I moved down so that my head was beside his, our bodies in opposite directions. We talked and told jokes and laughed.
A week ago we barely knew the other existed. Today we were forming a bond that would, with luck maybe, last all our lives. The friendship was easy and comfortable. No sign of running out of things to talk about yet.
The sun wrapped us up in its warmth. I opened my shirt, took off my sneakers and socks, and let the heat hit my chest and bare legs. Chris pulled his T-shirt off and lay on it, then pulled off his sneakers and socks as well. People glanced at us as they walked by. Don't know what they were thinking, but I didn't care either, unless it was good thoughts. The warmth of the sun encouraged me to drift off for awhile. When I woke a while later, Chris was watching me.
"What?" I asked quietly.
"You feel asleep as soon as your head lay back on the ground. You've been out for an hour. I just watched you. No reason, really."
"Funny, but I watched you when you fell asleep a couple nights ago. I used to do that with my brother, too. Kinda cool watching someone sleep and wondering what they are dreaming about."
"Yeah, I know. What were you dreaming about?"
"Home -- the sunrise over my dad's property. Felt like I was just there a couple minutes ago."
"Yeah, a little. But I'm also excited about school. I'm antsy for classes to start. How about you -- what do you dream about?"
"Everything and anything. Sometimes the images stay for days, and other times, they are so fleeting that I can't see them except in the moment."
We put our clothes back on and walked further west, down to Mass. Ave. We walked up Beacon Street, looking at the brownstones and different entrances to the buildings. At Arlington Street we went down one block and then turned west on Marlborough Street. Back at Mass. Ave. we turned the next block onto Commonwealth Ave. and walked up the middle between the two divided portions of the street. Back at Arlington, we turned the next corner and walked west past all the shops that we couldn't afford to shop in on Newbury Street. From there, we walked around the Prudential Center and over to the Christian Science Center. Back to the Pru, we headed toward the Boston Public Library, then on to Copley Square and to the Hancock Tower. We sat on the stone steps at Trinity Church, reflected in the shiny blue glass of the new tower, old against new.
Hunger was setting in, so we made our way, via winding streets, back to the edge of the Theater District and to Tremont Street then down to Government Center, were we'd started. We went to a restaurant near the dome, in the center of the main building in Quincy Market. We had dinner crepes and then shared a dessert crepe covered in ice cream and chocolate. Perfect ending to a day spent wandering the big city, and not feeling out of place in the least. Boston was going to be THE place to explore over the coming four years of college, with even slight hopes of working here one day. Chris wasn't sure about working in a city. But, considering it was Boston, he'd give it some serious consideration.
At 10:30, we were turning into the main gate of our campus. What a great day this had been. By 11:30 I was sound asleep, comforted by the warm fresh air in my lungs. Well, fresh was relative at this point; it wasn't NH country air, but it was outside and in warmth anyway.
I did not wake at 6:30 to run the next morning. I awoke once at dawn, still in darkness, and fell back asleep until almost 10:00. It felt good to do that, although I hadn't done so in longer than I could remember. I told myself that I couldn't get used to doing that because classes were at 8:00 and I was paying for them. Guess who did not get up to run either, and was still sleeping even when I woke up? Must be nice -- I threw my running shorts at him and told him to get his lazy butt out of bed.
"No way, Jose. Classes don't start today. Go away."
"Okay Mr. Ryhmin' Simon ..."
"Huh?" I mocked. "Go back to sleep you yutz."
I ate breakfast alone. Next time I'll be insistent in getting him up because I hate eating alone. I was really liking this roommate thing though; someone to talk to at the end of classes or work, someone to build a friendship with, and someone to share common interests with. Nice. Chris was so like me though that sometimes it scared me. He'd be thinking about something and I'd finish his sentence, remarking that I was just thinking of the same thing. We liked and disliked many of the same things. Silence was comfortable when we finally did shut up. Our friends began to think we shared a brain. One of them would see Chris in the hallway, say something and then walk on. Then they'd see me a couple hours later, we'd have almost an identical conversation, and they'd look at me like I had two heads. It took me a long time to figure out why they always looked at me that way. Or Chris would get the weird look if I were the one that the guys saw first.
"Why do they do that?"
"Because we're practically twins. What did you talk about to Brian today at lunch?"
"The Celtics and running. Why? What did you talk about?"
"The Celtics and running."
"Stop doing that! They'll think we're aliens or something!"
"I didn't do it on purpose. You started it anyway."
"What were you thinking about when you were walking back from the library?" he asked.
"You don't want to know," I said.
"Come on. What?"
"Taking my car out tomorrow and getting the oil changed."
He bowed his head as he sat on the edge of his bed, shaking it slowly. "You scare me."
"I scare me, too."
"So what time you taking yours in?"
"About 9:00. After we run and shower, and have breakfast."
He took his notebook out of his backpack and handed it to me. It said "Oil change -- 9:00 appt."
"Welcome to the Twilight Zone. Do not adjust your life -- we have taken control. Do do do do do do ... "
We laughed at each other. One brain, for better or for worse.
On Saturday, we ran as usual at 6:45. Then we went hiking together with two other suitemates. The day was warm so we took my car and put the top down. We drove west for about an hour before picking exactly where we wanted to hike. We helped each other with backpacks and headed up the side of a steep, rocky trail. When we strayed from the beaten path, we used markers to find our way back later. At mid-day we sat on a large rock formation high on a ridge, watching the wildlife as we ate our subs.
At sunset, Chris and I sat on our favorite ridge on campus and watched the night overtake our little part of the world. The air and exercise of the day conspired to make us sleepy. It was too long a walk back to our dorm, and probably too noisy considering it was Saturday night, so we lay back and dozed for an hour to refresh ourselves. Crickets, frogs, and an owl in the distance worked magic on our ears as we dozed.
I sat up, staring at the night sky as Chris continued to lie quietly. I suddenly felt a sharpness in my upper chest, instant and harsh, and then it was gone. In a few minutes, Chris awoke with a start.
"What's the matter, friend? What startled you?"
"I dunno. Pain, I think, but I don't feel it now. That was weird."
He was rubbing his upper chest, near his shoulder.
I touched the spot, under his shirt, against his skin. It felt hot, like a fire burning. "There?"
"Strained muscle?" I asked, removing my hand.
"No, deeper than that. Way deeper."
I knew it was deeper. The feeling, however brief, told me the same thing. It wanted my attention, but I didn't know what it was about. I was going to shrug it off, but I couldn't. The thought occupied my mind off and on for several days and then finally moved away, but only into the background, a little out of reach.
In my sleep, I felt heat; not my own. It was detached, and I couldn't even remotely connect it to anything. In the middle of the night, I awoke and rolled over to face Chris' bed. We had put a small nightlight in the corner in case either of us got up late in the night. There was just enough light for me to see him. His eyes were open, and he was staring at me.
"What's up, bud?" I said in a loud whisper.
"I dunno. Just can't seem to sleep. You've been restless too for about two hours. You're tossing and turning a lot."
"Really? I'm having strange dreams, but I can't sort 'em out."
"Me too, same thing. They're too vague."
"Well, try to sleep, man. Maybe it's nothing."
"Okay. You're right."
On Sunday, we slept in a bit. We didn't run today, but we went to the basketball court to shoot hoops in the rain. No one else was out of bed yet, so the court was ours. We went to the student union for a late breakfast.
We felt lazy after that, so we hung out in the dorm all day. We listened to the radio, played backgammon in the lounge, read, sat and shot the bull, and stared out at the rain.
I had an interview at 4:00 at a restaurant across town. It was the type of place where the guys wore white shirts, real bow ties, cummerbunds, and black slacks with a stripe down the side. The women wore mid-length skirts with the same style blouse, and an attractive bow under the collar. Definitely not McDonalds, but not arrogant either. My hours, if I decided to take the job, were from 5:30 p.m. until cleanup was done, probably after 11:00 or 11:30, six nights a week. I liked the owner and he liked me. There were three other waiters from my college here, all sophomores, two male and one female. I could start work on Wednesday if I liked. Monday was Labor Day and the restaurant would be closed. Two uniforms were furnished and cleaning was paid for. The rules were minimal and easy to abide by.
Sunday night found the dorm amazingly quiet. The rain must have mellowed everyone out. Chris and I sat, with the door closed to the world, and talked. He was wondering about something, and it ate at him in little nips.
"Come over here, bud, sit beside me. Let's see if we can figure out what this is. And why we feel it together but don't know anything."
He sat beside me. Our contact had grown to be brotherly over the past couple of days. He continued to amaze each other in our thoughts and our actions. The "one brain" theory seemed to hold up. But we were both troubled.
"Lean forward a sec. I want to see something," I said.
I lifted his shirt and touched the spot that I had last night. I immediately snapped my hand away, as if being burned.
"Jesus ... What's that?"
He looked at me in surprise. He touched his chest, where I had, and felt nothing.
"What did you feel?"
I moved my hand back again, slowly. About three inches from his chest, I felt a dull heat. It was hotter at two inches, and then one inch. I couldn't touch his skin. It was like a burner on high heat. It was almost like a warning to keep my distance. I wasn't supposed to know what it was, and I'd better not snoop around.
We crossed our legs and faced each other. I looked into his face. He stared back at mine, looking past my eyes. The answers lie within somewhere. We wouldn't find anything on the surface. But it would take time, too.
We touched our finger tips together, for a mere second. Something inside me fought against the something in him. While his warned me away from snooping, mine said to stay close.
We got up and both of us went to the bathroom to brush our teeth. Back in our room, we undressed and climbed into our beds. I lay on my side facing his bed. He lay on his side, facing mine.
"So why heat?"
"I don't know. And why do I feel it and you don't?"
"I don't know. Think I should see a doctor?"
"Well, at least the physician who comes to campus once a week. Maybe a simple checkup."
I closed my eyes and fell into a troubled sleep. I dreamt of running; running away, not the running that Chris and I did. Something chased me in dark shadows. When I turned to face it, it ate me whole. All it left was crushed bones on the ground, in a steaming heap.
Monday was Labor Day. We ran early on our twelve-mile route, ate breakfast, played basketball in the gym for three hours, showered, and then walked to the ridge to sit in the sun. The sky was bright and clear. We both took our shirts off so we could continue to tan our chests, back, and legs. After an hour on each side, I put my shirt back on. I was used to being out in the warm sun on my dad's farm, but today I did not wish to fry my skin to a crisp. My legs were okay since they were darker already. Chris put his shirt on after only a half-hour on each side. And already he was a little red. Working in a hardware store did not endear him to the sun.
The sun set in a ball of red haze at the horizon. The sky changed from blue to red/orange, to purple/black, to black. The evening planets shimmered to life, and then the constellations appeared in the blackness. A cool breeze crept up the side of the ridge from the river. It blew his sandy hair across his face and he smoothed it back with his fingers. We got up and walked around campus for an hour more.
Summer was now gone. The warm weather would not last much longer, since this was New Hampshire. The old timers were known to say "There are two seasons here: July and winter". True enough. The warm breezes of summer changed over, almost to match the calendar, to cool fall breezes. The leaves would start their dying process soon. Running in the crisp, foggy morning air would feel great.
Evening gave way to night. Chris and I were in bed by 11:00, talking about everything imaginable before sleep grabbed both of us and pulled us down. We had only one more day before classes started, yet we were still totally undecided about how to spend it. We would decide when the moment arrived. Neither of us seemed to be big on planning ahead because we both knew things changed. Besides, I liked being spontaneous.
We were awake before dawn, like at 3:30 a.m. When I woke, he was lying on his back, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. We didn't know what the weather was outside, but we didn't want to run, at least not yet.
"Let's drive out to the coast and watch the sun come up," he said without looking at me. "I haven't seen a sunrise in months."
Within a half-hour, we were driving east to Portsmouth, ninety minutes from our campus. There were many mornings where I saw the sun come up, being a 5:00 a.m. riser because of my farm chores. But I have not seen the sun rise over the ocean in all my life.
We were not disappointed either. When the sun broke the horizon, it was nearly identical in color to the sunset last night. A thin layer of gray mist hugged the water. The sun seemed huge, at least twice the normal size. Sea gulls squawked endlessly as they floated on the ocean breeze. It was a cool and breezy morning as we stood on the rocks, watching a ritual of nature take place, as it did every morning. Whether it was cloudy or clear, raining or snowing, the sun slipped from the grasp of the eastern horizon each morning. It was up to us to come and find it, and to be amazed. We were amazed. It was a beautiful sight.
And we did not just stand and watch the sun rise. We sat and looked east, talking about what was out there that we might never see except on the maps of the world. We journeyed, in our minds eye, to the coast of Spain, and then on to England, up the coast to Scotland. We traveled east across the mountains of Europe, into Russia and Asia, to Japan, Hawaii, to the California coast, and across the wide expanse of our own country. The journey took us three hours, mostly of speculation because we had never seen it except in pictures.
We walked the beach all morning, up and down the rocky coast. I must have been a seaman in my last life. I was in love with the smell of the salt air, the sound of the seagulls, lighthouses and foghorns, and the sound of the ocean as it arrived on shore.
In the early afternoon, we sat on the outside deck of a local restaurant and ate fried clams. We walked in the fresh air and had ice cream a couple of hours later. We joked and laughed, sometimes about silly stuff and sometimes about plain stuff. We had become the center of each other's worlds. I'd had friendships before, but not like this. We sat on a rocky point, our feet in the cool ocean, talking about that.
"You know Joe, in a weeks time, you've managed to become the closest friend I ever had. I've never shared like this, so quickly and so intensely, with anyone. I didn't come to school with a best friend. I didn't leave more than a small handful of friends back at home, and I don't miss them like I thought I would. You've grown so fast on me."
"Yeah, like a weed," I joked.
"No Joe, I'm not kidding. How can you affect me so quickly and so strongly in nine days?"
"I don't know, bud. Luck? We have a lot in common. But then again, not just a lot -- everything. Like the guys on campus joke; one brain. We're brothers who have been apart for 18 years and suddenly we find each other. I like it, you know. I like it a lot that I'm not homesick like I thought I'd be."
"Yeah, I like it too. I figured that by now I'd be calling home every night to talk to my parents or brother because I'd be lonely. I'm not. I haven't been either since the first hour we met. Nine days, Joe; is that a record or what?"
"Maybe, Chris. I was a little afraid that it might be just because we were afraid of being lonely, so we latched on to each other. But I honestly don't believe that now. It feels like we've known each other for years, not just days.
I put my arm around him as he put his around me, just for a moment. It was a half-hug of friends who appreciated each other. He had a strong character. We fit together like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
Toward day's end, we wanted to see the sun set, as we'd seen its beginnings early this morning. We drove around until we found a ridge with a view. It was harder to find one on the seacoast than in our mountain foothills in the south central part of the state. The sky was filled, miles above the horizon, with pink and gray clouds as the sun touched the western landscape. This was the best one we'd seen all week. As the sky turned purple at the edge, we drove back to campus.
Classes started tomorrow. We would have one at 8:00 together on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The same days, Chris would have one at 2:00 and I'd have one at 3:00. Those were one-hour classes. On Tuesday and Thursday, we had a 9:30 together and a 3:30 together. Those were ninety-minute classes.
In between classes, there would be work. Chris worked in the library from 10:00 to 1:00 and then 3:00 to 5:00 on M/W/F and from 11:00 to 3:00 and Tuesday and Thursday.
I'd work at the local gas station from 10:00 to 2:00 on M/W/F and from 11:30 to 3:00 on Tuesday and Thursday. I held tutoring sessions for fellow freshmen and for evening students from 4:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday, or as needed before my 9:30 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Six nights a week, I also worked in the restaurant, getting home around midnight. While Chris had all evening to study, my study time was from around midnight to about 3:00 a.m. Most mornings, we were up at 6:30 to run. With little deviation, this would be the routine for four years to come. I'd traded my 5:00 a.m. risings for going to bed at 3:00 and rising again a few short hours later. Boy, was I nuts or what?
Well, maybe nuts, but not very different than other students who worked too. At least I wasn't going into medicine with a seven-year commitment. The smugness of being a senior was gone now that I was a freshman again. It had taken four years to climb the ladder of the high school hierarchy; now we were back at ground zero again, a very small cog in a very large wheel.
At 6:30, we were doing warm-up exercises. At 7:45 we were showering and changing and at 8:00, we were in our first class. Oh my, but it was going to be a long four years. This is about the time that I learned not to look so far ahead. The future is out there, I decided, and I'd catch up to it in time. Live in the moment.
"I like that," said Chris.
We sat after the first class in our room. I had to get ready for my first day at the gas station. I was changing into the shirt with my name on the shoulder with the Mobil logo.
"I was feeling terribly overwhelmed sitting in class. I'm already thinking way ahead and wondering where we'll end up and where we'll get jobs and when we'll get jobs and all that crap that just became too much to think about. So now I want to live in the moment and make sure I don't miss anything."
"No, Joe, you'll never miss anything. You're smarter than you give yourself credit for. You have the right idea, though. Reeling it back in a bit is good."
We walked out to my car and then he walked across the campus to the library. I pumped gas for a few dozen cars and learned how to handle the cash register and credit card processing. In between customers, I helped with the fall inventory. In four hours, I got very dirty and smelly.
Chris said my "scent" curled his hair and I should waste no time getting a nice hot shower so his eyes could stop watering.
"Sure, work hard to bring home money to support the family and that's the shit I get. "
"Yeah, but I love you anyway. Now go away."
I giggled at myself in the shower. And there was no such thing as a nice hot shower at 2:00 in the afternoon. It was piss-warm at best. Chris made me giggle. I shook my head thinking about his minor abuse. I knew by now that I couldn't take the man seriously.
Chris had left for his 2:00 and I decided to use the time before my 3:00 to look at the syllabus from our morning class. It sounded like a good class. In high school, I'd maintained a B average throughout four years, and I had graduated ninth of 52 in June. I'd be content enough to pulls B's here, too. Chris, too, was "an average student" as he put it. There was nothing average about the man as far as I could see.
At 5:00, I was changing into my uniform for the restaurant.
"Wow, cool uniform. You look great," Chris said as I adjusted my bow tie.
"I'm nervous as hell. What if I spill soup or coffee? What if I screw up an order? What ... "
"Then your ass gets fired."
"Okay, thanks for THAT little bit of encouragement. Keep a light burning for me, then, I may be home early."
"Don't sweat it. You'll make a great waiter. Relax, bud."
Deep breath; a little courage gathering; another deep breath; and off to work.
I had a "coach" for the evening to help show me around. She stood back and encouraged at the same time, helping me when necessary. Within an hour of starting, I was pouring water into water goblets, taking orders for meals, placing orders in the kitchen and, surprisingly, delivering them to the proper patron. I reeled off the soups of the day from memory, filled coffee cups, timed my service of appetizers to entrees and made myself scarce when not needed. Several patrons told the owner that I was courteous and a nice addition to the staff. He'd watched me off and on, not like Big Brother, but like a man who cared about his business and his staff.
The evening flew by in the blink of an eye. I had not done any of the things I was nervous about. I thoroughly liked the environment of the restaurant, the other staff, the boss, and the patrons who treated me like an old hand, not a newbie.
When I got to back to campus, Chris was awake, barely, to find out how I'd done. It was 12:15 and I was tired, but relieved. I took a wad of money out of my pocket and counted $62 in tips.
"In six hours, or less?" asked Chris.
"Actually in four and a half."
"Cool. You can buy dinner."
"No... I can buy books for classes. Stop teasing me. You know why I'm working."
He smiled and fell asleep a few minutes later. I went to the bathroom to wash up and brush my teeth. When I came back into the room, I sat on the edge of my bed and stared at him. He slept peacefully. On a whim, I went over to him and put my hand near his chest. The heat was evident from a couple inches away. I stopped, then sat back on the edge of my bed.
Thursday and Friday flew in a daze. Classes and work shoved one hour close to the next, with little room to breathe. I did not see Chris until past midnight on Friday, when I got home from work. He was asleep on his bed, his marketing textbook laying open on his chest. I picked it up and marked the page, then put it on his desk with his notebook.
I watched him for a few minutes. He slept soundly and peacefully. His face moved me. I've developed a strong bond with him in so short at time that I had to question why. But I didn't know why. We were tight, just because. Who am I to question friendship when I hardly had anyone even remotely as close to me. My best friend from high school was a great friend, but he didn't make me feel anything like Chris did. I realized I was standing at the door, my hand wrapped around the door knob as I stared at Chris.
I once again went to the bathroom to clean up. When I came back, he was still sleeping quietly. I pulled off his sneakers then took a spare blanket out of my footlocker and covered him with it. It was compulsive, bordering on obsessive, but I had to touch his chest again. The heat was strong, not stronger, but as strong. What in the hell was the problem? It pulled at me like nothing I'd ever felt. It dared me to understand it. I did not. It dared me to come closer, so it would burn me and make me back off. I would not, to either. He did not feel it. Why then could I?
I did not have to be at the restaurant until 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, so Chris and I drove to the coast, north of Boston, to a village called Rockport. We arrived as the sun rose, early and on a perfectly clear day. We'd left NH in a slight drizzle, wondering it if was the same on the coast, over an hour away. To see the sun rise, reflected in the waters of the Atlantic, made us feel blessed. Not a soul was around, no one else to witness this spectacle. Then Nature's show was for us alone. Chris smiled at me as the sun sparkled in his eyes. There was a chill in the air, soon to be warmed by Old Sol. I had not yet shaken my urgings to rise at dawn. For the past few hours I had not slept anyway, except for moments of unconsciousness. My dreams were disturbing, nonsensical, even irritating. They kept me from sleeping soundly. It was as if I stood on the edge of something, watching a storm brew on the horizon, too dark and scary to run away from because it would eat me up regardless.
We walked on the rocks, the incoming tide spraying onto our boots. There were dry socks and sneakers in the car. Once wet, we were careful not to slide on the rocks, but we walked as far north as we could before taking a break. I felt like I was on the edge of the world from this far eastern point of land sliding into the vastness of the Atlantic.
The sunrise was now two hours past as we sought out a place for breakfast. We found a diner a little inland and had pancakes with fresh syrup, a bottomless pot of coffee, and a danish to finish us off until dinner tonight.
We went back to the water's edge to walk, this time south along the coast. We ended up in Gloucester, 9 miles away. We hadn't realized we were so far. The day was still young, and we had all afternoon in which to explore, but he had to joke around anyway.
"So, when you walk back to pick up the car, I'll be here waiting for you. I promise I won't move from this spot," he said with a smirk.
"Gee, I was sorta hoping YOU'D get the car. Guess it's both of us then. I wouldn't want you sitting here by yourself for a couple hours."
He pouted, comically. It didn't help. We walked around the fishing boats and the piers of this small village. Summer tourists would swell the population to well over 70,000, but it was now off-season and all was quiet and peaceful. The statue of the fisherman at the edge of the ocean was wondrous. "They that go down to the sea in ships... " was carved into the base, as a memorial to seafaring men.
By 2:30 we'd had a full day so we followed the coast back to Rockport, stepping on every possible rock we could. In the car, we changed into dry socks and sneakers. Our boots couldn't have been any wetter. The sun stood high in the sky as we drove west and then north into New Hampshire.
By 4:00, we were back on campus and I was in the shower, getting ready for work. Chris was going out later with a few of the guys. Sure, I get to work all night and he goes out with the guys. As far as I could see ahead, which I really hate doing by the way, I could not see a Saturday night where I was going to go out with the guys. Work, work, and more work. However, it beat being kicked out of school for financial insolvency. And if I had to admit it, I'd tell you that I really liked my job at the restaurant. By the end of Saturday night, my bank account would have $400+ that it didn't have at the beginning of the week.
Saturday evening was a rush. I had a few dozen customers. Soups, salads, teas, coffees, entrees of seafood, steak, chicken, grilled, baked, broiled, steamed, table to table to table. It became one large blur by 11:30 when I put the final check on the final table. And I left the restaurant with $150 or so in my pocket.
Chris was dozing when I came in. He heard me.
"Sorry, bud, didn't mean to wake you."
"No sweat. I wanted to say hi. It's been a good evening, but I kinda missed you when we were out. I hope that doesn't sound stupid."
"Nope, it sounds like something I like to hear. I thought about you a couple times, hoping you were enjoying yourself."
"College is cool. I think four years isn't going to be enough. I might have to become a professional student so I can enjoy this a lot longer."
"I hear that. But in my next four years, I'm not working 50 hours a week."
"You do look beat."
"Yeah, but it's a good kinda feeling."
I took my tips out of my pocket and recounted so I could make out my deposit slip.
"This is at least half the reason I'm working, but I like the atmosphere there so much. I like the customers and they've all treated me well. I think a couple of mine were regulars."
"Cool. Regulars tip well, if you treat them right."
"That I can do."
"You calling it a night?"
"Yeah. You want to run in the morning?"
"Yup. More like 8:30 though."
"Yeah. Need my beauty sleep."
"You get any more beautiful and I'll have to hire body guards to watch out for you. You put most everyone else to shame as it is."
"Thanks, bud. Nice to be appreciated. I'm tired; ready to sleep."
"Okay, man. See you in the a.m. Going to wash up."
When I came back, he was zonked cold. It wasn't long before I was sleeping soundly too. The night sounds outside passed by unheard. Clouds passed in front of the half moon. Frogs and crickets sang to no one tonight, or at least to a very small crowd. The light fresh air blew through the window, left very slightly ajar. I pulled my blanket over my shoulders and went unawares.
Life went on daily, nothing too earth-shaking to interrupt the routine. Classes, work, homework, sports, trips to Boston, hiking trips and day trips were as regular as clockwork. Friendships became stronger as time went by. Chris and I laughed and played and worked hard. We enjoyed our time together, alone and with our friends. College life was good enough that I wouldn't miss any of it for any reason.