I thought we were going to make pie.
The building was a 20 story round tower filled with young minds on a quest for knowledge. The rooms were connected together by a common hallway and bathroom in each with four bedrooms that made up a suite. The young men were strangers but soon would share this little nook and become dorm mates, maybe even friends for life. The dorms for most, was young men and women’s first time away from home. It would be a rite of passage into adulthood packed with four years of life changing experiences becoming the best and or the worst of your life.
Move in day was one of the most exciting as a freshman. Everything about life was new. Life was a blank slate of people, experiences and relationships that could be artistically painted with the detail of oil on a canvas or the wisp of a brush as a watercolor impression. It would be up to you how and what relationships you would create in the your newly branded life. The rush to your room to meet your roommate was exhilarating while your heart raced and your stomach tied in knots. I remember the day like yesterday the first person I met and someone I had no idea would be my life-long friend. He was mature, older but only by a year or so as he reminded me. He was a sophomore had a year of experience of student life. Watching out for the new freshmen was part of this guy’s nature. He became so protective of us, we would tease him and say, “Ok Dad we got this!” I guess that why he is a Cop today, it was always about his intuitive need to protect.
The second guy I met was an interesting character. He lived in the other single in our suite and would be the focus of our dorm life our first year of college. He was an odd quirky soul. He was obsessed with the Army. He wore green everything, socks, briefs, undershirts that were all camouflage green. He was my height but strong with a calisthenics muscular frame from his participation in the ROTC on campus.
At first I was scared of him. He barked orders around the suite like a Sargent in the US Army. I sometimes thought he believed he was truly in the Army. He would mask his face with war paints and walk around the polishing his guns wearing his fatigues. It creeped me out sometimes though everyone said he was a harmless sole obsessed with becoming a solider.
One afternoon he pounded on my door and yelled, “Boy is you in there?” Front and center he yelled as he did shouting in Army speak, that had no meaning to me. “March down to the canteen with me I am hungry for snacks.” I needed a break from studying so I said sure. It was always more fun to do stuff with someone than alone so any chance we had all the freshman would find opportunities to hang together. We went to the Emporium. This was the dorm grocery where he proceeded to buy the entire whole bowl of red apples about 2-dozen.
I asked, “Hey why you buying all the apples, are we making pie?”
He did not answer or talk to me all the way back to our dorm room. He slammed the bedroom door closed and did not come out for the next 24 hours. When he did the next day, he was sporting a basket full of apples that had been transformed into what appeared apple bombs complete with a fuse to light, an explosive bound by rubber banded to a homemade pin. Everyone in the suite was laughing as I stared puzzled at what he made.
The apples certainly were not intended to for making pie.
As the semester passed, he became weirder. His behavior was obnoxious almost anxious. When my dorm mates and I would be up all night studying, he would be pacing around the dorm polishing shoes, playing with guns and obsessed with a box full of empty grenades. He was rolling sometimes for days, talking incessantly making no sense. I would sit and listen as though to show interest but I was afraid. Afraid that something was wrong and that he would not hurt me. I had no idea what was happening to him.
Suddenly without warning he introduces to us his new girl friend. A slight, little gal with long straight brown hair and saucer brown eyes stood before me. She was cute and she adored him you could see it in her eyes. Over the next few weeks, their relationship raced intensely as she practically lived in his room. They appeared in love. He talked about her all the time. The dark and green fatigue side of him was gone and this playful, sassy teddy bear of a man emerged from nowhere. Confused by his roller coaster character, I enjoy the new roommate who was fun, sweet and in love. They were syrupy sweet in love, holding hands, making out and inseparable.
She stayed over most nights as time went on. The relationship grew more intimate and louder. There were nights that the thin dorms walls shutter with screams that were either her pain or pleasure. It was hard to distinguish. The cries seemed hurtful, but then again we laughed. He loved to walk around all day naked, dangling himself for the world to see. He clearly got off on making anyone around him uncomfortable. We all laughed and figured the scream was enormous pleasure. Though not a virgin, my experience led me to question her screams.
His behavior started to change to darkness again. She wasn’t sleeping over anymore. He spends day after day in his bed with the door cracked. He never came out, not even for meals. We would knock shouting, “Boy stand at attention!” trying everything we could to get him out of bed. We sort of missed the old guy energized, talking non-stop and never sleeping. Now, he never left his bed. Again, puzzled by his darkness, it was as though someone shut off the power to his body, his mind and his soul.
One day after classes, I raced back to the dorms because now I had become obsessed about him not leaving his bed. When I got there, his bedroom door was open and the bed was empty. I asked around but no one knew where he was. It was good he was out of bed after this 4-day imprisonment. Puzzled I went on to study at the library.
I returned at 9 pm from the library. This was my usual routine, but something was odd when I walked in the front door of the tower. There were no people around like usual. The hallways usually full of students laughing joking around echoed in silence. The sound of the 80’s Alternative Music roaring from the Cabernet was absent. The disco lights were dark and the all that could be heard was the sound of silence.
As I unlocked my room, my dorm mate was home and I was glad. I asked, “What going on here tonight it’s dark and quiet everywhere?” In his fatherly way, he put his hand on my shoulder and said sit down. My heart raced as I awaited what he was going to say, was it my family? Did something happen back home? Where was ROTC Man, why was he not back in his bed captivity sleeping?
I sobbed and the next few days not knowing it would become the most unforgettable life-changing event in my life.
As I lay in bed that night I was going over and over the past few weeks in my head. As I remembered the nights filled with yelling and some when he never actually slept for days. Everyone accepted him as a quirky odd ROTC obsessed sophomore who was flunking out of the University. Then there were the days he spends in bed, alone in the dark. The girlfriend nowhere in sight suggesting that they had broken up and were no longer together.
The story that unfolded the next several days was unbelievable to me. I could not wrap my head around what had happened.
He was siting in her car crying as she confessed that she no longer loved him, there was no future for their relationship. As it turns out, people said she was afraid of him. He hurt endless in their nights of passion, his controlling behavior too much for her young life. He sobbed as pulled a loaded gun from is army backpack and shoved it into his mouth. Students say there was a hush that spread through the dorms as the thunder of gun shoots echoed through the parking structure.
The only truth we heard from girlfriends best friend was that the gun in his mouth when he fired the bullet through his mouth and into his brain.
The next days was strange I felt alone confused by the entire experience? I could share this with no one but my other suit mate, my life long friend. We would grieve together sometimes laughing others spent crying. He lived for several days.
We ventured to the trauma center 12 miles from the dorms it felt like a road trip around the country. The Neuro ICU wouldn’t let us in until he sister showed up at the door. As she approached my heart dropped, She was the mirror imagine of him but will long flowing hair. Her face exactly the same, a slight grin, an east coast accent like she lived in the Bronx. She got us into to see him one last time, with his head wrapped in white bandages appearing the size of picnic watermelon.
He died 24 hours later; he shot himself with one of the guns that had no bullets. He killed himself, took his own life.
No one understood my feelings. Funny, no one questioned me, no police came to our suite, actually not a person in my life asked me, are you ok or I’m sorry you lost your roommate this way.
At class the next day my teaching assistant (TA) said, “You know if you tell your professors that you were his roommate you get out of taking your exams.” You just blame it on stress.
The dorm leader said, “Hey nothing we could do he was crazy, man.”
Some of my friends from the dorms said, “Keep away from that situation it’s not your responsibility.”
Even his father said, “Well this is better, he was troubled his whole life, it’s simply better that he is gone,” as his mother wept in the corner of the ICU.
Immediately I was hushed, shamed for feeling anything about my friend who just violently shot himself through his mouth. Puzzled confused I buried my feelings and thoughts. I did not understand any of it.
We heard his parents were coming on the weekend to pack his things. We worried that what they would find would upset them change their impression of him or criminalize him. We insisted that the dorm lead lets us into his room late the night before his parents visit. We ruffled through his stuff collecting a box of things to hide from the world. I don’t remember the box or the contents. What I do remember is the pledge we made that we would one day burn the contents in his memory. A memory and a box I have lost for a few decades.
I was a freshman in college inspired to understand.