“I’m thin and I have long brown hair,” she told me on the phone. Thus ended the first conversation I had with my two-year college roommate and forever close friend. In fairness, I asked her what she looked like so I’d know her on move-in day into our off-campus apartment for my freshman year and her junior year at the University of Maryland. Really, I wanted to know what she looked like because I wanted to know how much I had to worry about my new-ish boyfriend meeting her (I was 17 at the time…your needs change). The physical description she gave could have been me, but I knew after a few minutes of conversation that this girl from Long Island was in a class by herself. I had the basic information…finished her Associate’s in a community college while living at home and coming to UM to get her Bachelor’s in communications. Boyfriend from high school who was at University of West Virginia. One of nine children. Likes wine. I also knew that she was magical and positive and would be an important person in my life.
I did not meet Joan’s parents when we moved in, although I don’t remember why. We shared a small bedroom in a two bedroom apartment containing four of us in total. We agreed when the boyfriends visited we would be accommodating about privacy. She quickly secured a spot on the campus radio station as a disc jockey and the Long Island accent rarely made an appearance on the radio. She had been of age to get into bars two years before the rest of us and to go out with Joan was to meet new friends and spend the evening dancing and laughing. We shared clothes (in fact we did resemble each other quite a bit during our college years) and confidences, made our own way hours from our homes, shared a car and a love of chocolate, and made memories during and beyond our time at Maryland.
Joan and I met each other’s families along with the families of our other two roommates, and three of the four of us became very close. We relocated without our fourth roommate the following year and Laurie and I decided that Joan should have her own room since she never had before. We were all good students so I am sure we did a lot of studying and working academically as well as in town for tuition money, but the things I remember most are the gloriously fun times. Driving to UWV for a football game and a few parties. Watching Joan dance with her feet skipping and her hands rolling around each other (it was the eighties). The parties we threw and attended with friends. The weekends at Joan’s brother’s condo in the Hamptons. The adventures at Laurie’s parents’ farm in Lancaster. Laurie’s sister, Lynda, visiting and giving us perms and cuts and color. The spring break trip with a large group of fraternity brothers to Ft. Lauderdale, only to move on to Clearwater, where the two of us stayed with Joan’s Aunt Helen. On almost all of these occasions Joan’s boyfriend, Bobby, was there. The two of them unknowingly provided a role model for the rest of us for what a loving relationship looked like. Also, Bobby was (and is) hilariously funny and that never hurt a venture!
Inevitably, during Joan’s senior year, Bob proposed at the first rest area going north on the New Jersey Turnpike (the location wasn’t the inevitable part, the proposal was). As I sat writing this it occurred to me that I was not really sure if they married at the end of Joan’s senior year or the May after that. And I reached for my phone to text Joan to ask. Damn. She has been gone from our world for over five months and I still have to remind myself of this fact every time. Every. Time.
**Please watch my page over the next few days for the continuation of this piece and to learn more about Joan’s influence on everyone in her life, from the perspective of one who learned much (me).