When We Were Friends
We are the type of busy that affords long afternoons taking personality quizzes. Veronica scoots her laptop across the table towards me. The screen reads, What is your true color aura?
It’s the year of fast friends and pretending we have been inseparable our whole lives. The girls at our Wednesday table, now our regular crowd, answer questions between untouched trays of food. Our books are neglected in our bags.
What month were you born in?
What can you never leave home without?
What is your choice of music?
The quiz reveals long gratifying paragraphs dissecting the many facets of a human personality. We discuss each revelation in detail, nodding when something is especially on point with our perceptions. We have an ambitious green, a stubborn white, a wise purple, and two cheerful yellows. Veronica is red, our queen bee, ever spontaneous and daring. I hold tightly to my prescribed aura, pink, meaning quirky and expressive. Veronica chokes on a laugh when reading, Pinks and reds are like twins, but in the end it was just for fun. I bookmark the color aura quiz on my computer because I reference it so many times.
We live in dorms. We write Taylor Swift lyrics on colored construction paper and tape them to the walls. We have affirmation circles and hug each other when we cry. We break into each other’s Facebook accounts and post pictures of scary-looking cats with captions like, Today I brought darling Cutesy into the world. We get mono and sinus infections. We run in the halls even though the floor below complains of thundering footsteps. We don’t start our homework until after 10 p.m. I am in love with these girls, have never experienced friendship like this—certainly not in high school, perhaps for a moment in junior high. I agree with everything Veronica says, and she says a lot. Our periods sync up. We start a group text.
We live in different apartments on opposite sides of the street. We have sleepovers on Thursdays and watch too much reality TV. We sweet-talk male baristas into making us free smoothies, but when the manager catches on, we are so embarrassed we never go back. Two or three of us sleep on a futon pad dragged across the floor of the bedroom Veronica and Stacy share while they sleep on their bunks. We stay up late, discussing large scale global issues or just repeating quotes from movies.
We go out on Tuesdays, which happens to be the night Stacy has work. “That’s just how it happened,” we yell in the car over Kerry’s techno music. “We aren’t excluding her on purpose.” Veronica calls me late one night asking to sleep in my apartment. She spends the night, and I don’t hear from her for a few weeks after. She later tells me Stacy threatened to commit suicide. Campus safety showed up, and she spent a three nights in the hospital. We both grimace at the fact Stacy’s parents didn’t come to visit her.
We live—mostly—in a professor’s house while he and his family are gone for a semester abroad. Now we are five: red, pink, white, purple, and yellow. We cook dinners in the professor’s carpeted kitchen while dancing to Taylor Swift. Other days we bicker and snap at each other and blame it on stress. Finally Jen demands, “So we’re going to be fucking horrible to each other? And what, I have to like, accept that?” We rake leaves and take pictures of each other doing cartwheels and holding pretty leaves up to our faces. I don’t agree with everything Veronica says.
Jen spends all her time organizing her borrowed room. Zoe spends every weekend with her out of town boyfriend. I spend all my time working and wondering if I should change my major, though I never do. Veronica worries about her family back home. Sam lives thirty minutes away, and only stays over when we have alcohol. We drink Baileys with hot chocolate while studying in the evening. We make red margaritas and mix Malibu with orange juice. We drink Smirnoff Ice in raspberry and citrus flavors. We don’t have time or desire to go out to bars. We get drunk arm in arm on the couch while watching music videos or Netflix.
I accidentally break one of the professor’s wine glasses and say I will pay for it, though we know I never will. The plumbing gets gummed up, and the plumber tells us the problem has to do with the pipes. We give the house back to the professor’s family with the main toilet out of order. Jen buys stuffed animals for the professor’s kids. I’m supposed to turn the heat on before they get back, but I never do. The simplest things feel overwhelming in some unexplainable way.
We live in Europe. We stay in hostels for $12 a night and Airbnbs with zero reviews. We run to catch trains while rolling heavy luggage. We snap at Jen for being overbearing, and she gets sick of us relying on her for directions. In Rome for a semester of classes, we make up for all the nights we drank inside, walking forty-five minutes to our favorite bars. We link arms and sing dramatically in the streets because our feet hurt from the cobblestones. We sing Human by Christina Perri: “I’m only human, and I bleed when I fall down.” We sing “A Whole New World” from the movie Aladdin and keep repeating the line, “Don’t you dare close your eyes!” We sing entire Taylor Swift songs from memory. I am deliriously happy when I’m singing in the street. But all at once, the others start shushing me for being loud. Veronica looks at me vacantly whenever I talk, so I become quiet. I stay holed up in my room for afternoons at a time, haunted by shushes.
Remember when that guy yelled, “Hey you, with the yellow pants!” Remember how we talked about that so many times after? Remember how we are talking about it now? Remember when all our conversations started beginning with “remember when?”
We take a slow train to Turin through the Italian countryside, blinking at the sour smell of sheep urine. The other girls slump under hoods throughout the train car, their thoughts a complete mystery to me. We are four: yellow, red, pink, and a girl who is probably blue. Our Airbnb host, Giulia, turns out to be a petite girl with curly hair and a sort of witchy bohemian dress. She’s seventeen but has the coolness of twenty-five. We huddle around her mother’s kitchen table as she makes tea. Asking questions and poking fun, there’s an air of performance around our warmth towards this stranger and each other, and like the way the physical act of smiling can trick your brain into feeling happy. We feel warmer than we had in weeks. Giulia regretfully has to leave, saying she has a birthday party to attend. “For a friend?” We ask. Giulia wrinkles her nose. “No,” she answers, like as if. Her dog, Muji, lays beneath the table, and together we chat until she’s impossibly late for her party.
On the train out of Turin, I get a text from Giulia. It says, “You girls are the sweetest. I liked your auras.” I consider telling Veronica, “Giulia likes our auras!” Next to me, she’s watching phone videos of us from months prior, and I lean my head on her shoulder as figments of ourselves mimic street dancers and repeat Italian phrases in funny voices. In the videos, we look surprisingly controlled, even me. Our eyes are bleary, but we are laughing, the kind of laugh that comes before tears.
Rumpus original art by Lauren Kaelin.