Spring semester. Bram returned to Minot State. We were not dating. We were not NOT dating. We hugged and kissed, but never on the lips: on the cheeks, hands, foreheads, heads. We sat on each other’s laps; we left gifts for each other to find. When Bram realized I have insomnia he started calling late at night. He didn’t have insomnia; he just survived on very little sleep and woke up early and chipper as hell. I told him he was a freak and we would talk until one of us was nearly asleep and hung up. We talked almost every night. We were not dating.
Those of us who were old enough started going to Peyton Place on Thursday nights: they had quarter beer, which was rancid, and advertised Thursdays as ‘grunge night’. After about an hour of grunge music, the DJ would start playing songs like “Old Time Rock and Roll” and we’d boo and hiss at the DJ. The bartenders liked us because we weren’t afraid to dance–sober, not sober, any stages in between. When we danced, other people danced and when people danced, the bartenders sold more liquor. We wouldn’t dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll”. Well, we would but not on ‘Grunge Night.’ The bartenders begged us to dance. We’d tell them to make the DJ play some decent music. Usually some kind of compromise was reached and everyone went home happy.
Bram and I went to Grunge nights and danced together. Actually, the whole group danced together. Because Bram and I weren’t dating. We sat next to each other in class and passed notes. He brought movies over for me to watch and usually stayed to watch them with me. One time I left Bram and Christopher with Nick and Monica so I could go get chips and popcorn for movie night and I came home to find the four of them had made blanket forts out of the living room. When Bram wanted my attention, he’d bellow, “WOMAN!” and I’d sweetly inquire, “What do you need, baby boy?” But we weren’t dating.
One night Sandra and I, both under 5 feet tall, were dancing together at grunge night and some smartass guy came up to us and asked us to do him a favor. I was immediately suspicious and started to tell him to buzz off, but Sandra asked what he wanted. He said he wanted one of us to stand in the middle of the dance floor, point up at the ceiling and shout, “da plane! da plane!” Sandra was confused–maybe too young to get the ‘Fantasy Island’/Tattoo reference? But I was incensed. I jumped at him, ready to punch him in the gut. Sandra carried me off the dance floor while I yelled back at him, “Asshole! Dickwad! I’ll kick your ass!…”
For the rest of the night, every time I caught a glimpse of the smartass, I made a rude gesture: the finger, the chin flick, the forearm jerk, the cutis. I showed him how tiny I thought his dick was and made ‘come at me’ motions. I MAY have been a little in my cups. Bram told me, “If you piss off that guy enough that he comes over here, I’m NOT your boyfriend.” “So? You’re not my boyfriend anyway!” Sandra threatened to carry me out of the bar if I didn’t settle down.
I had several roommates while we were all in undergrad together. Janet and Chanda lived with me for a while. Janet bought a rayon Challis babydoll dress that I thought was just beautiful. She accidentally washed it and put it in the dryer. It shrank and she couldn’t wear it any more, so she gave it to Chanda. Chanda accidentally washed it and put it in the dryer. It shrank and she couldn’t wear it any more, so she gave it to me. I wore it until babydoll dresses went out of style.
Besides Bram, Joe, and Bob, we had a good number of men in the department too. Oftentimes women outnumber men in theatre departments, but we were pretty evenly matched. Ryan and Eric were my roommates after Janet and Chanda moved out. Then Eric and Farrah started dating and they moved into a tiny house together. Aili met Derek in a generals class and brought him into the department. He hadn’t started as a theatre major, but he was probably the best actor of us all. We had Good Chad who was goofy and happy and Bad Chad who was supersmart and did NOT suffer fools. After we all grew up and got married, Bad Chad proved to be the best Chad after all.
Brad was one of my sneak attack friends: when we met, he was just a freshman and he drove me crazy and I could fluster him with my smart mouth, so I did. Now? He’s another person I can’t imagine NOT having in my life. There was Chris, one of the smartest men I know, and Christopher, who had three left feet and a secret chivalrous streak. Jason, who kissed me hard once, pulled back and said, “Yep. I’m still gay.” Thanks? Glad I could help? Dustin, who wrote strange and wonderful plays. And Justin, a tall lovable goofball who talked too much when he was drunk and turned out to be the love of Janet’s life.
Chanda says we were magic in how well we all meshed and got along and loved each other. Farrah says for the first time she felt like she’d found a place where she belonged, that people wanted her around. I felt all this. I felt magic and I felt everyone around me was magic, bursting with creative potential. I felt these people wanted to be with me; wanted me to be with them. They were my family. I loved them. I still do.
I’ve tried to build that family in other places I’ve lived, but the magic wasn’t there. We were special. As new people came into the department our family grew: Brei, clumsier than I am. Kristin , who had way too much common sense to be hanging around with the rest of us. Desiree, a chatterbox with a heart of gold. Patrick, who could sniff out any party, anywhere. Mike and Joel, who I’d worked with in Mini-mousers. (They looked so different as adults!) Jay, the gentle giant. Deb, who could give Derek a run for his acting money.
There was Davis, who had PTSD and would die to protect you. Josh, with the goofiest smile, who cleaned up to look like a movie star. Travis, Bram’s friend who insisted he had ‘girl hips.’ And two of the best gifts Bram ever gave me: his friends Adam and Noah.
We worked hard, we studied hard, we played hard. And we loved each other. Oh, we squabbled like all families tend to do. Sometimes we needed breaks from each other. But we never seemed to stay apart very long. Outside of Nick and Monica, these people were the best family I’d ever known.
They all seemed to like and respect Monica and Nick too.
Back in my biological family, Tonia was engaged to her traveling insurance salesman. His name was Doug and he was going to stop traveling so he and Tonia and her kids could settle down and become a family. Tonia asked me to be her maid of honor and I gladly accepted.
Her dress was elegant with long lines and crisp corners. It made her look tall and regal. She chose a green velvet sheath dress for me that set off my hair and I adored it. I don’t remember who else stood up with her. But I do know that Nick and Monica and AJ and Kelsie were part of the wedding. Nick wore a rented suit and looked like a perfect young gentleman. Monica had a green taffeta party dress. AJ had agreed to wear a dress so their dress matched Kelsie’s. But when the time came to put on the dress, they couldn’t bring themself to do it.. There were many tears on both sides and AJ finally wore the dress. But they were visibly uncomfortable and took it off as soon as the wedding was over.
I felt sad for both Tonia and AJ. Tonia hadn’t had a wedding with Mike. I know Tonia wanted a perfect wedding with perfect pictures of her two perfect girls in perfect dresses. I was sad that she couldn’t get that. I was sad that she didn’t seem to be able to see what was right in front of her.
AJ was their own person. At that time I didn’t know who or what that person was and I don’t think AJ did either. But we both knew whoever they were, they didn’t wear dresses. I guarantee that’s the last dress AJ ever wore.
Rocky wanted to visit his kids but he’d divorced his 3rd wife and had no place to take them, so he was just coming to Minot to stay a while. I felt bad for him, having to spend money on a hotel for a week or two so I told him he could stay at my house, in Nick’s room. After all, we had been divorced for years; how bad could it be? Famous last words.
Rocky wasn’t in my house 15 minutes before I realized my huge mistake. Rocky was just as overbearing and rigid as he’d ever been, plus, I think he’d grown crazier. He told me not to let Nick and Monica use the fluoride toothpaste in the bathroom because fluoride was used in the making of chemical weapons. I told him fluoride was in the water we drink, so it was too late. He told me to throw out my teflon coated cooking pans because teflon causes brain damage. I told him I would throw them out as soon as he bought me replacement ones. He told me I couldn’t use his child support payments for rent because that money was to support the kids, not me. I told him the kids live with me and rent is far more than the measly $275/month he sent us. He told me the US Constitution explicitly said we did not have to pay income tax. I told him I was going to go stay with my mother.
Since Nick and Monica were in the wedding, Rocky came to Tonia’s wedding, too. No one knew him except my family and my family didn’t want to visit with him, so he sat all alone at a table in the corner, nursing a beer and watching some friend of Doug’s trying to teach me lifts and dips in swing dancing. I might have been moved to feel sorry for Rocky if he hadn’t reminded me why I’d divorced him.
I’d asked Bram to be my escort for the wedding, but he declined because –say it with me: we weren’t dating. Except that just days before Tonia’s wedding, I saw Bram sitting alone in Conrad’s office. I went in and stood behind him. I put my arms around his neck and he reached up and put both of his hands over mine. I bent down to kiss him on the top of his head and he turned his face up and caught my lips with his.
NOW we were dating.