Open Letter to a Peripheral Angel
For the purposes of this open letter, the subject shall be referred to as ‘Stacy Jones’. –T.U.
I can think of no better way to start this letter than by asking, “where the hell have you gone?”
As MySpace made way for Facebook, and Facebook shared the stage with Twitter in the years since I left college, I have made efforts to locate you. All of them have failed. I’ve found friends, former friends, former lovers, teachers, casual acquaintances and a number of other people from my life via social media. Those that have been worth it, I have reconnected with. Some have dropped me (again) and some have stuck around like old times. Some I dropped. But never with all of the computing, speed-of-light networking power have I been able to locate you, and I my life is a little less than it could be because of it.
Having a name like Stacy Jones doesn’t help. No offense to you at all, but it is a common name, which means that even when I find a Stacy Jones on Facebook, I find thousands upon thousands. You may be in there, somewhere, I don’t know. I admit I haven’t spent hours upon hours checking such lists. Nor have I tried to cross reference the name with much more than where we went to college, and a semblance of where I think I remember you said you lived. I got your name on an alumni newsletter once, and nothing more than that. And as I said, it may not have even been you, though the year was correct. And you may have a married name now anyway. I’m sure internet wizards could find you. But to go beyond what I’ve already done repeatedly every few years would feel like stalking, and I don’t want to appear that way to you.
I get the impression, however, that even if I did do all of that, and more, you wouldn’t freak out about it. From what I remember of you, you wouldn’t judge me. You never did much judging, from what I can remember. You did, however, do a lot of smiling. And laughing. And asking. We’d cross paths on the mall, or at the dining hall. And once or twice you tended bar for some club or another at the student center, on the occasion when I would drop by for free pizza night. Always welcoming. Always kind to people. Yeah, you’d quietly make fun of some things and some people, that were over the top or something. So would I. But I bet even if the people that were over the top needed something, you’d try to help them. Which is one reason I’ve never forgotten you.
Funny how that happens. We had only one class together, and it was in my very first semester there. But that one class was Acting 101-a class that is the referencing anchor for my entire college life. Where I began to make my impression, and where entire perspectives changed within my mind and heart about several things. Throughout college 90% of my social life and friendship was connected somewhat to the theatre, and much of that sprang up from that first acting class. Not long after said class, you decided it wasn’t for you, whereas I, (perhaps foolishly) immersed myself in it for the remainder of my college time.
But it was enough for me to know what sort of person you are, as I’ve said. The course, the room, the skits we did in class, every one of them made brighter and more enjoyable by your presence. As was my life, and I can’t believe I’m the only one to have felt so. You taking a step back from the theatre aspects of campus was a net loss for me, in the end.
We had various passing encounters in the following two years; we’d run into each other in a food line, or the bookstore. You were always the same cheerful, caring individual. It was clear for even a few moments at a time. I don’t recall seeing you truly angry.
Yet there are three not-as-brief encounters with you after you left theatre behind that are most memorable to me and I wanted to tell you about them now. Perhaps you remember them too.
The first was drinking and singing with you in a friend’s room for a half-hour or so. You had had more than me, because you’d been there longer, but when I saw you were there, I had to come by. I remember singing “Look Away” with you, (something we had done in the theatre dressing room when you were still doing plays.) I remember using your legs as a pillow as we reclined on the floor. If that bothered you you never said anything. And as just about everyone else can attest, the entire concept was very much out-of-character for me at the time. Those who knew me then may read this and ask, “when the hell was this happening, and how did I miss it?” That goes to show how comfortable you make people. The sincerity you draw out. There was more “me” there in less time with you, than with the people I spent most of my time with.
The second encounter I remember was the next year. You were an R.A. in freshman housing. At one point we ran into each other in the dining room again, and you told me about being an R.A. You said that I should come by and say hi sometime. I agreed to try. Once again, going against the grain of my college self, I actually came by. With few exceptions, I didn’t like going to the other dorms. One, it always felt like wearing another man’s shoes. My equilibrium felt off. Secondly, to show up and say hi, even when asked, invited the possibility that I’d be a pain in someone’s ass. An intrusion. So I often avoided it. But stopping by your room that day seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do.
Your door was open, and you looked busy, but truly happy to see me. I actually came in instead of hovering in the door frame as was my custom.
I remember your room was so you…you had the lyrics to “The River” by Garth Brooks written on construction paper and stuck to the wall. You had an original NES hooked up to a tiny TV with Mario 3 standing by. We played a bit, and you lamented that you didn’t have the original Mario there with you. You told me of the ups and downs of being an R.A. and how you hoped you hadn’t been that clueless as a freshman. I was there 45 minutes or so at most before you had to be somewhere. I don’t recall much else of what was said, but I recall not having that empty feeling I often got after leaving somebody elses room/dorm. You told me to come back sometime. Much to my own shame, I never did that year. I should have.
We continued to pass one another in hallways the following year, (my last.) But not as often, as I recall. Our dorms and our schedules kept us in different places at different times. And because I spent much of that year with my head up my ass, dating an obvious bitch, I didn’t venture out much beyond said bitch or beyond the confines of the theatre department, much to my personal detriment. If only I had sought you out more often. If I had, would the general easiness of your demeanor, your ever-present warmth and innate decency have steered my path in a different direction? Would I have seen the world more clearly, or been more philosophically inclined to approach life in a manner more suited to who I truly am? I don’t know…probably not. That’s an awful lot to ask from hanging out with even the nicest of people. But I bet I wouldn’t have felt as alone and as abandoned when shit hit the fan that year as I ended up feeling. (As a result of how most of my erstwhile “friends” had chosen to behave.)
And yet somehow you were still part of the story, Stacy. Because in the midst of the emotional calamity and soul crushing betrayal that defined my final three months in college, you showed up. Literally crossed my path for the first time in months, and at one of my lowest points ever. In the middle of the night, no less.
I was on one of my middle-of-the-night walks around campus, trying to pretend that everything I knew about people and friendship and trust had not been destroyed. It was a weeknight as I passed the recently constructed suites, so it was quiet, as campus goes. As I was walking past the entrance, the clicking and banging of the front door swinging open tore into the night. Lo and behold, it was you. No indication at all that anyone else in town, let alone campus was even awake other than me, and you show up.
We saw each other at about the same, and your “Hey, Ty” was one of the most sincere greetings I had received in forever. In those two words, your first to me in God knows how long, you made me feel more valued than just about any of the people with whom I lived, ate and worked every single day.
We talked a bit, and the nature of my situation came up. (Probably because you sensed I was unhappy. You seemed good at that.) I gave you the basics…I had been cheated on and dumped by what I thought was a serious relationship. But the floodgates didn’t open. I didn’t feel the need to explain everything to you. Didn’t need to express everything, or tell you what I had been through. Or how those who took sides took the other against me, while most remained in horrific neutrality…how they continued to celebrate and sup with the people responsible for my pain. I didn’t have a sense of desperate pleading with you to stand with me. You didn’t know most of the people involved, so it may have been pointless anyway. But the real reason I didn’t have to get into much of it was the instant understanding that you were on my side. You didn’t condemn anyone you didn’t know, but between the door to your dorm and the parking lot, (where you were headed), you made me secure in the knowledge that you were there. That was enough. That would have been enough from any number of people, but you were one of the few who did it.
You asked if I wanted to come with you to the all-night market. Again, going somewhat against my policy, I did. We talked in the car about other things. And talked in the store about other things, while you bought your oatmeal or whatever it was. I even laughed a few times. You laughed even more. That distinctive laugh that would announce you were nearby before anyone saw you.
We got back to the parking lot, and I told you I would hear no argument; I was walking you back to your room, and helping you carry your stuff. Like a true adult and real woman, you smiled, and agreed. No “I’ve got it”, or “Don’t worry about it.” You accepted a gesture with a grace and appreciation I’ve not often experienced since.
I didn’t go into your room this time, though knowing you, you wouldn’t have minded. It was late, and time for me to get back to my darkness. But for the first time in a while, I felt that something, somewhere was okay. That I was not an expendable commodity to everyone on campus after all. Those “demons” tortured me for months and months to come, but when I was with you that night, they didn’t dare try to upstage you.
I never saw you again.
As always, the invitation to come see you stood, but. again, to my own detriment, I didn’t take you up on it. I was feeling more unwanted and inadequate by the day. and I guess I felt I needed to stay away from people. They were certainly staying away from me, after all. But it wasn’t fair to you to feel that way. I should have come by at least once more. Not to feel better, but to give your the credit and gratitude you so richly deserved for being a source of light into both my regular, everyday darkness that we all get, and the crippling, life-changing darkness that scars us forever. You shone into my life briefly, occasionally, and off to the side. Yet few lights in my life have ever shined with such potency. So much potency in fact that I see and feel your generosity and kindness in every word I type in this post. I feel it when I think back on those times. And I feel it when I try once again to see if you’re out there on social media someplace.
And I will try again, and again. There is a decent chance that because of what you meant to me for a short time, and what you did for my definition of humanity, I may try here and there to find you for the rest of my life. Because even if that is something akin to “stalking”, I feel moved to say to you in person what I am saying to you now by means of this letter:
Thank you, Stacy.
This post is part of the Open Letter Continuum.