J. disrupted my quiet, careful ways of making sure I wasn't noticed in college. She made sure I didn't disappear into the background. Then our life paths forked. I got married, had a child, divorced. Then she married (I missed the wedding because our house was being flea bombed), we shared a few phone calls, and then that was it. Poof.
J. was the student who showed up to the three hour art history survey course wearing a hat she made out of aluminum foil. A slinky ferret, her beloved pet, often accompanied her to class in the pocket of an oversized coat. She had comments and questions after everything the professor said. Her hand was always up in the air, or not, and she was just blurting her ideas out. I was simultaneously in awe of her and fearful, so we became friends. She probably reached out to me first, since I was really using up all my free brain cycles in my efforts at avoidance.
Soon we were seen campus-wide: the movie theatre in town, the diner with the airplane in it, combing the shelves of a thrift store, flopping around on the trampoline in her parent's backyard. That was the first time I ever experienced a trampoline for any extended period of time, and I remember well the feeling that I was still bouncing on it after landing on solid ground.
Then there was the time we went out to a bar that was tended by a guy she was interested in, and she decided on the way we should try on a couple of bad English accents for the evening. We renamed ourselves. I was Audrey. I forget the name she took for the evening. The rest of the night I spent with a cramped stomach, feeling like I was lying to everyone around me, and when I attracted the attention of a local barfly who was well over twice my age, I felt so sick I had to hide in the bathroom. Of course we had to stay until closing so J. could have time with the bartender. The barfly lingered, hoping he'd take me home. We wriggled out of that by getting into the bartender's car with his friend, and off we went on a unscheduled, unplanned double date. The other guy was mine, I guess.
They took us on a long, nightmarish adventure drive through "haunted woods," where my cramped stomach turned into the shakes. The narrative had something to do with a murder. Did we know these two guys, at all? No. They could be the murderers. I remember putting my head in J's lap in the backseat while she stroked my hair told me it would all be ok. I was still a child.
That night ended in a diner. I'm alive now to write this. I had an omelette. I was very careful about accepting last minute invitations to bars from J. from then on. In fact, I think that was my last visit to a bar for a very long time.
She got us kicked out of a Rite-Aid when she spent time pretending to steal. She held the best parties by inviting everyone, even people she didn't know. We made a whirlwind trip to the beach with two guys (one she was interested in after the Renaissance Fair visited campus) where we had no money (of course) and ended up waking in a restaurant parking lot in my car with the windows all steamed up. I was not romantically interested in the guy I was blindly paired with, but she was in the backseat with her guy all night. I was relieved to have a breakfast of pancakes and drive home. Our dates wore capes everywhere and juggled. We went out once more together, for a hike in the woods, and I was dazzled by the juggling skills of, what was his Faire name ... Poncho? Boon? Sir Dudley?
Being around J. was disorienting and exhilarating. She was fearless, and taught me not to fear so much, to not panic at every new experience, but approach with it wonder. She also taught me the value of personal boundaries.
Then she disappeared from my life, leaving me wondering if I taught her anything, or if just our time together in that part of our lives was gift enough. I hope it was.