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It's amazing how a traumatic episode can completely reshape your perspective on people and events both past and present. After finding out Mat's childhood friends had died in a car accident, I suddenly started caring
about the guy. His ordeal made me realize that despite his immense size and all the ridiculous benefits he reaped by playing basketball for a major American university, Mat was just a kid like me: slightly confused, a little overwhelmed and really learning about life for the first time. Sure he was more worldly than I was and certainly more sexually experienced, but that didn't make him immune to the pain and vulnerabilities of youth. At least, that's what I was now telling myself.
If you think about it, professional athletes (and semi-notable amateur athletes) don't get cut a lot of slack for making human mistakes. When Charles Barkley is arrested for DUI
and admits he was about to get a little road head
, he has to disappear for a while
to get his act together. I'm not saying that pro athletes (and other celebrities) don't often use fame and fortune to buy their way out of messy legal problems -- it happens all the frickin' time -- but it's also true that they aren't typically afforded the same sensitivity that other non-famous mistake-makers expect to receive.
Let me tell you a little story. A couple years ago, I went to a Wig Party with my buddies BadDave, Statbuster and Mister P. Basically, this was a party where if you showed up wearing a wig and paid $30, you got unlimited drinks all night. I was the designated driver, so I "only" had a couple beers (when I should have had zero beers) while my friends got trashed. On the way home that night, BadDave and Statbuster had me pull over on I-290 so they could pee on the side of the highway. Shortly after that, BadDave threw up out the window, covering the side of my car (and some of the inside) with his involuntary personal protein spill. (Said Statbuster: "Is it raining? Wait, what...that's Dave's puke?! OH GOD.") Naturally, we stopped for burritos while BadDave passed out in the car with his head hanging out the window. After dropping Statbuster and Mister P off, I headed to my house. (BadDave was visiting from out of town and staying at my place.) Unfortunately, BadDave kept opening the car door so he could spit the awful taste of retch out of his mouth. I'm sure you know where this is going.
Less than five minutes from home, I got pulled over, which is typically what happens when half of your car is coated in vomit and the passenger door keeps opening. The officer asked why BadDave was opening his door. Honesty being the best policy and all that, I told her he was drunk and spitting. She asked if I'd been drinking, and I admitted to having the two beers a few hours ago (mostly because I was sure the beer was well out of my system). She made me perform a series of sobriety tests -- touch the nose, say the alphabet backwards, etc. -- that I passed with flying colors. Then she had me take a breathalyzer. It showed I was at .081, otherwise known as .001 over the legal limit. I'm pretty sure I peed myself on the spot.
Fortunately, the officer cut me a break and agreed to take so long writing the ticket (for BadDave's door-opening shenanigans, which constituted a moving violation) that my blood alcohol content would fall under the legal limit before I drove away. She said, and I quote, "Remember to tell this story next time someone tells you cops are all assholes." It goes without saying that I was very grateful.
Our behavior that night was stupid and irresponsible, and it wasn't the first time we'd done something like that (although it was
the last). It was simply the first time we'd gotten caught. Luckily for us, no one was arrested and we aren't famous enough to end up on Deadspin
. Otherwise our idiocy and embarrassment would have become a public spectacle, and seemingly reasonable people would have hated and resented us almost without thinking about it.
I'm not saying that we should give pro athletes a free pass every time they do something stupid. After all, I'd have to shut down this blog. I'm just saying that every once in a while, we might do well to remember that they're human beings like us, and in similar circumstances we might be making similar mistakes.
Aaaaaaanyway, I couldn't share this epiphany with my roommate because he was MIA. But to show my newfound appreciation for who and what he was, I did my best to cover for him with his various girlfriends. I also took meticulous messages any time he received a phone call. I even bought him a big bag of animal crackers. It was time, I had decided, to make an effort toward building a real, honest-to-goodness roommate relationship.
In the meantime, I was experiencing and enjoying love for the first time. And honestly, it was making me a little disgusting. I wrote and snail-mailed love letters to Aimee every day. Short of transcribing them -- which I will never, ever do by the way -- I cannot adequately describe how incredibly sappy they were. Earlier this year, I was sorting through some of my old college books and came across one of these letters that I had never finished. Re-reading it made me want to send Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to kill my mom before I could be born. I mean, I'm glad that I was at one time able to experience the delirious joy of first love, but my brain was like a giant marshmallow soaked in honey and chocolate sauce.
I was also journaling about the experience, and those journal entries were similarly sickening. When I was working at the food service, I would take a picture of Aimee with me and look at it whenever I had a few free seconds. One day, I received a love poem in the mail from Aimee. She had sprayed some of her perfume on it, and the combination of her words and scent seriously made me lightheaded. I probably read that poem a hundred times...in the first hour.
Vomit-worthy as this behavior was, the feelings were open and from the heart. In my mind, I had waited forever to experience these emotions, and I was determined to feel and express them to the fullest. The only hiccup in this new feel-good era was the unresolved issue of Cindy. I hadn't yet told her that I had decided to date Aimee instead of her. Naturally, I felt horrible about this. The last thing I wanted to do was string Cindy along. However, I also didn't want to break her heart over the phone. It seemed like whatever I was going to say to her should be said in person. And while that meant leaving her hanging a little longer than was technically necessary, I believed at the time that the personal touch was necessary. Besides, I was going to be home for Thanksgiving Break in just a couple weeks. I would do it then. Like Mat had pointed out, Cindy and Aimee didn't talk, so it was highly unlikely that Cindy would find out anything before I had a chance to tell her. Or so I thought.
Days passed. Mat's chair sat empty. The Heineken light remained off. None of his things moved. At first, I thought maybe he had taken a plane back to Holland to attend the funerals. However, Mat's mom called several times while he was gone, so he obviously hadn't returned to his home country. I wondered whether he was going to class or attending basketball practice. The practices were sometimes open, so I strolled by the stadium after classes one afternoon. The doors were locked. I started to worry.
As much as I despised Mat's late-night returns and how he would watch MTV into the wee hours of the morning without regard to my need for sleep, I actually began hoping he would reappear at some bizarre hour and resume his usual habits. Yet another example of what a sucker I was back then.
I was playing a lot of basketball during that time period. My buddy Joe and I were always meeting for pickup games or one-on-one. Joe was quite a bit shorter than I was, but he had quick hands and great anticipation. To negate that, I began to play in the post almost exclusively, against him anyway. I worked on my little jump hook all the time, because it allowed me to score against him almost at will. For his part, Joe utilized the three-point shot to even the odds (when we played one-on-one, we used the standard twos-and-threes scoring system). We had some epic clashes and talked a lot of good-natured trash to each other.
I was acing all my classes, which will happen when you study as much as I did. I was taking 18 credit hours and I was also in the Honors Program, so my course load was a little more challenging than that of the average freshman. But I totally got off on that. I compared it in my mind to Larry Bird's "first guy to practice, last guy to leave" mentality, and that inspired me to do the extra work required by the Honors Program. Well, it did until I started rooming with BadDave anyway. It got awfully hard to watch him sleep through our 8 a.m. classes (after which he'd just copy my notes) and play Street Fighter II all day (after which he would ask, "Now don't you wish you'd skipped class?") while I was busting my ass doing extra work in every class to meet the Honors requirements. So hard, in fact, that I quit the Honors Program midway through the second semester of my sophomore year. Thanks for that, BadDave.
In addition to classes and work and APO and Campus Security Escorts and the time I spent wallowing around in Aimee's affection, I had also started working for the college newspaper. My fourth story made the front page, and the newspaper advisor, Carl A., started talking to me about becoming an editor as early as the first semester of the next year. It seemed like everything was clicking. I felt like a superstar. If I could have stood at the front of a ship, spread my arms and screamed "I'm the king of the world!" I probably would have. (After which I can only hope that someone would have shot me, and shot to kill.)
Then Mat came back.
It was 3 a.m. when he returned. And he arrived with two giant monsters whom I could only assume were on the football team. They were all drunk and laughing their asses off. Apparently, Mat's mourning period had come and gone.
I sat up and put on my glasses.
"Hey, dude," I said. "What's up? You okay?"
"Hey," he said, barely sparing me a glance. His two huge friends were looking at me though.
"I took down all your messages," I said. "Your mom called a few times. It's all there on that notepad on your desk."
"Thanks," he said, and this time he didn't even look my way.
"Uh, so, welcome back," I said.
He didn't respond at all this time and instead began carrying on with his football buddies. Which went on for the next two hours while I tried in vain to sleep.
I was hoping that Mat and I would have a chance to talk about things the next day, but he was asleep when I left for class and gone when I got back. He didn't return again until late that night, again drunk and again with the footballers in tow. They kept me up until almost 6 a.m. this time...during which they devoured the bag of animal crackers I'd bought for Mat. I don't think he ever even realized that I'd gotten them for him.
And just like that, my newfound appreciation for my roommate was gone. The concern and affection I'd started to develop for Mat in his absence was now turning into a black hatred. And it was all the blacker because of the sense of betrayal I felt. There I had been, ready to extend the olive branch, ready to become a true-blue friend, and here he was showing even less regard for me than he had before. Hell, he was barely even speaking to me or acknowledging my existence.
Perspective is a funny thing isn't it? It's kind of like how in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans -- sporting a renewed appreciation for the sanctity and preciousness of human life -- started caring about each other, giving to charity, loving their neighbors. But a week or so later, or less in some cases, people started to transform back into the selfish, self-interested douche bags they'd been before the Twin Towers had gone down in flames. It's just human nature I guess.
At any rate, it became crystal clear to me then that me and Mat would never be friends.
In retrospect, it could be that Mat did what he did to get through a very difficult time in his life. Drinking, partying, ignoring the people closest to you (even if "closeness" only refers to physical proximity), that's what people do when they're hurting. So maybe my assessment of Mat and his actions was needlessly harsh and fatalistic. But I was 18 years old, and as high-minded as I tried to be, I sometimes had trouble seeing past my own nose.
Whatever the case, Mat's method of coping was soon interrupted by a complication that put his future at our school in serious danger...Part 20
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large