All Kinds Of Time

“Do you remember Allie Kershner?” Samantha asked. I looked skyward, struggling to remember. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You didn’t date her.”

I met my friend Samantha in August of 1989 — the very first day of our freshman year at Syracuse University. Our dorm, Lehman Hall, was a ratty, seven-story walk up on the northern edge of campus. The four person suites were typically reserved for upper classmen, but the class of ’93 was unusually large. We were the overflow. Where other dorms had common spaces and social mixers, Lehman had doors upon doors. It was isolated, dark, and depressing.

Worse, I began my freshman year feeling similarly isolated, dark, and depressed. I was terrified. An assault the previous summer had not only left me with a shattered jaw, but also shattered confidence. I expected to be disliked. I expected to be unpopular. I expected to bullied.

Lehman Hall was The Island of Misfit Toys. My roommates and I made for a strange quartet: Steve D, the vertically challenged jock with a penchant for “Cheers” reruns on VHS; Dave, the good natured, oddly-featured Queens native apparently clueless to his constant, unquenchable stink; Steve B, the effeminate, flamboyant Buffalonian; and me, just me — whoever I was then.

On the first night of college, I threw up on my new rug and wet my new bed. On the second, an SAE pledge dumped an entire beer on Dave’s head. I don’t remember the third, but it took some time for things to improve even just a little bit.

I studied ceaselessly freshmen year. I relished my classes (Logic, Spanish, Geology, and English Textual Studies), earning a 3.6 in my first semester (by far my best academic performance to date). But I loathed everything else. I missed home, and my friends there. I hated the snow, which began falling in September. And I hated my existence: late nights smoking bowls with Tim Bateman and Conan O’Brian. It was utterly forgettable.

Little wonder, then, that I scarcely remember first meeting Sam. It seems like she was always there: giggling with her friends Anne and Eileen, rolling her eyes at my stoner antics, rallying the disparate elements of the dorm to gather for some sort of well-intentioned tomfoolery, but always accepting me for exactly who I was — whoever I was then.

On St. Patrick’s Day, when I began drinking at noon and passed out at four, Sam, Anne, Eileen et all scribbled on my naked torso in magic marker. There’s photographic evidence somewhere.

We traveled in the same circle through school. She dated Steve B, who later lived with Chris D, who often-hosted Smokey Junglefrog shows in his attic. She kissed her now husband, Seth, on the way home from one of our shows. And on graduation day, she somehow found me amidst the five thousand graduates and their families in the cavernous Carrier Dome. I still have the picture. We’re smiling. We look so young.

Samantha now works for the Associated Press on 33d and Tenth. I work just a few blocks away at 44th and Broadway. Still, entire seasons can pass without seeing one another. Which is a shame, because she’s a total sweetheart.

Sam and Seth have been married for well over ten years. They moved from the West Village to Bridgeport, Connecticut, two years ago. They have two beautiful daughters, Isabella and Eva. Until tonight, the last time I saw her was at a picnic in Connecticut. Sam’s sister Kim picked me up from my Hell’s Kitchen apartment, and whisked me away to their lush, green suburbia. They had kids, equity, cars — the whole thing. Sam was still smiling, still giggling, and maybe even rolling her eyes once and a while.

I’m not sure why Sam still counts me among her friends all these thirteen years later. She’s seen my at me worst numerous times: drunk, stoned, stupid, selfish. I skipped her wedding for no good reason at all (well, Erin had just dumped me). I’m terrible with birthdays and anniversaries. And there’s always drama of some sort (usually related to a woman) in my life. But it doesn¹t phase her.

“People aren’t friends this long for no reason,” she said tonight, tucked away in the corner booth at Haru. “You’re a good guy, Ben.”

I’ve always believed in Sam. She’s a solid presence; no pretense, no shtick. I guess she’s always believed in me too — whoever I was then, whoever I am now. Maybe that’s what friendship is all about.

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