I can hear her say it now.
The first time I heard it was freshman year of college. My new roommate remarked,
“I’m going to Mass- you coming?”
I was confused.
“In a few minutes.”
“What? Like, tonight?”
“How are you going to get there?”
“I’m gonna walk…?”
“You’re gonna walk to New England??”
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING???”
“Church?! Then what’s Mass??”
“It’s church!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???”
Col provided my first insights to Philly and Catholicism. We attended a Catholic college with a large Philadelphian student body. I myself had lived outside the city, in Dutch Country, up until that point, and I’d never even met a Catholic. Thus the ‘Mass-ive’ confusion (sorry- couldn’t resist:).
We were the roommates assigned to each other by the school. And a Laverne & Shirley pairing it was. Col was a math major, and I was a theater major. I was a neat freak, she was more of a ‘stay-where-it-landed’ kind of girl. Her style was conservative, mine…well, you know.
Yet somehow- it worked.
We stayed together all four years…And I wouldn’t trade a day of it.
I remember her pledging the one sorority on campus and making it through 2 days. Then she came storming through the door with a brick in a shopping cart, and said, “Fuck this. I’m not putting up with this shit just to go to some sorority formal. Besides, it’s all ridiculous anyway- there’s only one damn sorority on campus, what’s the fucking point?”
Col was not one to mince words. She was no-nonsense, and I respected the hell out of that. She kept me grounded; as a theater major you could get lost in your own creative bubble…but not when you lived with Col.
Sophomore year I had a bad time of it; I grew really depressed, and one day Col walks in while I’m standing on the windowsill in a black dress, all emo and whatnot, with ‘Bells for Her’ by Tori Amos on the stereo (yeah, I just went for it). She opens the door, glances at me, and without missing a beat says:
“This shit has to stop, Vik, you’re fucking friekin’ me out; what is wrong with you?” and continues walking right into the bathroom.
It’s hard to be too self-indulgent after that.
That was the year we lived in Lawless Hall (yes, every joke that could be lobbed at that one, was), which was adjoined to Brisson Chapel. We dreaded those Saturday mornings when a wedding was being held in the sanctuary. After a late night, you’d wake up to that dying-cat sound. We’d both groan, then from under her pillow, the muffled:
“Jesus Christ…with the fuckin’ bagpipes again.”
We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. She never complained when Brandy and I dyed our hair in huge buckets of Kool-Aid in the room. I never complained when she and Dottie sat on the floor and drank AfterShock while they sang Hootie and the Blowfish. She put up with my boyfriend at that time, who was a thoroughly obnoxious human, and I did the same for her when Shamokin started coming around;) (Love ya, John).
She talked me into starting to watch General Hospital with her; she called it “roommate bonding hour” and we sat and munched Irish potatoes while Sonny Corrinthos smoldered on our cheap, dinky T.V.
(Irish potatoes were a whole other episode…”Potatoes? But they’re so small!” “That’s because they’re not REALLY potatoes; they’re candy…what is wrong with you???”)
After college, we stayed in touch; I went to her wedding, she came to mine, and we visited when we could.
I wish now that it had been more often.
The night John called and told me that Col had stage 4 lung cancer, I was floored. She never smoked a day in her life. And…she was Col. No muss, no fuss, almost never sick…and so young. How could this be possible?
Sean and I had flown in for Christmas, so we went to see her and John and their son, Jack (who looks just like Col). True to her nature, she whipped out her x-ray and showed us the tumor that had been taken out of her brain. “Look at that fuckin’ thing! It was like a third of my head.” She seemed in good spirits, and I hoped that things would turn around for her.
I saw her a few times after that. She was disappointed that her hair never grew back after the chemo. We chatted on the phone one day, and she said:
“You know, I’ve never liked a whole lot about my looks- but I did like my hair. And now the damn stuff won’t grow back.”
“I know Col, but think about the sassy wigs you can rock.”
We laughed, and said we would call each other more often.
Then this week happened.
My phone rang Tuesday night, and I saw it was John…it was late in PA. My stomach sank. For him to call late…it couldn’t be good news.
He said that Col had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and that she was home in hospice care. I was completely startled; he said that we only had a few days to a week. I guess I had expected things to degenerate more slowly…or better yet, for the treatment to be successful at last and get her back on her feet. I just always thought somehow…she’d come back from it.
He told me that she wasn’t coherent, but that it would be good for her to hear my voice. He warned me that she wouldn’t be able to respond, but that I could say a few words to her. He offered to go wake her right then, but I told him that he shouldn’t disturb her rest so late, that I would call in the morning and see if she was up to it. He said that would be great, and promised to keep me updated.
I will always regret not letting him wake her.
Approximately 5 hours later, she was gone.
And as I sit here right now, fighting tears, I can hear her saying, “Jeez, Vik, I’m finally at peace now; stop making such a big thing out of this…what is wrong with you?”
A lot less than there might have been had I not known her. May you have peace and no more pain, and may you know that in this life you were adored by many- and that you will be missed by all whose lives you touched.
I love you, Col.
Colleen Loftus Brennan