Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Great Row

Spin wrote a post about feigning interest in subjects to attract male attention. It reminded me of the one arguement my beloved Vi and I have ever had.

Back when we were undergrads together in the warm, wet womb of academia, Vi and I were attached at the hip. We became instant best friends the night we met, and were inseparable from tht point on. (How we met is a cute story -- one of my favs, actually -- I'll tell it you another time.) We were so close, and people were so accustomed to seeing us together that a significant portion of the campus thought we were a lesbian couple.

(I should note that I also spent a great deal of time with Vi's boyf at the time, now hubby, Wally, and that several people thought Wally and I were a couple. There was also a contingent that saw how close the three of us were and had us pegged for a committed threesome. We neither confirmed nor denied anything. It's fun to keep people guessing.)

It didn't help our image that I spent weeknights in her bed (between Wally's weekend visits), we went to the gym together, ate every single meal together, studied together in the evening, and Vi even used to come to my botany seminars after our workouts, where she would happily snuggle up to my shoulder and doze in the dim room. The Botany Dept., to their vast credit, was not bothered by this. (They thought we were cute.)

I remember the one time I didn't eat a meal with Vi: She was late getting back from rehearsal (music major -- plays every instrument in the orchestra), and I was hungry, so I left her a note saying i'd gone ahead and would see her in the caffeteria whenever she got there. When she showed up she was in tears and wouldn't speak to me. After an hour I finally got her to tell me what was upsetting her, and I was stunned that it was because I had left w/o her for dinner. I enjoyed our mealtimes tremdously, but I had no idea it meant so much to her. I never went to dinner without her after that.

In church I sang in the choir (hell, most weeks i was the choir) and she played her violin. We always sat together. We even went to confession together. Everyone treated us as a couple, even though our relationship was never sexual, and she had a serious boyfriend. Where one of us was, the other was surely near at hand, and the whole College knew it and smiled on it.

We lived in the substance-free dorm in college, which meant no alcohol, drugs, or even tobacco were allowed in the building at any time. It was its own little universe, and we loved it. The dorm held 60 people on three, coed floors. (Bathrooms were coed as well, which made for some interesting stories.) The corridor on each floor was dead straight, with doors up and down on both sides, stairwells at the ends. The hallways were wide and high-ceilinged, with terrazzo floors and hard plaster walls. (read: NO sound absorption.) Every little noise echoed and reverberated for hours. You could drop a quarter and come back after class to still hear the ringing noise gently vibrating the air.

It was in this context -- best friends living next door to one another in a building that concealed nothing -- that Vi and I had our Great Row.

It was the fall semester of my sophomore year. I had just broken up with my godawful first boyfriend. I was seriously depressed, both my grandparents had just died, and I was failing two classes: cell biology and organic chemistry. I had never failed anything before in my life, and this was far worse than breaking up with the idiot who later became known as The Official Dickhead of the New Millenium.

It was winter, which in southeastern Connecticut means it's perpetually dark, 40 degrees F, and raining. (A lot like Manchester, actually.) This wasn't helping my state of mind.

It was late afternoon, Vi and I had finished with classes, labs, and rehearsals for the day. I came back to my room, dumped my bag and coat, and went next door to bitch about my day and get a little sympathy. (This was a regular ritual with us. We vented to one another, purged our systems, and were thereby fit to face the rest of polite society.)

I walked in Vi's room (we were way past knocking), and started right in. I was whining about orgo (organic chemistry) again. This was a recurring theme. I remember saying something along the lines of "It's not that I resent the insane level of work necessary to understand this crap. What I resent is having to spend so much effort learning a subject I'm not even remotely interested in."

And that's what started it.

Sounds like a pretty normal, college student whine, doesn't it? I bet most of you have said something similar at one point or another. "I'm just not willing to spend so much effort on something that interests me so little." The Pirate feels this way about cooking. Everyone has things they're not interested in, right? Wrong.

Not Vi. She's interested in everything. Everything. Do you grasp the meaning of "everything?" There is nothing that someone could offer to teach her that she would decline. There is not one single piece of knowledge that she would just as soon not bother with, thank you very much. There nothing she is not interested in knowing, regardless of the effort involved. And that's what she tore into me about.

She went off on a tirade about "How can you possibly not want to learn something???" She yelled at me. I yelled back "because it's fucking boring and i don't give a fucking shit." The door was open. Every syllable was carried down the hall and up the stairwell for every resident of the dorm to hear. We screamed. we shouted. we went at each other like starving heyienas on a rotting carcass.

Now, I am not a small woman, and I've got the lungs of a rower and (even more impressively) a marching-band trombonist. (That takes some serious wind, y'all.) And Vi? Let's just say that when she's riled she makes me look like a chiwawa barking at a rampaging grizzly.

I don't know how long we were at it. In retrospect there was a lot more going on that the issue being (loosely) debated. It was clearly more about tension and stress relief on both sides, but we didn't know that at the time. I thought Vi was being a snotty, condescending bitch, and she thought I had become the personification of willing ignorance, the most heinous of all sins.

Eventually we exhausted our fuel and the fire burned itself out. We stood there, blinking dumbly at one another, and then reached forward and threw our arms around one another, crying "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to yell! Please forgive me, I love you so much!" We sank to the floor, still hugging each other and dripping tears and snot on each other's shoulders, simultaneously laughing at our own absurdity.

After a time I said, "I'm starved; let's get dinner."

"Definately. Dining Hall X or Y?"

"X. Gimme a sec to get my coat."

And that was it. We zipped up to face the bleak December and walked out the door. We never did resolve the debate.

Later on after dinner we were sitting on Vi's bed crocheting Christmas gifts, as was our habit, when there was a soft knock on the door (which propped open). SJ, who lived right across the hall, said (very timidly), "Are you guys ok?"

"Yeah," we replied, confused. "Why do you ask?"

"Um, well, because I, we, that is, everyone heard shouting earlier, and we've never heard either of you shout before, and we couldn't imagine what could make you shout at each other. Em said to me, 'If CB and Vi are fighting, it must mean the apocolypse. Only the end of the world could do that.' We're really worried about you."

That was when it dawned on us how public our row had been. Truly until that moment we had no idea. And we were stunned and touched to learn that the power of our friendship was viewed with such admiration that nothing short of the Day of Judgement could tear us asunder.

That arguement is one of my fondest memories of Vi. It took me years to appreciate that she taught me an invaluable lesson that night, one drastically changed the way I view the world and my place in it. In short, I came to see that she was right, that there is nothing in this world that is not worth knowing, not worth the effort of learning. Sadly, the sum total of human knowledge being as vast as it is, it is not physically possible to know all there is to know, so life is one big prioritizing game.

I genuinely wish I could learn everything. I wish I could learn all the songs by all the bands that ever struck a chord. I wish I could learn all the stars in the sky, what's unique about each one, about all the galaxies, comets, planets, moons, constellations, nebulae, black holes, dark matter, and cosmic strings. I wish I would play every instrument, know every plant in every forest, the words to every poem, the life cycle of every animal. I wish I knew how every war was fought and lost and why and by whom, who ruled what kingdoms when, how merchant trade routes worked, all the organs of the human body and their functions, when the last dodo died, who shot JR, JFK, and where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. I even wish I knew how organic chemistry works.

For me, the most valuable thing about my friends is what I've learned from them. I never knew about bee-keeping until I met Wally. I had no idea about cricket until I met the Pirate. I had never listened to Iron Maiden until I met the Hairy Man. I couldn't play the piano until my Gentleman friend from Manchester began teaching me. I didn't know how to recognize and examine my own assumptions until Rich challenged them. In that spirit, Vi is the most important and special friend I've ever had, because she's the friend who taught me how to learn.

15 comments:

realdoc said...

That's really sweet cb. A good barney often cements a friendship, I find.

llewtrah said...

I feigned interest to attract men in the past. They lost interest in the interest and I still have some fascinating hobbies!

I really hate this beta thing :(

Farty said...

Nice post. I hated geography and history at school and now watch documentaries about remote countries or "olden times" avidly.

Youth is wasted on the young.

Aaron said...

"I genuinely wish I could learn everything. I wish I could learn all the songs by all the bands that ever struck a chord. I wish I could learn all the stars in the sky, what's unique about each one, about all the galaxies, comets, planets, moons, constellations, nebulae, black holes, dark matter, and cosmic strings. I wish I would play every instrument, know every plant in every forest, the words to every poem, the life cycle of every animal. I wish I knew how every war was fought and lost and why and by whom, who ruled what kingdoms when, how merchant trade routes worked, all the organs of the human body and their functions, when the last dodo died, who shot JR, JFK, and where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. I even wish I knew how organic chemistry works."

You mean you can't learn everything? Well, that's my reason for living fucked...

Aaron said...

The last dodo recorded alive was seen in 1680. No more were seen after that.

frobisher said...

A lovely post, well written!

Chaucer's Bitch said...

wow, you mean you guys actually read that whole thing? wow.

doc: in that case it did, though we were already pretty well cemented by that point. that row is the only arguement i've ever had with a friend in my whole life. wierd.

llewtra: glad the hobbies proved more interesting than the men in the long run!

farty: you're new around here. hello! re: youth/young -- precisely. oscar wilde was spot on that time. (and many others.)

aaron: you realize of course that if you go jump off a bridge now i will blame myself for your death, since i removed your reason for living. the foreknowldge of the guilt that would create in me should be more than enough to keep you alive for a while. new reason to live: not making CB feel guilty!

Chaucer's Bitch said...

thanks, frobi.

btw, nice ass.

Donn said...

Gawddammblogger has been eating my comments here for 2 f***ing days!!!

I loved your story. I have tried to learn something about everything and everything about something...although I am not sure what the something is and it is absolutely impossible since information doubles every 5 years...
oh well, what are ya gonna do?..
it sure beats sudoku!

You obviously took this lesson to heart and the scope and depth of your postings proves this time after time. The big three pounder nestled between your ears is vibrant and when combined with your formidable sass and tender heart it all makes for an intoxicating elixer.
I really loved your story..isn't it amazing to have shared your life that intimately..so few people ever really experience that type of relationship.

Shiny Blue Black said...

*sigh* you are SO lucky to have a friend like Vi. You two are special people.

I really enjoyed reading this post. It's true, there is interest to be found in most everything and everyone.

Melissa said...

I was just thinking the other day how little I know. I'm not stupid by any means, but there are only so many subjects I feel well versed in. I cheered myself up by realizing that, God willing, there is still a lot of time to learn botany, astronomy, the harmonica, whatever catches my interest. Not that we can ever know everything about every subject, but I bet we can squeeze quite a bit in during our time here.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

donn: "something about everything and everything about something" is the traditional victorain definition of a properly educated gentleman. i think it's rather a good one. intoxicating elixer, huh? gee, thanks!

sbb: don't i know it!

melissa: the more i know, the more i'm aware of how much i don't know. stupid paradox!

Anonymous said...

FirstNations

This was wonderful
You are wonderful!
I'm kind of overcome here. this was like an early christmas present, cb. thank you.
FNXOO

Anonymous said...

FirstNations continues....
HENDRIX IS BACK! HENDRIX IS BACK!
GO SEE! GO SEE!

Tedward's Missing Ear said...

I think your problem was the Substance-Free dorm. Seriously, no alcohol, no cigarettes no narcotics. What were you thinking!