Cold looks from grandma and BFFs

You were a better friend when you were 10 – that’s the text message I read while falling in and out of sleep sometime during the early hours between Monday and Tuesday.

It was from a girl whom I’ve shared many years of my life with, a girl who grew up down the block from my grandma’s house.

Lately, she’s had a tendency to do this. Out of nowhere she’ll send me a message that reinforces the fact that I’m a terrible friend compared to the me of yesteryear. She’ll say things like: “Who are you?” “Your eyes look vacant.” “Bring the old Darren back.”

Granted, I’ve told her I’d make time to catch up, to go out and have our usual “stiff drink” – Ketel One on the rocks with three olives. But I haven’t delivered on my word, and I think she’s really starting to get pissed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt these negative vibrations. Ever since these college years began, I’ve gotten some stiff criticisms from friends and family concerning my absence in their lives.

I can comfortably say that I like to spread myself thin, so to speak. I take on a lot of responsibility from my class schedule, to work, to extracurricular activities. I know this story holds true for a vast majority of the college population. Hence the surplus of beer cans in every trash container in the city of Kent come Sunday – our escape.

What I don’t know is if people experience the same consequences as me when it comes to how college forces us to live our lives swaying on a metaphorical tightrope.

When I walk into my grandma’s house, I get the cold look. I feel her eyes lock on me. She tells me I look like a skeleton: too thin and not healthy. She asks what I’ve been doing. I tell her school, work, a show here and an interview there. I tell her I can’t stay long because I have to get to a meeting or a practice. And the eyes hit me from across the table. They sting my heart.

And I’ve felt the same pain with my friend Marc. This kid was like my brother. He had a terrible home life, so he pretty much lived with me our senior year of high school. He graduated early and came to Kent State a semester before I did.

When I got here, I immersed myself in college. I was making friends by the second. I was joining clubs and playing music. I wasn’t calling him every day. We weren’t hanging out the way we used to. I remember the day he said “Fuck you” to me and told me I replaced him with my new life. He told me I didn’t deserve my girlfriend or any friend, that I was a selfish prick who deserved to be alone.

My roommate said the same thing to me. We’ve only fought once, and it was about my life and how I’m a selfish friend who spends too much time at school with people who are temporary, people who transfer or people who graduate and move on. I told him he didn’t understand because he didn’t go to school at a university. I told him he didn’t know what it was like to perform at a collegiate level, to deal with the balancing act. I told him the more time you spend in the environment, the more connected you feel and the better you perform. He said I was a liar with excuses.

College is intense in many ways. It’s the most reading we will do our entire lives. It’s the most unhealthy we’ll ever be – drinking too much, sleeping too little and overloading our brains with short-term material. It’s the most disconnected from reality we’ll ever be, protected from recessions and job loss. Downtown Kent is packed with kids every night of the weekend, drinking away the week’s stress, spending money they probably don’t have and not caring.

For now, we are all skeletons and best friends forever, starving and sharing in this experience together. And eventually, all misunderstandings and alienations among friends and family will cease to exist. I believe we all grow to understand the inherent and necessary selfishness of this period in our lives.

On the Sundays I do make it to my grandma’s, after she shoots me the cold stare, she breaks down, feeds me and fills my glass of milk over and over. We talk. And we always hug goodbye and say I love you. But those eyes – damn, those eyes – kill me every time I walk into the house.

Marc and I reached solace. He called me the day he was moving away from Ohio to Arizona to help him pack and have a proper goodbye. Now, he sends me e-mails with the letters N.S.Y.F.S.T.D in the subject line, which I open in public places out of curiosity. What I open is a line of typed laughter and photos of naked women with massive breasts – National Send Your Friend Some Titties Day. I click the “X” frantically and laugh along with him in spirit.

My roommate is applying to go to Kent State in the fall, so he’ll understand soon enough.

And I will thank the girl who grew up down the street from me for her antagonizing concern. But I’ll do it after this semester is over, when my life isn’t a crazed mess. We will share some stiff drinks, laugh and remember why we’ve been friends our entire lives.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].