Sometimes people drift into your life, and then, impossible to stop, they drift out.
When I first saw Kate, she was sitting on a dormitory radiator wearing pilled black sweatpants and talking in animated, not to say bossy, British tones about Middle Earth and Dungeons & Dragons.
Kate had been born in England, had grown up in Australia and New Zealand, but now lived in a small landlocked Missouri town where her father was a college professor.
Kate knew about things I didn’t — the history of Scientology, the kid who disappeared in the steam tunnels, the comic strip “Footrot Flats” and how to play role-playing games.
She was short with a stocky build. She didn’t style her hair, wear makeup or wear nice clothes. Had she paid attention to her looks, it would have paid off. So once I fixed her hair and makeup and lent her my denim miniskirt from Boston. She took one look at herself in the mirror and silently left the room — to find a boy she’d had her eye on.
At the end of that year as I drove off campus, I saw Kate walking in the sunshine near the dorm, deep in conversation with her boyfriend and wearing a flattering pants suit.
The next year we were roommates.
Right away, things were different. As she entered the dorm room, I could see she had gained considerable weight over the summer, and she wouldn’t meet my eye. She seemed distant, though we talked about the same things as before.
One day I came home from classes and found her in tears. “I’m nothing but a fat … bad-tempered … British girl!” she exploded.
Completely, unflinchingly true. Yet not.
“But an interesting one,” I protested.
I thought we were friends. When you laugh together and tell one another secrets and see one another making mistakes of judgment during your college years, you might think you’re friends with someone.
My graduation rolled around, and I sent Kate an invitation to attend. I was puzzled by her reaction. She looked down and mumbled that she wasn’t sure she’d show up. In the end, she did. Even handed me a present without quite looking at me.
After graduation I got a job far away. My life looked good on paper, but it was a struggle. When Kate and I spoke, which was seldom, it was only because I called.
One day I called Kate, and she told me that she and her boyfriend had gotten married. Stammering in surprise, I congratulated her and pressed her for details. She gave vague answers. A small ceremony. No, don’t send a present.
When I called her again some months later, I asked her enviously how married life was.
“What do you mean?”
Now I was flummoxed. “You told me you got married.”
There was a longish pause. “Oh. Well. It sounded like you were having such an interesting life, I felt like I had to have something to say.”
There it was: the pathos, the resentment, and the point where you can’t be friends any more.
A half-remembered conversation drifted back to me. One of Kate’s friends had muttered to me that he was surprised I considered her a friend, given what she’d once told him. Apparently her father wanted her to be thinner and to major in something more prestigious than psychology. And he kept comparing her … to me.
She had told me a lot of secrets about herself, but that one, the most important one, she never revealed.
Laura Malt Schneiderman is a Web content producer for Post-Gazette.com (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1923).