Alita and I met when we were freshmen at UW. She was from California, so we called her Compton. Because she had an “ethnic” name and came from L.A., we assumed she was ghetto. The fact that she was from a wealthy suburb, had a membership to the country club, enjoyed attending High Tea at the Four Seasons, and had participated in Whittier’s version of a debutante ball did nothing to sully our opinion of her. Alita was hardcore, and that was that.
During the first week of school, all of the fraternities at UW throw parties, and all of the freshmen (and sophomores and juniors and often seniors) get smashed. This is a kind of get-to-know-you week where you embarrass yourself, blackout, and if you’re slutty and lucky, get laid! The day before the big parties kicked off, Alita announced that we were going shopping. “We need hoochie tops,” she explained. I had never considered the necessity of hoochie tops, but at her bold proclamation, I decided she was right. I would later master the art of hoochie-top-wearing, and considered myself a connoisseur of hoochie-top selecting, but at the time, hoochie-top shopping was a totally foreign concept to me.
We went to the Ave. We strolled through Metro and Buffalo Exchange. We tried on halter tops and tank tops, corset tops and tube tops. I decided on a low-cut red number that made my cleavage pop. Alita settled on something slinky and black. On the way back to the sorority, we stopped at a traffic light. Cars whizzed by, and bicyclers signaled with their hands as they merged. We waited. “Let’s run,” Alita said at a break in traffic. We darted across the street. I made it safely to the other side, but I turned in time to see Alita trip, fall, and roll into the wheel of a parked car. She hit it with a thud and bounced off, and then, being the quick thinker she is, crawled into a space between one fender and another bumper. Safe. “Are you okay?!” I said, staring down at her between the cars. She hadn’t even let go of her bag. Suddenly she started laughing, and after a shocked moment, so did I. We heaved, laughed and snorted as traffic on 15th flew by. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I just rolled into a parked car!” Alita howled at the sky. I twisted my legs around each other and bounced up and down, trying not to pee. That incident marked the beginning of our friendship.
Later, after we had been ungraciously kicked out of our sorority, we moved into the first of many filth pits we shared together. At the time, I used to spend many nights at Drew’s fraternity, leaving Alita with the apartment and the car. One night though, I took the car keys. I completely forgot I had them. I was fast asleep in Drew’s snuggly bed when I heard the intercom in the hallway. The clock said it was two in the morning. “Sarah Trudeau,” said the voice on the intercom. “Sarah Trudeau, you have a phone call.” This was unusual, as girls never got phone calls in the fraternity, and also because it was the middle of the night. I resisted. “Sarah Trudeau,” the voice on the intercom said again. “Phone call for Sarah Trudeau.” I pulled the pillow over my head and tried to ignore it. I had a sneaking suspicion it was Alita and that this had something to do with the car. I wanted nothing to do with getting out of bed. I was angry, petulant, sensing that I would eventually be dragged from my nest. The kid on the microphone must have had a cruel sense of humor, because he continued paging me until I screamed, threw off the covers, and hurtled out into the hall to accept the call.
“I burned my hand,” Alita explained when I answered. “I need to go to the hospital.” I picked her up at the apartment and inspected her hand. Three perfect circles had been burned into her palm, one inside of the other. The circles were angry, red, blistering. I was amazed at their symmetry. It was almost artwork. “What the hell did you do?” I asked, picking up speed. This suddenly seemed urgent. “I was making something to eat,” she explained. “I felt the burner to see if it was hot.” I pictured her turning on the stove, letting it heat way up, and then pressing her palm against the burner to see if it was hot. “What were you thinking?!” I asked her, racing toward the hospital. “I don’t know…” she cried, and suddenly I began feeling sorry for her. “I guess I wasn’t really paying attention…”
Although Alita is capable of putting her hand palm-down on a fiery burner to test the temperature, she also has a fine intellect. She has been in school for the thirteen years that I’ve known her, graduating from UW, moving through her Masters degree at Seattle University, and now working on her PhD in California. During her Masters phase, she lived with me for a while. She was between apartments, and we thought it would be fun. One day I was all alone, and the next day she, her wiry dog Sammy, and all of their furniture and boxes had moved in, too. My apartment was not that big. The dog immediately began picking up on the stress.
Shortly after they arrived, Sammy began shitting on the carpet. Diarrhea. The dog psychic Alita consulted said that he was absorbing the sublimated stress in the apartment, and as a result, his digestive system was suffering. Her diagnosis did nothing to mitigate the growing collection of brown stains on the carpet. He shit all the time. Eight, nine times a day. In the doorway, beside my shoes. Under a chair. On the linoleum floor if he was being a good boy. Sometimes he would look at me sheepishly as he squatted down and let one rip on the carpet. He felt bad. But the shitting didn’t stop.
As the diarrhea epidemic continued, the stress in our household grew. One morning, I heard Alita getting ready for work. The bathroom door was inches from my bed, so every morning I would listen as Alita showered, sang, and flushed the toilet. She would creep around the bedroom, quietly putting on makeup, but I heard every sound and rarely was able to go back to sleep once she was up. On this particular morning, she wafted past me in a wave of perfume, and then the front door slammed. I got up. I walked into the bathroom, intending to enjoy my leisurely morning routine. I lifted the toilet seat, and… gasp! Someone hadn’t flushed! Alita. So I depressed the handle and waited. Nothing. Swirling water, same brown turd. I had to go badly though, so despite the lingering turd, I did my thing. Now there were two turds floating in the toilet. I tried to flush again. Nothing. I gave up and left the house, thinking that a nice latte and some fresh air would do me good.
When I returned, Sammy was shitting on the carpet. Already, there were three new watery piles, and countless brown stains. He was hunkered down, looking at me miserably. “Oh Sammy,” I said, wanting to be angry with him, but incapable of it. Instead, I went into the bathroom. Immediately I remembered the toilet predicament. “That’s it,” I thought. “I’m getting rid of these turds.” I plunged and I plunged. No happy sucking sound, no swirling water. All I managed to do was mash up the contents in the toilet bowl until it looked like a shit stew. With each unsuccessful plunge, I grew angrier and more violent. But this was not to my benefit, because in my vigor, I was creating a fine spray of shit water that gently showered down over my head, shoulders, and body. “To hell with this,” I thought and stripped off my clothes. I wasn’t about to ruin my nice things with the septic droplets exploding out of the toilet with each plunge. Naked now, I plunged on and on, swearing, sweating, and getting nowhere. When Alita came home that evening, I was sitting on the couch, arms folded across my chest. “What’s wrong, dude?” she asked, immediately sensing my anger. “The toilet,” I said shortly. “The fucking toilet’s clogged.” Alita, being Alita, walked into the bathroom, deployed a few short plunges, and came out moments later, sweat-free and smiling. “It’s done,” she said. Sammy looked at us morosely from beneath a table.
At this same time, being in our mid-twenties and “processing” our angst as all good self-help books advised, we put ourselves in therapy. With the same therapist. Brooke was a lovely woman, but she had the tendency to mix us up. “So this guy asked me out,” I’d say. Brooke would blow her nose and tuck her fuzzy feet up beneath her. “Ahhh…” she’d say knowingly. “The cousin?” “Noooo….” I’d reply slowly. Alita was dating “the cousin.” My cousin. But I didn’t want to hurt Brooke’s feelings, so I didn’t remind her that she was thinking of my roommate. Often I would walk out of a session blurry-eyed and runny-nosed and bump straight into Alita. “Hey dude, are you alright?” she’d ask. “Do you wanna take the Rav and pick me up when my sesh is over?” I usually declined to borrow her red, boot-shaped car, and sniffled my way home on the bike instead. But it was nice having a homie to greet me after my sessions when I was emotionally drained and at my worst.
Later, after we had graduated from therapy and were inhabiting separate abodes, we found it easier to laugh. Usually it was at ourselves. Alita and Sammy came over one night to cook dinner, and I accidently wore my hair down. I had recently had a bad haircut, and wasn’t showing it to anyone. “Dude, what’s up with your mullet?” Alita asked, strolling right into the kitchen. It had occurred to me that my hair resembled David Bowie’s in Labyrinth, but I was trying not to think about it too much. I can always count on Alita to tell me the ugly truth, though. “Dude, you have a huge booger hanging out of your nose,” she’ll say, after I’ve just “aced“ a job interview. Or, “Dude, you’ve gotta take that necklace off. Only my mom wears necklaces over turtlenecks!”
Our friend Kelly once said that she loved knowing Alita, because if nothing else, she got to date vicariously through her. Alita has been known to participate in “serial dating.” Yes. She has dated a handful of cool guys, and a boatful of freaks. One guy gave her his computer after their first date, dropping the whole heavy apparatus at our front door. Wires spilled out and the keyboard banged against it as we tried to heave it into the apartment. This was ten years ago, so it was no light laptop. It took up half the living room and we had no idea what to do with it. He had also attached a homemade CD, with hand-picked songs by artists such as Bryan Adams and Meatloaf. On the CD case, he had scrawled Per Mi Bella.
After this particular heartthrob disappeared from our lives, others came to take his place. Alita would stand in front of the mirror before a date, tilting her head to one side and inspecting her reflection. “Dude, do I look okay?” she’d ask, chewing her lip. I’d encourage some outfits, veto others. Eventually, her standard “date uniform” evolved into a pair of tight jeans, a sexy black top, and her hooker boots. Sometimes she’d throw an exotic scarf over her shoulders. “Do you think I should wear the hooker boots?” she’d ask anxiously, eyeing herself in the mirror. “Yes,” I’d always say. “Definitely wear the hooker boots.” Alita can rock a pair of hooker boots like nobody’s business.
Though we have been worlds apart this year- she’s working on her PhD in California, and I’ve been traveling in India- she is as close to my heart as ever. When I was studying yoga in Trivandrum, I called her. I had just been through a ridiculous cleansing process that involved nasal flossing, gauze-swallowing, and voluntary vomiting. Somehow, this strange physical purging was followed by a strong emotional need to cry. I tried Drew, but there was no answer. I called my best friend and got her voicemail. I sat in the phone booth, tears filling my eyes. I needed to pour my heart out. Alita! I suddenly thought. Duh. I’ll call Alita. We hadn’t spoken in nine months, and our emails have always been sporadic. She picked up the phone on the first ring and I started crying. “Who is this?” she said. “Sarah,” I sobbed. “Sarah who?” she asked. “Trudeau!” I cried, exasperated. “Oh, dude!” she said. “I’ve missed you so much!”
I’d missed her, too. I am more real with Alita than I am with anyone in the world. There are no pretensions between us, no subject that is off-limits. Gynecological mysteries, bowel irregularities… we’ve hashed it all out in great detail. We laugh and cry and… laugh. It always comes back to laughter. We’ve laughed so hard in public that it becomes hazardous to our social standing. “Stop, stop!” she’ll cry, pressing her hand between her legs, trying not to pee. She regularly has me snorting and pounding the floor. And no laughing session is complete without Alita’s eyes streaming with tears. “Dude,” she’ll say, wiping her eyes, shaking with laughter. “Dude!”
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