Becky

Unlike many of the people who cared about her, I met Becky long before I knew anything about her. We were in a class together at Reed College, when I was a sophomore and she was a junior. Humanities 220: Modern European Humanities, taught by a slightly cranky, matronly professor named Christine who despised the passive voice. Both Becky and I loved her. There were probably a dozen or so people in the class, many of whom I found annoying in some way or another. There was a ruddy-cheeked fellow who wore blazers and was my first exemplar of an East Coast prep school turd, there was an androgynous punk girl who spoke in a cadence I found jarring, a woman much older than the rest of us (28) who had dropped out of Reed several years earlier, when she was a freshman and got knocked up by her senior boyfriend (who was by this time my boss at the college mailroom). She had a kind of arrogance that I’d probably now characterize merely as run-of-the-mill late-twenties confidence, but it irritated me at the time. Then there was a cute girl who wore polka-dotted bandannas in her hair and spoke shyly, tremulously, intelligently. I was so insecure in that time, and I envied almost everything about her. I gave her a perfect life, a kind and caring boyfriend, abundant friends, lots of fun. If only I could have made these jealous gifts real.

Later, I learned that over the course of that year, Becky had begun dabbling with and ultimately became addicted to heroin (in a blog entry she wrote almost exactly two years ago, during what was perhaps her longest period of heroin sobriety, she says it initially helped her do the nightmarish load of reading she was assigned in the history, sociology, anthropology, and humanities courses she had to take after changing her major from art at the end of the previous year). I was heartbroken to realize that in order to remain in my shell of bitter self-loathing, I’d casually ascribed superior happiness to a person who would never quite manage to crawl her way out of the hell toward which she was even then in free fall.

I told Becky about all of this once. After graduating I had moved to western France to teach English to elementary-age children, and following an initial week of existentially heavy solitude, I’d met up with some of the other people in my program, among them an American girl from Madison, Wisconsin, who’d just graduated from a school in Minneapolis. When I told her I’d gone to Reed, she said she followed the blog of a girl who’d gone there. Reed’s a pretty small school, I said hopefully, and asked for the girl’s name, which I didn’t recognize off-hand. Then I went back to my studio apartment, climbed the ladder to my stooped loft bedroom, and read every entry.

Becky’s writing spooked me, and not just because it came to me like an apparition of a ghost from my past and revealed an absent-minded heartlessness I was sad to find in myself. We seemed to share a way of thinking about certain things—even perhaps the world in general—that emerged in the phrasings of our separate writings. I was surprised to encounter in that first of Becky’s blogs that I started following the phrase “nothing belongs to us except in our memories.” I had written an almost identical formulation (albeit slightly verbose) in a paper journal from around the same time. I know this because reading Becky’s diaryland blog inspired me to start my own. I can’t be sure anymore, but in thinking about Becky in the past week, I began to wonder if that was my first online journal—if it was Becky who inspired me, in some way, to begin writing my thoughts out for others to stumble upon. If it was she who pushed me toward the life I have now. If nothing else, I know that she helped nudge me along the path, even if I could never even come close to keeping up with her.

After a couple months, in November 2005, Becky wrote something in her blog—a request for correspondence, I believe—which motivated me to email her.

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