Mini Memoir Monday: I Thought She Was Laughing

*Names have been changed

I liked Sarah because she was edgy, and pierced her own ears. She liked me because I brought a stuffed animal to college, and she thought that was amazingly bold and ‘real.’ When you’re meeting your college roommates for the first time, sometimes that’s all it takes to spark a friendship. We were in a suite, so we each had a private room, and shared a kitchen and living room.

She was the first person to tell me wearing my hair parted in the middle looked like an ass crack. I still part my hair to the side because of that comment. She was the first person I met who was my age and engaged. She used to joke that if someone cracked my head open, it would be filled with cartoon rainbows and ponies. If someone cracked her head open, it would look like a nine-inch nails video, she said.

While t.v. was filled with ads for anti-depressants, and  depression was a topic we learned about in high school health class, I never really understood how it could take someone’s personality hostage. In the first week of college, Sarah joined us for all the cheesy freshman orientation events (pajama parties, duck hunts, and mega hacky sack games to name a few). We joked around in the cafeteria, competing to make the tallest waffle towers. We even got tattoos at the same time. We held each other’s hand through the excruciating buzz that left me with a permanent heart on my hip, and Sarah with her fiance’s initials on her wrist (I tried to talk her out of that, but since her fiance’s initials were J.C. she told me if they ever broke up she’d pretend to be Christian).  She told me that she had depression and I thought that was strange because she seemed so happy.

Then something shifted. Her fiance wasn’t calling anymore, and her teachers weren’t ‘getting’ her. The food sucked, and everyone was lame. Pretty soon she wasn’t joining me in the cafeteria, and I was left to answer the door for her friends and tell them that she was sick. She stopped going to class. She stopped taking showers. When I forced myself into her room one night I barely recognized it as the mirror-image of my room. She had hung black curtains and taken out the overhead light bulbs so the only light came from a green lava lamp. The floor was carpeted with layers of dirty cloths, and a few random dirty dishes. Books covered her bed, and some had fallen to the floor. It smelled like my sneakers one summer when I forgot to bring socks to sleep away camp. The counselor made me leave my sneakers outside at night.

I turned down the Evanescent song that was blaring from her computer and sat on her bed. She had lost weight, and her skin was a shade that doesn’t exist in the aisles of any make up store. She rested her head in my lap, and I stroked her greasy hair  as she sobbed. I remembered my guy friends in high school joking about what college girls did in their dorm rooms late at night. This probably wasn’t what they had imagined.

If I could just find the right motivation for her, she would start feeling better. Her sadness didn’t seem proportionate to her circumstances. I wanted to understand it, but just as I could not imagine her feeling of despair, she could not imagine my feeling of hope. All I could do was listen. So I came into her room every night, and held her as she cried for hours.

And then it started working. One morning she woke up early and was chipper. I hardly recognized her. Freshly showered, she gave me a big hug and told me how much she appreciated our friendship. The next day she asked me to come to her room. She had a huge smile on her face as she put some of her paints in a box.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Getting rid of some stuff. I don’t need it all.”

She gave me a collection of sketch pads she bound herself, as well as her c-d collection. “Thanks, but are you sure you don’t want these?”

She shrugged. “Nah.”

The next night a large group of our friends huddled on the couch and watched Scrubs together. She laughed the loudest at all the jokes. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t believe how happy she was. I had the real Sarah back. I imagined us laying out on the grass in the quad, talking about boys, or walking down to the innbier-harbor in Baltimore, and binging on fudge. No more of this depressing darkness.

After the show ended she escaped to her room to call her fiance. The rest of our friends trickled out over the next two hours, and eventually I made it to my room to work on a midterm.  Every teacher had an assignment due before the Thanksgiving break. They all liked to feel like they were the hardest teacher in the school.

I was two pages into my essay on Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People,’ but I kept getting distracted by Sarah’s laughter. We shared an air vent and I could hear every snort and guffaw. Another hour went by and she was still laughing. No wonder she was marrying this man.

I heard a knock on my door, and my other suite mate, Jen, came in.”I think there’s something wrong with Sarah,” she said. She was already in her pajamas and glasses, no longer resembling the girl all my friends had crushes on.

I knocked on Sarah’s door. The laughing had stopped. I knocked again. Jen stood close behind me. There was no answer. I knocked harder. I tried the doorknob but it was locked. “Sarah, open up,” I yelled, but there was still no answer. “Ok, we’re going to pick the lock. Time to put away the vibrator,” I joked, trying to ease the tension. Still no answer.

The locks were cheap, and I was able to unlock her door with a dime. In the haze of the green lava lamp, I could see Sarah sitting at her computer desk, slumped over the keyboard. The screen was showing flight options to her fiance’s city. I wrapped my arms around her.

“The tickets are so expensive,” she said weakly.

I squeezed her tighter, but then felt something wet. In the green light, her blood on my hands looked black. I rolled her away from the desk, and noticed the pool of blood on the floor, with a razor blade in the middle. “Sarah,” was all I could say.

I told Jen to get tissues and put pressure on the wound as I ran out to get our R.A. he called the 911, and before I knew it I was sitting in the front seat of the ambulance, rushing through red lights at 2 am on a Tuesday night. Jen and the R.A. met me in the lobby of the emergency room a half hour later. Jen had my purse, which I didn’t realize was missing. We sat in edgy silence until a nurse came to tell us we could see her.

Sarah was hooked up to blood drip, and her eyes were barely opened. “I’m really sorry,” she kept repeating.

The nurse in attendance cocked her mouth to the side and shook her head. “You should be, taken’ god’s gift for granted. There’s a special place saved for people like you.” She filled something out on her chart, clucked her tongue, and then left us. I made a mental note to find the nurse’s supervisor later and complain.

“I had a really good idea,” Sarah said in a fog of painkillers. Her wrists were bandaged tightly. She looked like she was ready to play tennis.  “We should start a company where we print photos on dildos. Wouldn’t that be cool if you could have your boyfriend’s face on a dildo,” she said with slurred words. She was barely recognizable with her droopy eyes, and goofy smile.

“That would be really cool,” I said patting her shoulder.

We weren’t allowed to stay. The R.A. drove us home at five in the morning and I slept through my classes the next day. I didn’t finish my midterms. Jen and I stayed in the living room of our suite until Thanksgiving break. We drank hot coco and tried to ignore the fact that there was a blood stain trailing out of Sarah’s room.

When I returned from Thanksgiving break, Sarah’s room was cleared out. Her parents had taken her back home. There was no note. Her cell phone number had been disconnected. I know that Sarah was still alive in the emergency room, but her abrupt absence felt like a death. I never told her friends what happened. When they stopped by to hang out, I told them she dropped out.

Most of what you learn in college happens outside of the classrooms. I learned that I cannot fix someone. I wish that I had told a mental health counselor earlier on, someone who was equipped to handle Sarah. I knew about the five stages of grief and I realized that I was stuck in anger for a long time after the suicide attempt. I was angry that she put me through that. I was angry that I lost a part of my innocence. But most of all, I was angry for feeling so helpless.


  1. I think back to “being there” for friends and roommates in college but nothing comes close to this story – I’m sure it forever has impacted you. Thanks for sharing it and reminding me of what is important.


    1. It was a pivotal time in my life and fortunately I had other friends who were just as supportive to help me through it. Thank you!


  2. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story, Tracy. I’ve dealt with this issue for many years, and I’ve seen the toll it takes on both the individual suffering the disease and those who surround them and want, more than anything, to help them. The conundrum of depression is how when a person ravaged by it, they so often seem exactly the opposite, as if they couldn’t be happier.

    You were a wonderful friend to Sarah and, given your age, did all you thought you could do. You helped her through a particularly dark period in her life. You couldn’t have foreseen the after effects of her depressive state. No one can.

    Wonderfully written. I must say I enjoy your mini-memoirs. Maybe I’ll start doing them, too.


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful words. I hope you start doing mini memoir – having a scheduled “assignment” each week really helped me write more and I never would have written about this if I weren’t doing it.


  3. A very sad story told very well. Depression occurs to all of us, it really is how you handle it. Your friend showed many signs of being down but the problem is that unless she opened up and talked it out there probably not much you could do. Laughter does help. Sometimes religion can help. Sometimes just looking at a sunset can help. You just do not know what works. All I can say is keep trying. Good luck, Barry


  4. I had a very similar experience with one of my freshman roomies, not as dire as Sarah’s case, but her parents packed her off and we never saw her again. I could do little to help anyway. Maybe I’m shallow, but I just could never understand that level of hopelessness, especially in one so young. You did well. You did the best you could.


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