“Cheers To That”
by Amanda Montesano
May 15, 2005.
The kitchen at 31 Prior Park Road had once again transformed into the ultimate competitive playing field. The six us took our respective flatmate positions around the tiny kitchen table, each with one hand on a can of Blackthorne cider the other holding five playing cards. Our fate for the game lay at the tips of our fingers. The winning team would achieve ultimate Uker dignity (and the incentive of an additional free Blackthorne!), while the losing teams would be forced to tackle the trials of the Prior Park sink, overflowing with grungy dinner dishes. I gazed across the table at my partner for the game, and partner in crime, Katie. I looked into her eyes attempting to use my telepathic powers to let her know that diamonds were my suit of choice. It was the moment of truth that would decide our Uker destiny.
She stared back at me. “Spades,” she stated confidently.
I chuckled to myself. I had a feeling I would soon be elbow deep in dirty dishes. The game continued on cue until the final card was played.
“UUuuuuuuuuuuukkker!” Kyle proclaimed from across the table, pitching his remaining cards on the table and throwing Adam a high five. Damn those boys! The tower of dishes caked with the ritual Saturday dinner of “bangers and mash” loomed in the corner, glaring at me tauntingly.
“Geeze, you boys,” Katie sipped her cider. “Uker is a Midwest card game. You two being from Maine, when I first met you I thought you had a win in you.”
“Yeah well strange K-Tizz. When I met you I thought you were cynical as hell, which we know now is totally false,” Kyle said playfully back in her direction.
“Hey, I was tired and cranky and had a way longer trip than you. Cut an Indiana girl a break!” She replied lightheartedly.
“And how about Monte?” Kyle had introduced my name into the evolving conversation. It was like being perched at the starting block- all eyes were on me. There was no turning back. I remained silent in anticipation of my flatmates’ response.
“One thing is for sure. I never thought she would be washing dishes of ‘bangers and mash.’ I thought dishwashing would erode her nail polish or something of the sort”, Adam added jokingly from my left.
I laughed out loud at the hilarity of the comment. The last time I had painted my nails was probably for my high school prom. “Come on guys. As you know by my five night a week kitchen-cleaning routine, I’m actually a dish-washing fanatic, not to mention a huge neat freak.”
And before we knew it, the game of Uker had evolved into the forever intriguing game of “first impressions”- some hilarious, some disenheartening, but all authentic. Looking across the table again, I internalized the moment briefly and thought back to the first day, the day I met Katie Klein- seemingly the most unlikely of friends for me. Nostalgia clouded my mind like a thick and indissoluble haze…
February 1, 2005.
Victory was almost mine! Hopping out of the taxi cab I handed an extra dollar- oops I mean pound- to the cab driver and reached for my luggage. I had been told by my family one day prior that there was “no way in hell” that I would be able to pack so Bath, much. However, two large suitcases and a carry on bag later I was finally standing in front of my final destination: 31 Prior Park Road in Bath, England.
I had been anticipating this moment for quite some time, and months of planning later, it had finally arrived. Behind me I left my family, friends and all I had ever known. The ritual hospital visits that had made up my winter break, my grandma’s frail body laying in bed, the chronic pain- her pain- was now but a memory and no longer a current reality. Although I had attempted to abandon my worries about Nonnie’s health at English customs, they lingered on my mind with a ghastly presence. Her words of wisdom for my trip replayed in my mind- Mandy, be safe, be smart and most importantly, have fun. I love you. I retreated from my thoughts and focused on the task at hand. Have fun- that is what she would want me to do. I took a deep breath and smiled to myself. Have fun- that was just what I was going to do.
Three double-lattes pumped through my bloodstream as I grabbed a suitcase in each hand and gracelessly plodded towards the door, heart and head brimming with equal amounts of excitement and angst. One foot in front of the other, I bound through the fine mist and up the cobblestone pathway to the place that would be my apartment- oops I mean flat- for the next five months. I pressed the doorbell expecting the stereotypical “ding-dong” to resonate in my ears. Instead all I got was an abrasive bzzzzz.
Although I was anxious to meet all of my roommates, I was especially eager to meet the other Boston College girl who would be living with me, Katie. . I’d tried “stalking” Katie before my trip but my attempts were largely unsuccessful. Thefacebook.com provided me with nothing more than an elusive blue question mark for a photograph and the disappointing fact that in the midst of the 10,000 person BC community, “you and Katie have (only!) three friends in common.” Images of popped Lacoste shirts adorned with glistening pearls danced in my mind, yet I secretly hoped this cookie cutter typecast of a Boston College girl would not be standing behind the closed door. Despite the dismal outlook painted by gods of thefacebook.com, I hoped that at least an acquaintanceship would emerge. Only time would tell.
As I struggled to lug my economy-sized suitcases to the top of the stoop, the door suddenly swung open and six unknown faces stared back at me. Inundated with an awkward array of HIs, HELLOs and HEYs, I was introduced to Kyle, Adam, Jessie and such, but no Katie. I was about to introduce myself when a girl, presumably Katie, emerged at the top of the stairs and strolled down. She was a wanted ad for my antithesis, adorned in baggy jeans, sneakers and a wrinkled Cardinals T-shirt. She swept her unkempt golden hair into a messy bun at the nape of her neck and continued down the steps. She was a poster child for the stereotypical tomboy while I was sporting a fuschia sweater and matching earrings. We couldn’t have been more different.
“Hey’all, I’m Katie,” she said in a Midwestern drawl once she reached the bottom step.
Blame it on the lattes or the induced nervousness of new beginnings but I was immediately launched into turbo mode, chirping “Hi, I’m Amanda!” in a high pitched voice and hugging each of my new roommates. When I got to Katie, the hug was reluctantly reciprocated. I could tell that fostering this relationship would not be easy. As the weather forecast of rain on BBC station one created a soft background hum of noise, I formulated a forecast of my own: acquaintances with Katie- probably, friends with Katie- possibly, good friends with Katie- never.
February 12, 2005
My hiking boots sunk deep in the Haworth mud as I followed our program director, Johnathon, up the crest of the steep hill. It was a parody of sorts, fourteen Americans “hiking” the English countryside for a weekend trip for our ‘19th Century Women Novelist’ class. According to our tutor and director this trip was designed to “enlighten the class on the rustic value of the English moors, and consequently give students adequate background information for Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.” According to me, the trip was a vain and unsuccessful attempt to force class members to socialize with one another. My roommate Katie was also on this trip, yet she remained somewhere behind me in line. Part of me wanted to take this opportunity to get to know her better, but I figured I would let events pan out naturally- if it were meant to happen it would; if not, there was always another day.
The snowflakes pummeled down from the heavens above, blanketing the fields that stretched to the horizon. The morning sun had retired from its temporary game of hide and seek, and had safely retreated behind the façade of grey clouds. The wrath of the impending storm was thus left for our hiking group of “dodgy Americans”. Our class had wandered off the beaten path hours ago and it was terrifying to me that our hopes of finding our way back to Haworth were vested in Johnathon, the flirtatious thirty eight year-old Jude Law equivalent.
Sudden shouts rang out from in front of me the hiking line. “Hiya everyone! Brilliant news. I see a footpath at the bottom of this knoll. We just have to climb down the side of this hill and we can make it back to Haworth within a couple of hours! Cheers to that!”
“Sweetness,” I turned and exclaimed to the girl next to me. To my surprise it was none other than Katie. She must have been just as surprised as I was because before I knew it she had lost her footing and was cascading down the knoll into the muddy depths below. I pushed past Johnathon and made my way safely down the hill to Katie’s side.
“Oh my God, Katie! Are you okay? Let me help you get up!” I extended my hand to her.
Upon reaching her side I saw the damage of her fall. Katie’s jeans, sneakers and face were all covered in a thick brown sludge. Despite her tomboy-esque nature, she did not seem too fond of the mud. I saw the dismay in her eyes and I immediately sympathized with her position. I knew that in a time like this there was only one thing I could do. I plunged my finger into the muck at my feet and drew warrior paint mud streaks across my face.
“You know what they say,” I pronounced. “When in the Moors, do as the Brontes do”.
Before I knew it our troop of fourteen, Johnathon included, all had matching streaks of brown on our cheeks- Katie was no longer alone. In the midst of the utter ridiculousness of the moment I finally felt at ease with my flatmate. I was pleasantly surprised with my actions, and I hoped Katie was too.
“Hey Katie?” I addressed her again. “I have an extra sweatshirt in my bag. It’s pink if you don’t mind.”
She smiled back at me. “Thanks Amanda, I don’t mind at all.”
March 3rd, 2005.
A month into my British experience, dynamics within Prior Park had been working out quite smoothly. Thanks to the revolutionary card game Uker, the flatmates had bonded, and surprisingly enough I had found an acquaintance within Katie, the other Boston College girl. Needless to say I was taking my Nonnie’s advice- I was having fun, and lots of it to say the least. Despite the calm nature of my English life, matters on the homefront were not going smoothly. And although home was an ocean away, the problems reverberated through the borders of England with a vengeance.
I sat nervously in the upstairs hallway, phone pressed to my ear in hopes that I would hear Nonnie’s voice say a coherent word. Yet, as I babbled away all I heard in return was consistent heavy breathing and an occasional garbled murmur.
“Yeah Nonnie. You would have loved the castles!” I continued ranting. “The view from Ludlow castle was breathtaking.”
No response. But the breathing continued- she was still there. I thought of what could rile her for a response- aha! Fashion. Nonnie had always shared her grandmotherly traits and capabilities of her well-earned title of senior citizen fashion goddess. At home I had come to expect the daily morning telephone call from Nonnie that would open up with the infamous query, “Hey Mandy, how are you... what are you wearing?” I decided I would tell her of my latest fashion purchases in hopes of prompting a reaction.
“Oh and Non, I bought this amazing sweater in Ludlow. It is green and so warm. I’m actually wearing it now. What are you wearing?” I posed the query, knowing perfectly well she was now relegated strictly to hospital gown garb. But even this question did not initiate an answer, just the same heavy breathing.
“Non? Are you there?”
“Amanda!” Finally a voice answered from the other line. However, to my disappointment it was the wavery voice of my mother. “Sorry sweetie, Nonnie fell asleep on the phone. Her kidney dialysis treatments are taking a beating on her. She hasn’t been doing very well. I have to go now sweetheart. I’ll call you later.”
The phone clicked, signaling the end of the call, and I was left with complete silence. Tears welled in my eyes- she was sick and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt helpless, desolate, alone. I descended to the second floor and was about to retreat to the safeness of my room when as if on cue, Katie emerged from her bedroom.
“Monte?! Are you okay?” I attempted to be strong, but I knew she saw the look of despondency in my eyes. Memories of the moors flashed in my mind. She was extending her hand this time.
“Can we talk?” I asked. I had so much to share about Nonnie.
It was a pinnacle moment, one that had to potential to push an acquaintanceship past the threshold and move it into the realm of friendship. The power lie within her response.
March 10th, 2005
It was only a mere week since “the phone call”, yet so much had changed. Despite my blossoming friendship with Katie, I felt alone- literally and figuratively. My Nonnie was gone, my family was 2,000 miles away and there was nothing I could do about it. I looked in the mirror; my cheeks and lips were chapped and ruddy, reddened by my incessant crying. My body ached, but my soul ached more. Never did I think I would hear those four dreaded words, but their reality rung true. My mother’s voice replayed in my mind as I again choked on the sobs returning in my throat- Amanda, Nonnie passed away.
I picked up the picture me and my Nonnie that resided next to my bed and ran my hand over the glass-plated frame. As I ran my fingers over her face- beautiful, kind, smiling- memories of past times with Nonnie inundated my senses. I remember it all like it was yesterday- the sight of her sitting by the pool on a warm summers day, the sound of her lively giggle, the smell of her gardenia perfume, and her relentless words of wisdom- Be smart, be safe, but most importantly have fun. Inhaling I took in the reality of the situation, these memories were just that- memories, never to be repeated again. The finality of this reality resonated on my tongue- never again.
I wanted nothing more than to be in my family’s arms, to be safe within the arms of those that I loved- of those who understood. But my family was an ocean away, and I was left with nothing more than a feeling of emptiness. The fingers of despair had clasped my body tight, and for the time being there was no escape. I had no allies; I wa helpless- alone. Part of me wanted to talk to my flatmates- to cry and share- they were my family now, right? But I was not sure if they would understand. Katie was my closest friend in the house, and she knew my history. But still I was hesitant. I got out of my bed to put the picture back on the bureau, tears again welling in my eyes. Retreating back to my bed a slip of paper with pink writing by the door caught my eye.
I’m across the hall if you want to talk or need a shoulder to cry on. Come in anytime.
The note meant the world to me.
I walked across the hall and raised my hand to knock, but the actual knock never occurred. The door opened as I approached it and Katie was standing there with open arms. I crashed into those arms and we cried, together. It was there, within her embrace that I realized that our friendship had again advanced, and that I was not alone.
May 15, 2005.
“Anyways, we uuuked you. Get at those dishes!” Adam’s voice rang out, bringing me back to the present and reminding me of mine and Katie’s embarrassing loss and wretched task at hand. Dishes caked with bangers and mash beckoned us from the corner of the sink - it was time.
“Am I ever.”
The boys retreated to the living room to watch rugby while Katie and I rolled our sleeves up and plunged our hands into the soapy water. To an outsider the scene would seem to be quite absurd: two boys lounged across mismatched couches, cards and Blackthorne cans strewn across a wobbly kitchen table, and two blatantly dissimilar Boston College girls with hands immersed in dirty dishes. But to me it was home, it was completely comfortable, and in honor of Nonnie’s wishes- it was fun. I looked out the Prior Park window to the garden outside, bursting with color, vibrancy, life. It was hard to believe that this scene would only be a reality for a mere three more days. The number loomed in my head incessantly- in three days we would embark on our trip back to America to our prospective states and homes, and once again, life would be flip-flopped upside down. I looked at Katie and realized she too was gazing out the window in memory of our past semester.
“Weird, huh? I can’t believe we are going to leave this place,” I thought out loud.
“Yeah, Monte. It seems like only yesterday that you lugged your seven hundred pounds of luggage up the stairs.” Katie chuckled.
I flicked soapy water in her direction and laughed with Katie. I did overpack; that was for sure. Yet despite my laughing, I could not help but feel a twinge of sadness. My journey was coming to a screeching halt. Soon enough there would not be the glory of daily rain showers, bangers and mash, Earl Grey, Blackthornes or Katie’s company. Like a clay figure I had retained my basic figure, but my English experience had shaped and refined my present being. My heart still ached with the loss of Nonnie- life at home would never be the same. Despite being temporarily caught up in the storm of a loss so devastating, it was a friendship that pulled me through and let me see sunlight once again. I would not have been able to get through that chapter in my life without Katie’s companionship. We had experienced the good, the bad and the ugly, but when all was said and done I can confidently state- I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It’s been glorious,” I reminisced.
“Cheers to that.” Katie agreed.
I looked out the window again, taking it all in- the sound of the birds chirping in the garden, the smell of gardenias, and the view of the fine mist we had become so accustomed to. It was glorious indeed.