One of the most terrifying moments of my life was when my parents dropped me off at Ohio University in the fall of 1986. While my childhood wasn’t devoid of terrifying moments up to that point, I was nervous to be living in completely new surroundings and having the exhaustingly daunting task of making new friends. Shyness had been an overwhelming part of my character since birth and while I was internally excited to meet new people, I was absolutely terrified that nobody would like me. Not only was I shy, but whenever I did say anything, it tended to be incredibly awkward and misread entirely.
I was weird.
So, when I was presented with a group of 11 new “sisters” my freshman year, I didn’t know what to do. Our dorm, Fenzel House, was an experimental living arrangement. All the students had a private room and the floors were grouped into “mods” that shared a common major. I lived on the first floor with eleven other girls who had claimed majors in communications. I don’t remember what majors the other floors were, with the exception of third – they were the business kids.
I bonded most with my mod-mate Paula those first couple of weeks. She was cool and down to earth and just so funny – traits that I possessed but hadn’t fully developed at the time – so our friendship was meant to be. That, and she was persistent in trying to break through my hard, non-communicative shell. I should mention that I was geared towards the photojournalism piece of communications, not the actual act of communications. Anyway, Paula is still one of my most important friends to this day.
But I remember very clearly the moment that Rhonda Collins entered my life. To quote Miley Cyrus, she came in like a wrecking ball. Blonde hair, blue eyes, big boobs… a real head turner. Her aesthetics coupled with her immense personality dictated that she was not to be ignored.
I was standing in the hall right outside my room heading to the bathroom with my shower bucket of toiletries. She whizzed past me (her room was right down the hall from mine) talking about some party that she’d just been invited to. She didn’t say anything directly to me, she was talking to another mod-mate, Ann (another super groovy chick who is still a part of my life.) But as she made eye contact with nearly-naked me as I was heading to the shower, I was struck by her verve. Never had I seen someone with so much charisma. So bold. Fearless. Would talk to absolutely anyone. Had like 75 boyfriends. There was an air of excitement surrounding her. She was the polar opposite of my quirk. And she he scared the absolute shit out of me. Nevertheless, I wanted in. I told myself that somehow, some way, I would get to know this person.
Being the non-communicative, anti-brave person I was, our friendship had to happen in a roundabout way. It was our mod-mate Ann who eventually brought us together… Ann and Rhonda (or Ronnie as we knew her in college) were besties. Ann is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She and Rhonda did nearly everything together. Ann and I had a few moments of bonding prior to her bringing Rhonda in, namely altering our ID’s to allow access to bars. After I experienced the great shock of my step-mother’s suicide right before spring break, Ann decided to include me in a trip to the East Coast she had planned with Rhonda to take my mind off things. Rhonda handles everything with minimal nonsense. She’s blunt. She’s direct. She sometimes says things that completely catches me off-guard. But she showed me nothing but love on that trip. It was a life-enhancing moment and cemented our budding friendship.
I guess after Freshman year we didn’t hang out like we did that first year, but we were still friends. She went to law school in Columbus and lived in the same neighborhood as my parents. I just happened to be sponging off my parents for a bit while I was a social worker downtown – and battling my own stupid cancer (nothing in comparison to what Ben has gone through.) And while Rhonda was still the polar opposite of me – she made an effort to be there for me during my tough times.
Right after my cancer stuff, I moved to Colorado by myself. I lost touch with many of my Ohio friends over those eight years of being a ski bum. I’m pretty sure it was Ann who brought us all back together when she got married in 2005. Rhonda and I were both in her wedding. Rhonda had gotten married around the same time I did and her children were nearly the exact age as my Ben and Madeline. I had changed a lot – most likely because we had just finished up the first big battle for Ben’s life – but Rhonda was exactly the same.
Ann’s wedding was fun. Rhonda and I reconnected in a way that brought us so much closer. I adored her amazing husband, Jeff, and her brilliant children. I knew that this time we wouldn’t lose touch.
Nearly three years ago, Rhonda decided to bring her family to Colorado. That’s how she does things. She just wakes up in the morning and says, “this is what I want” and she makes it happen. I admire that about her. If she physically possessed testicles, they’d be the size of Texas.
We’re an unlikely pair, Rhonda and me. But I think we balance each other nicely. I’m sure I irritate her with my laissez-faire ways because she’s the type who takes the reigns and doesn’t sugarcoat a single thing while my horse gallops freely in a land filled with cotton candy.
And there are times she still scares the shit out of me because she makes me look at my life in ways I don’t really want to see. I trust her 100% because she’s never told me anything but the truth about how she feels – even when it’s brutally hard to hear. And I honestly love her because of that. She’s told me on several occasions that I’m a good writer – and I believe her – because it’s simply not her way to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass.
Two days ago as we were riding a chairlift at Breckenridge, she leaned her helmeted head to rest on my shoulder as we looked at the brilliant sun shining through to pinecone laden trees. It was a perfect moment. Of course, just a few minutes later, we were singing opera to everyone else on the chairlift as skiers whizzed by beneath us, our laughter slicing through the crisp air. We’ve lived a lot over the past 30 years but I’m so proud to say that despite our differences, we’re more solid than ever.
So, cheers to my dear friend, Rhonda. I’m proud to be a part of your circle of family and friends. Your support – in all manners – has enhanced my life greatly.
I love you.