“Yeah, he actually said ‘Christ’s butt’… I didn’t know he had that kind of curseword innovation in him,” Clint said. We were driving to the copy store. We’d only gotten 200 copies of our flier but Hugh though it was obvious that we’d need at least 500. So to avoid Hugh’s wrath and get away for a few minutes, Clint, Quen and I all volunteered to go to the copy store right away.

“And you can’t remember what he was cursing about?” I asked.

“No… wait, yeah, that’s it. He was talking about you,” he told me, “he was upset about the whole hotel room thing. He was all like ‘Christ’s butt, can’t he take responsibility for anything?!”

Almost immediately, a wave of hot rage swept over my body. “He… said… what?!”

My college roommate Hubert always took really good care of his things. It became a sticking point of our friendship because I only cared about stuff insofar as they worked. I’m the kind of guy that goes to a used car lot looking for a car with a dent on it so I can get a discount, even if I can easily afford the car without a dent. Hugh, despite his protestations, was not cut from that cloth. He liked to own the nicest of things and took good care of them.

I used to give him a friendly ribbing on the subject and, once upon a time, he would rib back at my sloppiness. There was one time when I made a joke about the obsessive way that he protected his comic books. I can’t remember what I said, but I do remember that it wasn’t out of bounds. Then, out of nowhere, in a room full of friends, he started screaming at me. Everyone’s eyes just bulged open. After a few minutes he calmed down and was somewhat apologetic about his outburst. I never raised my voice throughout the whole incident and calmly told him that if my ribbing him on the subject was out of bounds, he needed to tell me privately and calmly. He said that it wasn’t and that he was just having a bad day.

He was having a lot of bad days. It was not a good time in his life. He’d just aborted his physics major over the protestations of his mother. He was looking into hiring a voice acting agent over even greater protestations. His mother and his step-father were divorcing and the money they had was being tied up. It was because of this that I took a lot more abuse from him than I would ordinarily take from anybody.

In about the same timeframe I was watching an anime series that he had purchased. I must confess, I was less than entirely careful with his tapes. One of the boxes got sat on by a roommate and he was so upset that he was shaking when he held the collapsed box. I apologized profusely and offered to replace it. He demurred and said it was fine. Not long afterwards a tape got dinged by my chair. We looked at the tape and it looked like its contents were undamaged. He swore, however, that what I’d done would make the tape get worse over time (faster than a VHS usually does, anyway). I told him that I didn’t think that it would, but again offered to replace it anyway. Again, he demurred.

A couple months later a bunch of new friends were invited over and they watched the series. The fourth tape wasn’t looking so good. I chalked it up to the crappy TV and VCR that we had and started working on my computer again. He decided to make an announcement that I had ruined this tape and failed to take responsibility for it. He asked each one of them if the tape looked okay to them and then pointed out that I had said that the tape was fine. I didn’t say anything, surfed to an online retailer, and ordered the new set to arrive the following week. Thirty minutes later I remembered that it was the fifth tape that I’d dinged with my chair and the fourth tape was unscathed. In other words, I’d been vindicated. I don’t know that I even told him about that. I just gave him the new tapes. It was worth the $100 just to shut him up on the subject.

While all of this was going on, he was getting on a lot of people’s nerves. It seemed that nearly every mutual acquaintance we had told me privately that they didn’t know how I could stand to live with him. Clint and Quen, two colleagues on a creative project with Hugh and I, were constantly butting heads with him. Time and time again, I defended Hugh. I told them that he was going through a rough patch and that it would get better.

The following summer we went to a convention to show off our creative project. There was a minor mishap with the hotel. Because I was the one with the money, it was my job to make the hotel reservations. We were a little late moving that Thursday night and Hugh said that I needed to call the hotel and let them know because they might give up the room. I pointed out that I’d had confirmed reservations with my credit card, meaning that they couldn’t give up the room even if we never showed up, but that they’d charge me for it anyway. Figuring that it would take a while to corral the cats, I made sure of that. My assurances, however, meant nothing to Hugh.

When we got to the hotel, they’d apparently booked the rooms for the wrong nights. This was all Hugh needed in order to be vindicated. If I’d called to confirm, none of this would have happened. True enough, though that wasn’t why he wanted me to call them. He wanted me to call them because they’d give up my room, which was not the case. In any case, the person behind the counter at the hotel demonstrated such ineptitude that it was clear that it probably was not my fault that the rooms got reserved on the wrong night. In any case, they found us a room and that was that. Or so I thought.

We were scrambling to get enough fliers for our presentation when I found out about Hugh’s unique curseword. It wasn’t so much that he was angry at me as I’d learned to accept the fact that any time anything wasn’t quite up to his specifications he would be. It wasn’t even that he was angry behind my back, honestly that was preferable. It was that he accused me of being irresponsible. At the time I was working 40 hours a week. I had a full 15-hour courseload. I had a fulltime girlfriend. I had a part-time job with a local partisan newspaper and a column at Southern Tech’s daily newspaper. He, meanwhile, had a 6-hour courseload because of the changed major. He had no job, though his having to look for one was sufficiently woe betiding to make us hear about it. He had no girlfriend, which understandably sucked but was nonetheless one less responsibility.

And there he was calling me irresponsible because, in between my jobs and my coursework and my girlfriend, I hadn’t made the time to confirm a reservation that I’d managed to make on my own time with my own $600.

Livid does not even begin to describe it. Quen said that he’d never seen me so angry. Clint had, but it had been a long time. I don’t know if there’s ever been a point where I’d directed so many expletives at a person in my life. It ordinarily was not my style to do so, but words could not convey the anger I was feeling. I had spent the previous six months defending him. I had been the one that had refrained from making judgments about him, even though I had faced more the brunt of his malcontent than anyone else (simply because I was living with him). I bit my tongue when he took rather hurtful jabs at my girlfriend. When he’d screamed at me. I’d even kept from him the complaints of others, including the fact that he was the reason that our former roommates Saresh and Dennis terminated our 4-person roommate arrangement. It honestly wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d not been such a good friend to him, but I was the best friend he had at great emotional cost to myself.

We lived together for about a year after that and it was all downhill. I no longer bothered really trying to be his friend. I found reasons to stay away from the dorm as much as possible. I started badmouthing him with the rest. When he got angry at my sloppiness, I’d just become more sloppy. The only thing I really did for him was to secure him a good job and that was as much for my benefit as his. The funny and sad thing is that I don’t know that he even really noticed the difference.

A couple months later there was a young lady who spent a lot of time at our dorm. She showered and left the tower on the floow. He screamed at her and embarassed me. I sent an email to Quen starting with the words “Want to hear another Hugh story” and told the story in a light very unflattering to Hugh. Hugh later ran across this email (he says that I asked him to look through my email box to find a phone number, though I have no recollection of that) and seemed genuinely surprised that I might hold him in somewhat low regard. He was apparently that oblivious to my actions towards him.

I don’t know that I’ve ever directed as much venom to anybody personally as I’ve directed at him. There was a time when it seemed every conversation I had with Clint or Quen would at least briefly turn into a conversation about Hugh. Partly it’s because of the sense of betrayal for the person I had been a best friend to, but partly it’s something else.

He and I were and are alike in so many ways that it haunted me. The reason we became friends and roomed together in the first place was because we had so much in common. Not just interests but also temperament. We saw the world in very similar ways. We’re both idealistic and yet cautious, introverted and yet draw strength from others, hard-headed and yet intellectually curious, naturally rigid and yet have a desire to be more laid back. I saw myself in him and it was the stuff of nightmares. I devoted a lot of time and energy in being as unlike him as possible. In some ways I still use the lessons that the Big Bad Hubert taught me when it comes to dealing with other people and they’ve made me a better person.

But trying to be unlike someone that is unlike yourself takes a toll. I found myself believing things I didn’t really believe simply because he believed the opposite. I found myself acting in ways that weren’t me and couldn’t be me because they were ways that he would never act. And ironically it lead me into being the spiteful person that he was back then.

It’s approaching ten years now since all of that went down. Hugh is an entirely different person now. He’s become the kind of guy that I could again become good friends with. But I don’t think I can. That’s a subject for another time.


Category: School

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