(Excerpt form The Rootwork)
The picture at the corner of my cluttered desk was bordered by a simple wooden frame. It was a wedding photo, taken deep in the woods on a misty morning. The fog clung to the forest floor like the veil over the woman’s face. Almost lost in the mist was a two-year-old boy standing on his father’s feet. I polished the plaque; In Lovng Memory of Samuel and Judith Eveson. Every year I tried not to let the anniversary of their death ruin my day.
The midterm report from my advisor, Dr. Hardt, lay on the desk among many notes and the psalms of Solomon’s bride.
I ran my fingers across the report; Chemistry Seminar ::: D, but my eyes drifted to the psalms; The world is alike to a tree, alike to branches and vines. And the cycle would repeat. Differential Calculus ::: F. And times are its root, its beginnings and endings. Art History ::: F. The land is a burden, and the heavens a work of obedience. Intermediate French ::: B. The fields flourish when sowed with care, but the cities fall that are careless. I took one last glance and flipped the page to reveal the attached letter. It was headed with the school’s name and seal:
This letter is to inform you that you have fallen below the minimum Grade Point Average to remain in your program. If the problem persists you may fall behind the University’s minimum GPA requirement.
I suggest you consider registering for a semester of general studies and reevaluate your choice of program. Please make an appointment to meet with me to discuss the issue and the possible solutions. Change of Program and University Withdrawal forms can be found in the Admissions office. Thank you for your compliance.
Dr. Hardt PhD. French Studies
Department of Language Studies
As I finished the letter, I heard Darren curse trying to open the door. He finally slammed it open and scuffled across the room with a thud onto his bed and a short laugh. I continued looking over the psalms until I heard another boyish laugh, not his own. I rolled my chair around and found him with a man; the one I suspect was the one he referred to as his ‘beautiful blonde American.’
He noticed me and pried himself off his friend and fumbled to zip his jeans. “Mate!? The bloody hell are you doing here?”
I rolled my eyes back to my desk, smirking. “Don’t mind me, I’m just sitting. Reading.” I flipped the folder closed and slid it into the drawer.
“But– you’re never here on Mondays.”
“What?” I asked, with mild confusion.
“Yeah, you’re always off—doing something.” He waved his hand in the air.
“I don’t know but you’re not here.”
I caught the hamper out of the corner of my eye. The woven box was overflowing. The day had distracted me from doing the laundry.
“Wait. My laundry day is your—” I scoffed. “You realize I could have walked in on you at any time.”
His cheeks were growing red. “Well, if laundry is what you’re doing on Mondays, you take your sweet time in doing it. Now could you please, just—get out.” He nodded his head toward his equally embarrassed friend as if I hadn’t noticed he brought company.
“Sorry mate, but laundry day has been postponed.” My eyes were pulled to the photo on the corner of my desk.
The two must have noticed my glance. Darren fell silent for a moment. His friend whispered to him, “I’m gonna go.”
The door shut and I expected some sort of sarcastic comment. Instead, Darren sat on his bed. “You good, mate?”
“What do you care?”
Again, no comment. I started running back over the psalms, not really comprehending the words.
“I do care.”
Out of all the things he could have said, those were the words I expected least.
“This may come as a shock, but I’m not a bloody monster. I know I’m not good with words, or expressing myself, but I’ve known you for two years. If I hated you, I would have switched roommates on the first night.”
“So, you care because I’m usually out of the way when you bring around your friends?” I turned my chair toward him with a grin.
He chuckled. “Well that is nice. But no, that’s not why I care.” He scratched behind his ear, as if he had lost the right words in his hair. “Do you remember when we first met? We were on the airplane from New York to Paris. I was lucky enough to be finishing my horrible year in America at the same time you were starting your year in France.”
“Yeah, I remember, and then I found out that the stranger I talked to on the plane was my roommate and discovered that he’s quite the prat.”
Another chuckle. “Well, that is true. But when we were on the plane I was not in a good place. For whatever reason, you decided to strike a conversation with me.”
“Yeah, for like a minute—”
“You asked if I had ever been to France. I didn’t even get to answer before you said that it changed your life a couple years before.”
I thought about that, I had been thinking about my high school trip to France when I met Mary. “Yeah, I remember. You probably thought I was a crazy American tourist.”
“I did. Then I thought about it during the flight. What, in France, could’ve turned an average American, into the happy sap sitting next to me? I looked at your face and I remember precisely the look you had in your eyes.” He sat up straight. “You met a girl in France. You were moving there for her. That idea gave me hope.”
“Hope for what?”
A devilish smile spread over his lips. “If this sap can pick up his life to make himself happy, there no reason I can’t change my own.” He paused a moment. “I called my mum when I got off that flight.” He started picking at the sheets. “It was the first time I talked her.” He was strained to form the next words. “I never met her. She wanted nothing to do with me when I was born. My father raised me until I was ten. Then he died and I moved in with my grandmother. She gave me my mother’s contact before she past, but I never had the will to call until I saw just how content you were with your own recklessness. I took a chance. After I talked to her, I let go of so much anger and frustration that had haunted me all my life, and I never would have done it if you hadn’t talked to me on that airplane.”
I was truly shocked at his sudden emotion. It’s not like we’ve never talked before, but we never really delved into our roots. We only ever discussed what everyone could see on the surface. He knew about my parents death, but I never talked to him about anything beyond that. I knew he was raised by his father, but I never gave much thought to what happened to his mother. “You never told me that.”
“I know, I would have been content to take that to my grave. This kind of stuff is hard for me, you know?” He nodded at the picture. “What happened to them anyway? You never told what happened.”
“It was a car accident, twelve years ago today.”
“You were that young?”
“Eight. If I’m honest, I hardly remember them.”
“I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to lose a parent, but I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt to lose them like that.
“Thank you, I should probably say the same.”
A moment in awkward silence provoked his next words. “I want you to know, before I go back to being a prat, that—and I’m entirely sure you don’t know this, but—you really are a good friend. Most of the people I know here, my so-called friends, are just hookups. Every night I come back to this room complaining and you’re the one listening. When I need space, you give it to me, and when I need to talk, you’re there, even if the conversation is one sided. I know its not a traditional friendship, but it is one—to me at least.” He got up and began walking out of the room.
I couldn’t bring myself to form the right words. I didn’t hate him, I never had. Yeah, he was a prat, and a sucky roommate, but when I come back to this dorm every night, I’m comforted by his rants. His daily struggles keep me grounded in normalcy, the one thing the Rootwork can’t provide. I spend so much time in the roots. I have friends, but no one understands me there the way Darren could. They don’t know what it’s like living in this time, in this place. Darren, well, he is who I would be without the Roots.
“Darren,” He was halfway out the door when I found the right words.
“Thank you, I’ll make sure to be doing laundry next Monday like usual.”
“That be great, ‘cause I really don’t think I have another one of these bonding sessions left to give. Even if I did, if the choice was you or my blonde Americans—well you can answer that, can’t you?” He flashed a wickedly awkward smile.
I gave a short laugh as he left me to my psalms. One stood out; The roots of trees keep the soil, but the roots of confession pull mountains into place.