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“I'm a people pleaser. All I ever want is for everyone to be happy.”
That's what I told my freshman year roommate Sullivan Davis, who soon became just Sully, after all the moving had been done and our parents had taken off. I said it because he kept telling me that I didn't have to help him with all of his boxes or make his bed for him. It's just that—if you don't tuck in the corners just right, when you smooth out the comforter and then turn down the top layer it's not going to look even, and everyone wants a nice looking bed..
Anyway, he laughed at my attempts to deny that I was doing anything out of the ordinary and pointed out that I hadn't even made my bed. “You got me,” I said. I'd realized long ago that these were not battles worth fighting.
Just like it wasn't too hard for Sully to figure me out, he was an open book as well. He loved his parents, and he loved Jesus. Everything else came second to making those people proud. This, of course, made him the ideal roommate. He studied hard, he kept the TV off, and he went to bed early. I was never too much of a party animal myself, but whenever I did go out, he'd give me a smirk and tell me that he would pray for me while I was gone. That was our little joke. We were buddies like that. So as you might have suspected, our dorm room was full of shenanigans. For example, Sully would make me a list of chores to do, and I'd be half way down the list before he would tear it away from me and tell me that I really should go see a doctor. I'd say that I certainly would, and then he'd have to explain to me that that was a joke too. I will say that sometimes I'm the last to catch a joke.
Still, I wasn't half bad at setting up my own fun to get back at Sully. I'd ask him if he was ready for the quiz we were going to have the next day and send him into a total panic. It was cute to see how worked up he'd get, and it worked every time. Even though we didn't even have any of the same classes, his face would turn pink and he'd start scrambling for every book he could find.
The type of relationship we had made me feel like I had a brother. We could poke fun at each other for being a little bit off, but if anyone else tried to take a shot at one of us the other would always come to his defense. Sully made sure that people left their shoes outside the room for me because I loved keeping the room clean but was afraid to ask anyone myself. In return, I would slip notes under people's doors when they were being a little too noisy while Sully was trying to study. Most people didn't like the notes too much, and sometimes I would even cry because it was so hard for me to have people not like me, but as much as I wanted to make everyone happy, Sully was my roommate so he had to come first. I would do anything for him.
As the semester went on, we ended up being isolated from the rest of the hallway. They just didn't understand us like we understood each other. We could tell what the other needed without even having to use words. “You didn't have to do that,” one of us would say. “We've got to look after each other,” the other one would respond. Usually it was me taking care of Sully, but not every time. It's just that he was always so focused on his school work.
Then, about halfway into the semester I noticed something funny start to happen with Sully. He started tucking his crucifix on the inside of his shirt instead of wearing out in the open, and I noticed that he was skipping out on his evening call to his parents. I knew that time was important to him because it was when he would usually tell them about how well he was doing and how happy he was. This would make them so proud. I could hear them through the speaker on his phone. They'd literally say, “We're so proud,” and good old Sully would always say, “Thanks, I'm just trying not to let you guys down.”
Pretty soon I found out what was going on. There was a girl, and not the type that Sully's parents would likely approve of. She had a nose ring. She wore leather. She had sex. This last part is what really was throwing Sully for a loop. Poor guy. He knew that he shouldn't, but he wanted to so bad. Even worse, the way she was always on his mind was distracting him from his studies. He was really smart, so he was in all the hardest classes: Latin, Physics, Calculus. I knew because sometimes he would let me carry his books for him when he went to the library if I asked him enough. They were heavy, and it sounded like it took all of the energy he had to make his parents love him as much as he wanted them to so it was the least I could do.
Anyway, since we were such good friends, he came to me for help. “I'm stuck,” he said.
He was almost in tears, so I gave him a hug and patted his back even though I don't usually like touching other people. “There, there Sully,” I whispered into his ear. “I know you'll make everyone proud.”
I thought bad thoughts. I thought about hurting that girl, but I didn't do it. Even though she was ruining things for Sully, I knew he wouldn't see it like that. Instead, I just told him to talk to her. He was nervous, and I offered to go instead and promised to read whatever note he would give me to read, but he told me would do it himself. He was always so brave.
Sully was not only determined to do it, he was determined to do it soon. Parents' weekend was coming up and he needed to be back on the right track by then. When he had been calling home, he had been disguising the hurt in his voice, but he knew his parents would sense that something was wrong if they could look him in the eye. Those beautiful eyes, they really were just an endless blue. First, though, he wanted to study for an exam he had coming up in Latin. He was afraid that if something went wrong at talk with that girl, it would ruin his focus and destroy any hope he had of pulling out a decent grade. The girl had other ideas though.
Thursday night, the day before the exam, she came right up into our room. He had his headphones on and was staring at his book, but she kept touching his arm and playing with his hair—doing things I never would have dared to do. I watched the whole thing rapt, watching my hero fend off this skilled seductress right before my eyes, but when her hand moved to his leg and her whispers went to his ears even he could not resist. As they left hand in hand, I whispered to myself, “I'll pray for you Sully.” And I did. I talked to Jesus like I never had before and I asked him to watch out for Sully. I asked him close to five thousand times, but I guess...
The next morning I was still all alone in my room. To ease my nerves I organized all Sully's things for him before leaving for class. It made me feel good to know that whenever he came back he'd be happy to see how neat everything was. Thinking of his smile made me smile. It still does. That's when you know you have a special connection with someone.
I had three hours of classes then lunch. Still, there was still no sign of Sully when I got back to the room after that. I missed him. I felt so lonely that I talked to myself about my day. When the conversation ended, I knocked a few things off of Sully's desk so that I could organize everything all over again. Eventually, I had to go to dinner even though I didn't have any appetite. I convinced myself that maybe it was like how a watched pot never boils. If I could just leave the room for a while and think about something else he'd be there when I got back. I sat in the dining hall and stared at the clock. To pass the time, I prayed just like I had the night before. My whole body tingled with adrenaline, but I forced myself to wait for an hour before going back.
The door knob had a red strap wrapped around it, and the door felt heavy when I opened it. “Hello?” I said. I saw a note on Sully's desk and ran to pick it up as the door thudded shut behind me. It said “I'm a sinner and a failure,” My hands started shaking, and that's before I turned back toward the door and saw him hanging there from the same red strap that had been tied to the doorknob. He was in only his underwear and socks, and had scribbled both of those words from his note all over his body. I felt sick and at the same time ashamed for still noticing how beautiful he was.
Thankfully, the phone rang and stopped me from staring. I knew who it was going to be. Pull yourself together I told myself. For Sully.
“Hello?” I said
It was his mother.
“No,” I said, “he's not here. He must be at the library. You must be so proud of how hard he works.”
I made eye contact with Sully to let him know that I was pulling it off, and I mouthed the words, “I've got your back.”
They told me to ask him to call if he didn't come back too late but that otherwise that they'd see him tomorrow.
I hung up the phone in a much better mood. Most people would have panicked with parents coming so soon, but I knew just what Sully would have wanted. He would have wanted to make his parents proud, and I knew just how to do it.
I left the room, careful to close the door as gently as possible for him, then jogged to the hall bathroom. Once I got there, I dumped the contents of one of the large gray plastic trash cans into another in the row and carried the empty one back to my room. Again I had to open that door, slowly, gently, pretending in my mind to be a thief who was trying not to wake the beautiful boy on the back of the door.
I threw some pillows in the bottom of the trash barrel, then I lifted Sully's legs away from the door to make space and slid it beneath him. I didn't like to touch him with those words written all over him, but I told myself that I promised to always watch out for him and that's what I was going to do. With Sully in the can already up to his knees, I untied the strap from the doorknob and watched him collapse into a pile at the bottom. The fall was much quieter than I had expected. I knew no one had heard.
From there, I peeked out into the hall, and seeing no one around I dragged with all my might until Sully was in the bathroom. We had a special handicapped shower since we were on the ground floor and that's where I took my friend. It was much larger than all of the other stalls, and the back half of it was blocked off from the rest of the room so that no one would be able to look under the divider and see us. I laid him out in that section on his stomach, turned the water on as hot as it would go, then ran to get my things.
Back in my room, I picked up all of my shower supplies, his too, and a couple of sponges meant for cleaning the cereal bowls that we had around. Then, just as quickly as I had left, I was back in the shower. When I got a closer look at Sully, it was worse than I thought. He'd written all over himself including most of his back somehow. It was so bad that I had to check beneath his underwear just to be sure. Thankfully, he'd left that area alone.
With no reason to wait any longer, I took off all of my clothes and got to work. I soaped and scrubbed and soaped and scrubbed. At first I tried not to use the rough side of the sponges, but they were the only thing that worked. His skin was turning pink, but those words that were going to be so embarrassing for his family were fading away.
I scrubbed so hard that Sully's started groaning. The first time I thought I was just imagining things, but the second time I was sure. “I'm sorry, buddy,” I whispered as he moaned again and then made a different noise almost like a cough. “It's for your own good.” Every time I would start to scrub away another word, though, he would make a noise and I'd jump back. His parents were practically on the way so we didn't have much time to spare.
Luckily, I came up with a solution that would take care of the new issue that was costing us time. I threw on a towel, hurried back to the room, grabbed one of our bowls, and was back in under a minute. It's a good thing too because it looked like the body might have tried to roll over while I was gone. So, I hopped back in there, filled the bowl up from the shower head, and softly, almost motherly, let his face rest in the water. That way, any noise that he would make would be muffled and I wouldn't have to worry about it.
Right away I also noticed that this new setup lifted Sully's head up ever ever so slightly. It meant that I could shampoo him without worrying about smushing his pointy little nose up against the tile. Thanks to the shape of the bowl, when I went to lather the back of his head I only had to press it deeper into the water. I think he appreciated that because there were two purring sounds that came out of him while I was washing his hair and then he went back to being nice and peaceful.
After that, things went really well for me and Sully. I got all of the marks to fade away, dried him off, and used the garbage can to bring him back into the room. Then I found his best Sunday church outfit and dressed him up. The only thing missing was a tie, but in a moment that felt like it was meant to be, it turned out that I had the perfect one in my closet. It made me feel like a proud father to knot it up and pull it tight in a perfect knot around his neck.
The hardest part of all was getting him back up on the door. I tied the strap back around the doorknob easy, but lifting Sully so that he could get the noose back under his chin was a struggle. It took almost an hour, but eventually I managed.
The last thing I did was tear up the old depressing note and replace it with a new one. It said, “Dear Mom, Dad, Jesus, and Sully. I love all of you.”
That night I went to bed smiling ear to ear. Sully looked great. I couldn't wait to see how proud his parents would be.