#298: Kanye West, "The College Dropout" (2004)

She is so profound, Marcia is. She’s always thinking about things bigger than everything else. Bigger and bigger; unsatisfied with small anything. She’s always wanted to explore, walking through woods at age six, reading about space at age eleven, looking through antique shops at eighteen, always wondering the stories behind everything around her. What walked in these woods before she did? Are there aliens? There has to be, right? Who wore that bracelet? How’d it end up there?

She reads books on philosophy; she reads articles on Voltaire. She swapped shopping at the mall for thrift stores so she could “avoid high prices,” she said, but really it was because she’s heard of too many stores using child labor. She feels too guilty wearing something with the label “Made in China” written but “By a Nine-Year-Old” left unsaid.

She is thoughtful, Marcia is. She buys gifts for her friends for no reason other than she thinks they’d like it. They aren’t huge or flashy—a giraffe silly band, a bracelet that says my name—but she gets so excited and gives you a cheek-to-cheek grin as she drops the present into your hand.

I have my own spot in her house: her slippery black couch in the basement, across from her spot.

And then there is Harriett. Harriett Kohler, the quietest of our trio. She cries a lot, her emotions overflowing out of her at the slightest of things: a butterfly, a Sinatra song, a well-timed joke. But she is still, somehow, more practical than the rest of us. She does the right thing; she tries to feel the right emotions. She doesn’t know how to reply to us a lot, but she is the most clever person I’ve ever met, and that’s why I don’t know how to reply to her a lot. She is patient and quiet and calm; she is a gentle person.

Harriett watches a lot of movies, anything she can get her hands on, and she sends us more memes than we know what to do with. She and I read fan-fiction together and laugh at the same parts. She is just as thoughtful as Marcia, and possibly the most gracious out of us three, laughing at her own faults while making Marcia and I feel good about our own.

Harriett is more spiritual than the rest of us. She asks God a lot of questions—small questions, big questions. Why did you have to make razor bumps exist, God? How are ants born, God? What is the counter to greed, God? She is deeper than anything else I’ve known, her quietude burying her depth.

Marcia and Harriett knew each other before meeting me. They’ve always been a bit closer, understanding each other’s good moods and bad moods, each other’s attention spans. I met them in seventh grade amongst a myriad of other girls from some elementary school I’d never heard of before, hidden through the woods across the big street I was too young to cross. But when I met the two of them we deemed each other a trio of best friends; I was to fit in with them and understand them as they understood each other, for better, for worse, until death do us part. We were a trio, never to be separated.

We started eighth grade; we started ninth grade. I let boys get in the way of us, my jealousy targeting Marcia in eighth grade and Harriett in ninth, stagnating my friendship with both of them. And then it was eleventh grade and we all had different classes and different social spheres and our trio hadn’t been a trio since our first year together, and we missed it. Harriett and Marcia were still friends, Marcia and I were still friends, Harriett and I were still friends, but individually it didn’t feel as right or as tight. Marcia started a group chat, and twelfth grade, we decided, was to be the year of the trio.

We began to re-understand each other as a unit of three. Together we figured out how our humors intertwined—that Marcia’s eccentricities made Harriett laugh so hard she snorted, that just because my humility and humor were closely tied together did not mean I actually hated myself. Together we figured out that Marcia felt trapped in relationships because she wanted to travel more than she wanted to love. Together we figured out that the best way to get Harriett to open up was to be more specific, to ask how she’s doing physically and emotionally and any other way we could think of in order to avoid the “I’m good”s and “I’m fine”s. Together we held hands and cried over boys who didn’t care about us; together we held hands and laughed about how stupid we were in middle school, about how stupid we still are and will probably always be.

When we were eighteen, our college choices moved Marcia a state north and me three hours south from Harriett. College was weird for us. It was the opposite of high school; in college Harriett was always busy with friends, people actually knew about me before I met them, and Marcia stayed in her room every day and every night. And instead of us all automatically worrying about each other, Harriett and I worried about Marcia.

She went to the cat cafe sometimes, Marcia did. She’d sit there with the tabbies and the siamese and talk to them like they were Harriett and me, and she’d post pictures with the cats while Harriett and I posted ones of us on roofs with our friends, ones of us watching Full House reruns with our friends. And slowly Marcia became smaller. She receded into herself and became nervous talking to others, almost passing out talking just to her professors. She started wearing Crocs everyday, light blue Gonzo stickers splayed out haphazardly on them. She stopped playing her ukulele; she started to rip pieces of paper up and leave them in her bed. Harriett and I had to remind her to shower. Harriett and I had to remind her to go outside every once in awhile. And Marcia started calling us crying or calling us afraid of being alone or calling us to talk about the futility of humans, desperate not to be alone anymore, not to feel like a waste of space. But we were a state south and Marcia’s roommate stopped talking to her and Marcia went home.

And when Harriett and I came home for the summer we all but lived at Marcia’s house. We got fro-yo and we binge-watched all of the X-Men movies and we learned Outkast verses and Kanye verses and Eminem verses, and we didn’t let Marcia go. The summer was one big hug, cozy and close. Marcia started giving cheek-kisses goodbye and bear-hugs hello. She started loving again, not just loving Harriett and me but loving the trees around her and loving the lightning bugs that brought Christmas lights in July and loving the roughness of paper in the old notebooks we found in thrift stores.

And when Harriett, Marcia, and I parted ways a few days ago, Marcia didn’t kiss us goodbye.

And now I’m sitting in bed still reeling both physically and mentally from tonight, the first night of my second year, the first night of drinking too much and shrugging away the stupidity of it all, the first night of the year that I got lost from my college trio, the first night I’ve kissed somebody of whom the only thing I can remember is a light blue Polo, the first night I’ve realized how much I love the calmness of my new apartment. And now I’m realizing that Marcia is sitting alone in her room again. She’s sitting next to her new roommate, using small talk as the only alley to conversation. She’s mentioning something about minions and her roommate is nodding slowly, as if she understands, and a silence comes over them. And Marcia is sitting alone in her room again, her roommate sitting next to her.

And Harriett and I will spend the year loving Marcia, hoping she doesn’t have to come home to remember what happiness feels like, and Marcia will spend another year wondering if she should just drop out.

—Nicole Efford