No one I know from college knows what happened to Erin Scott. This is something we all hate because Erin was probably one of the best, strangest, most darling people I’ve ever known, and she was one of my best friends in college. She was the best friend of a lot of people in college. How is it that not one of us knows if she’s ok?
Because there’s always the possibility that she’s not. Upon first meeting, Erin gave one the impression of a quivering rabbit: soft, adorable, bright-eyed, heart beating like a trip hammer. Her father had been killed in an accident while she was in high school, which meant she had life insurance money and a deeply painful psychic scar. She wore a pair of diamond stud earrings and the same dingy pink tee shirt for days. One day, I looked at her and said, “Erin! Your hair looks so incredibly beautiful today,” to which she replied, startled, “Thanks! I brushed it!” There were periods in which “self-care” seemed as remote a possibility for Erin as her turning into an actual rabbit, even though my friend JE once witnessed her staring deeply into the eyes of one near the Administration building.
And there were other reasons to worry. Once, Erin was in the shower, while I was brushing my teeth. “But you’re not here anymore,” I heard from the shower. “What?” I said, turning to look. Two wide eyes peered out from the curtain’s edge. “Did I say something?” “Out loud,” I replied, unnerved by the look of fear that crossed my friend’s face, a look that indicated there was a conversation to which I was not privy but for which I would need to start listening, if I was follow my friend into that fragile space her rabbit heart was making of her mind.
In the years that followed graduation, though, she seemed better, psychically happier, as she bounced from organic farm to organic farm. She was proud of her ability to do physical labor, to find her way through Mexico City on her own, to sleep alone on a beach—all actions that proved she was not “Baby Erin,” as another friend called her, someone who needed taken care of. For awhile, she returned to our college town and lived with a pair of friends, waitressing and taking pride, again, in the blue-collar labor, more akin to her father’s life than to her own liberal arts college degree. While a waitress, Erin met Blaine, a guy biking his way across the U.S., pulling a collapsible lawn mower behind him to make money on the way. They married; I performed the ceremony, which included them standing in the broken bicycle rim that had forced Blaine to stop in town, finding his way, magically, to the café where Erin worked. It seemed as if his misdirection re-directed her, delightfully, towards in no particular direction but happiness. She didn’t need a man to save her . . . but at least, she wouldn’t be alone with the voice inside.
If I’ve painted too much a picture of Erin as lost, an unstable, delicate creature, I have left out what made Erin magical. Erin knew ALL the words to ANY song, and the absence of her singing, in my life and in those lives of our friends, is what makes the radio silence of her absence an anxious one for me. It’s not unusual, the loss of connection with a college friend, the end of the intimacy of late-night conversations, the sharing of developing selves, the connection faded because of distance or time. But perhaps because Erin was never really, fully in the same place with us, fully in time with my friends, with me, we worry. And we miss her because the other place in which she seemed to reside was full of songs, so many lyrics, so many words crowding her inner life that surely a few had to escape as if in conversation with what we could not see. If one of us isn’t there to hear her, how are we to know she is still able to sing in reply, isn’t drowned out by the other voices in her head?
I went to see Erin and Blaine once in North Carolina, and Erin confessed she was going to have a psychiatric evaluation, at the suggestion of her husband’s psychiatrist father. I haven’t heard from her since, but I hope, we all hope, she is still there, happily married and singing all the words to Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” particularly. “Tangled Up in Blue” is the song of a journey between worlds, between lives. The protagonist falls in love with a woman “married when [they] first met / soon to be divorced.” He sings that he “helped her out of a jam” but speculates that he “mighta used a little too much force.” We learn how to love our friends as we learn to love ourselves in our youth, which means it is sometimes difficult to decide if you are being overly protective or if you aren’t alarmed enough, when you should let go and when you need to intervene. In the song, the narrator leaves when things get messy: “she froze up inside,” and he escapes, withdrawing because it is “the only thing [he] knew how to do.”
I didn’t withdraw, but I often wonder if Erin’s “changed at all, if her hair is still red” because my past, like that of the protagonist in the song, is always close behind me. I always feel the need to check back in—but it’s not because I don’t feel like I took enough care of Erin. I think it’s because, like the man in the song, “all those people we used to know / they’re an illusion to me now,” and Erin’s strangeness is still more beautiful to me, more loved than many of my stable, untroubled friendships of today. Erin had access to a world that I loved to lean against, and I want to know if it still exists, if it is possible to exist half-magically in this world . . . or if you have to go crazy. Erin introduced me to the song and world of “Tangled Up in Blue”: a world in which synchronicity, beauty, pain, absence, and hope co-exist and return, again and again. It is one of those songs I’ve loved so long that, if I didn’t link it so closely to Erin, it would almost be too hard to find the origin of my love for it—almost as hard as finding the whereabouts now of Erin Scott.