I knew Tony from high school. He was the captain of the hockey team. Handsome. Charming. Charismatic. I was the nerdy newspaper-editor/straight A student/student-council/ballerina and I was enthralled. We dated for three weeks our senior year of high school. The part where this sounds like a clichéd high-school movie ends here. My mother describes those three weeks as “the battle of the spoiled brats.” The romance – as it were – may have been short lived, but we became fast friends shortly thereafter.
Tony and I were both accepted to Northeastern and, by chance, were both assigned to White Hall. Tony lived in Room 401 and I lived in room 501, both at the landing on the stairwell, meaning we were only a short flight of stairs apart. In our first few weeks at, what was at the time, the largest private university in the country, right in the center of Boston, were a little more manageable since there was a friend nearby.
Tony met Dave within the first few days at NU and the two of them became the center of my universe for the better part of 10 years. I always used to say they were two sides of the same coin and you could tell them apart because one was blonde and the other was brunette. One Italian, the other Irish. Both charming rascals.
Dave hails from Milton, Mass., so he was the local boy in our group. In the summer, he would take us to the Quincy quarries, where real-life mobsters sunk cars, bodies and other evidence, never to be found again. We jumped off of rock cliffs into inky water. I never leapt from higher than 10 feet or so but Dave would jump off a crevice 25 feet high, then a ledge 40 feet high and then, finally, come crashing through brush 50 or 60 feet above the water and plummet to an impressive and crowd-pleasing splash. I think my heart stopped every time he did it but nothing stopped Dave.
When they pledged the fraternity our sophomore year, Dave and John had one of their most elaborate escapades. I can tell this story because it’s already on record. Some of the other ones, I’ll leave untold because that’s what you do when you know where most of the bodies are buried.
Dave and John went to New York for a weekend of pledging shenanigans with a couple of their fellow pledges – a scavenger hunt or some such thing. It would seem that around 5 a.m., Dave was spotted scaling the Olympic Airways building and relieving the organization of its Greek flag.
As we recounted the escapade over our drink, Dave let fly with a few details of that weekend I hadn’t heard before (surprisingly enough for as many times as I’ve heard the story!). His most understated yet apt quote that evening was, “You know, Steph, what you get caught for is only a fraction of what you actually do.”
One year I brought Tony, Dave and a few other friends home for a St. Patrick’s Day party at my grandmother’s house. These were epic affairs: hundreds of people; live music; DJ; dancing; and, most importantly for a bunch of poor college kids, open bar.
I remember at one point finding Dave in the kitchen chatting up my grandmother and a few of her lifelong girlfriends from Southie and charming them with stories of whom he knew or was related to, and any number of other experiences or haunts they had in common. A few hours later, he was concocting a credit card “receipt” on a bar napkin for a family friend who insisted that he had to pay his bar tab before he got in the cab home. It being a house party, this was a pretty good indication of his level of sobriety. If I remember correctly, Dave charged the guy for a few of our rounds, too. He didn’t mind, though. He signed his name and happily tottered off to his waiting cab.
Their fraternity house was in Brookline, a good 20-minute walk away. Many nights, and especially if we made it back to campus for last call and after hours, they would crash at my tiny studio apartment with me. When I say “with me,” I actually mean with me. While I had a futon in the apartment (that my brother Ben built me while he was still in high school), it wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the loft bed that another friend and I built to make the most of the space. So there we would be, the three of us crammed into a full-sized bed, five feet of the ground. It’s a wonder no one ever fell out.
One Saturday morning, my mother made the mistake of calling at an inappropriate hour, probably sometime before noon. Dave sat up and grabbed the phone, which was mounted to the wall at the foot of the bed. My mother asked if she could speak to Stephanie, at which point Dave elbowed Tony and said “Tony, wake Steph up. It’s her mom.” Tony made sure to say hello before he handed the phone to me. I was pretty sheltered as a kid but, by that time, don’t think my mom even missed a beat, knowing full well who was there. In fact, she probably would have been more surprised if they weren’t there.
For years, they were a single word in the center of my world: TonyandDave.
I wasn’t their only fan, though. There were hordes of adoring women jockeying for their attention for many years. I’m not quite sure what these women ever made of me since I was always around but I think the tone was set from the start that I was non-negotiable.
In fact, whether they were dating casually or had serious girlfriends, on those nights when it was “boys only,” that meant the boys and me. For years, that’s how it went. On Tony’s 21st birthday, a whole crowd of us went to Maine, where his parents had a condo, for the party. By crowd, I mean all the guys and me. The next morning, Tony’s dad, Mr. D., came to find us all crashed out in some neighbor’s place and, for years, loved to tell anyone who’d listen that he found 13 guys and me crashed all over some living room. That’s just how it went.
I always loved being one of the guys. They loved having me as a wingman because I could always talk random women into coming back to the fraternity house or apartment or wherever we were going at a million o’clock. It was always “safe” if another girl was going to be there. Like I said, for a decade or more, I knew where most of the bodies got buried and which closets the skeletons lived in. Likewise, they knew all my stuff, too.
As we were reminiscing the night we had our drink, I said something to Dave about being “one of the guys” and he stopped the conversation cold to tell me just how wrong I was. He looked me square in the eyes and said: “Steph. You were never one of the guys.”
I’m sure my face fell. With that one statement he was rewriting my history, a history I have always cherished. This was how I fit in. This is who I was for years. This was the part I thought I played. After his words sunk in, he continued. “You were just the coolest girl we knew and we always loved having you around.”
This statement still rewrites the history – a bit. Frankly, I think it makes that history even more special, if that’s possible.
The Drink: I hadn’t seen Dave in 11 years before I looked him up for this drink. Our paths diverged many years ago for no reason other than geography and life moving on. He moved to the Cape and then to the Carolinas. I moved back to NH. He lives in Florida now, with a beautiful daughter.
I had the opportunity to go to Florida in September to work with a client for a couple days. I remembered that he had moved down there and, with the help of Facebook, reached out to see where he was. It turns out, he lives just a few towns over from where my client is located so we made a date.
Our evening was absolutely hysterical – one of those nights that’s good for your soul because you know that, despite the time and miles between us, that friendship is still exactly the same as it was all those years ago.
We started our evening with dinner at a place that sponsors Dave’s hockey team. My cheeks already hurt from laughing. Then we had to go home and walk the dogs.
Apparently, in Florida, there are disgusting poisonous frogs that the dogs just can’t help but play with. When they do, though, they get the poison in their mouths and swell and foam. So Dave walks the dogs armed with a hockey stick and practices slapshots on any unfortunate frog he meets. I thought he must have been pulling my leg with this tall tale until we came upon one of his neighbors who saw the hockey stick and asked “on frog patrol tonight?”
Dogs walked, watered and fed, we made our way to JG McGuinness, an Irish pub not far from where Dave lives. As we sat at the bar and reminisced some more, we struggled with what to drink so we called on our bartender to help. Once we told her the story of The Forty Drinks project and our friendship, she came up with just the thing: a Boston Massacre. We were both a little nervous to try it based on her documentation of its contents but it was surprisingly delicious!