Janice's Story

I used to be really close with Janice (not her real name) during my freshman year in college.  Her room was three doors down from mine in our dorm, so we were always around one another, either in one another's rooms or the lobby or the cafeteria (we both had a meal plan).  We liked the same bands, movies, academic areas, etc.  She played a little guitar and was good at piano (I was the reverse), so we had a lot in common.  It would be no exaggeration to say that we were best friends during my first semester.

You might think that romance was inevitable, but 1) I had a pretty good looking (albeit ditzy) girlfriend at the time who was still in high school but didn't live so far away that I didn't go home to see (read: make out with) every weekend and 2) I seriously wasn't attracted to Janice.  She was kind of heavy, and not in any way that was flattering at all.  I hate to sound shallow, but I am, and I'm trying to unambiguously establish the parameters here.

Janice had a crush on me that she pretty much hinted at whenever she could.  For example, girls don't usually shoot an entire roll of film on one guy in a single night, do they?  And then there was that very flirty birthday card that resulted in me giving her a confused look that made for an awkward moment.  Unfortunately, somehow it was a surprise to her that I didn't make any move for her when, a few months into the semester, I broke up with the girlfriend (something that was long overdue).  Janice was even more annoyed by the fact that I immediately started seeing other girls subsequent to the breakup.

Meet Cathleen

One of these was a girl named Cathleen.  She was the opposite of Janice in a lot of ways.  Whereas Janice regarded herself as an intellectual, Cathleen was really down to earth.  Janice wasn't brilliant, but she was well-read and apparently could write a decent literary analysis, for which she thought she was pretty darned special.  By contrast, Cathleen didn't think much of her own academic abilities and struggled when it came to math.  Actually, she just didn't study all that much what with us going out all the time.  I mean, while Cathleen was somewhat shy (at that point in her life anyway), she was outgoing in that she loved seeing bands, mixing with friends, and so on.  Conversely, Janice tended to foster a close circle with whom she would stay in and play board games on the weekend.  Why I would chose to hang out with Cathleen was no mystery.  And my going out with her several times a week irked Janice that she had been unceremoniously supplanted in the best friend role.

Eventually Cathleen and I split up and dated other people but I remained close friends with her for far longer than we were an item even.  Janice grew to be openly more catty about her even after we weren't romantically involved anymore, and an increasing number of snotty and even vindictive comments she made about Cathleen found their way back to me, some of which she was callous enough to deliver in my presence.  Contrary to her obvious intentions, this only served to make me distance myself even more from Janice since, honestly, Cathleen was neither dumb nor a slut, and who the fuck was Janice to proclaim expertise on her any fucking way?

Enter Ron

At the end of my first semester, I absolutely wanted to get away from my nerdy roommate who played cheesy strategy games on his 386 until all hours in the morning, so in the spring I moved in with Ron (also not his real name) .  Unfortunately, Janice had recently begun dating Ron.  It should have been obvious that this was a bad idea to move in here because now she's in my room aaaaaaaaaaall the time.  I ended up hanging out in the lobby most nights to distance myself from her.

So what does she have in common with Ron?  Just about nothing.  In fact, you would think I was exaggerating if not drawing an outright caricature, but Ron was borderline autistic.  And whereas Janice was somewhat introverted, Ron was just plain awkward.  Further, he's a math/physics double major vs. her literary bent, so I have no idea what their conversations focused on at this early stage in their courtship.  I could detour for a moment and relate a few funny anecdotes, but I'll save some of those stories for another time since this is supposed to be about Janice.  Suffice it to say that while there were some obvious points of friction such as (most notably) his doting and over-protective parents, Ron and Janice didn't exactly go anywhere and meet anyone else, so there was no possibility of "trading up" and they stayed together.

True love

Sometime during the next year I had met my future (now ex-)wife, and I'd fallen completely in love.  Of course, after the way Janice reacted to and, worse yet, acted around anyone I was dating, I had learned to keep my romantic life secret.  This latest relationship wasn't very difficult to conceal from Janice though because, after the semester living with Ron and, by extension, practically rooming with Janice, I moved in with another friend named Jack.

Jack and I were just across the hall from Ron.  Actually, it wasn't a hall but rather a lobby or study space with several couches and tables between the opposite sides of the dorm.  Ron and Janice were frequently out there now, ostensibly for the purpose of studying.  Naturally, with my room right there in view of the lobby, Janice and anyone else obsessed with me (and she was the only one fitting that description at that point in time) would know when and how often I went out.  Janice would sometimes see different girls come to my room, but she really couldn't keep up with which were my friend, girlfriend, and/or Jack's friend because Jack and I treated this as a shell game.  We weren't about to let Janice in on any information that she could use.  In fact, Jack was even more into this than I was at that point.

We didn't tell Janice much, and whenever she asked anything, one of us (usually Jack) always supplied her with misinformation.  By the time I had met my ex, we were so good at this that Janice had no idea who she was or, for a while anyway, that she even existed.  Why was Jack so into this?  Well, for one thing, Jack hated Ron for being an all-around boring person, and worse yet, Janice grated on him because she was unapologetically hypocritical in so many areas such as cultivating friendships with racists while claiming she was a forward-thinking liberal.  We called bullshit.

An engaging couple

Over the xmas break, just about a year after they started dating, Ron and Janice got engaged.  (As in with a ring and everything.)  Well, he asked and she said yes, but I don't know how enthusiastically.  I'm thinking in particular about how sometime during the next semester, she pulled me aside one day and asked me pretty much outright what I thought about whether she and Ron would make it.  I've sketched out Ron in broad strokes above, but I'll say now he wasn't a popular guy, and not just with Jack.  Janice knew this.  I asked her if she was "settling down" or "settling for."  Then I went back to playing guitar.  I don't know what she was looking for out of that exchange, but I can guess.  I would like to think that she wasn't reading this as an indication that I would be there if she decided to bail on Ron, but as we'll see, Janice couldn't take a hint when she didn't want to and instead invented her own fantasy to take the place of an inconvenient reality.

Going, going, gone

As that year drew to a close, I had been looking ahead to transferring to a larger college, which was about an hour away.  No, this wasn't due to any of the soap opera above but rather was pretty much always the plan, what with being raised with the emblem of my dad's alma mater all over the place.  It was a given that I'd follow his lead.  By this point I had applied and registered, gotten a room, etc.  I was set to go.  However, I hadn't told anyone about this except my roommate Jack, Cathleen, and my future fiancé, and they were all sworn to secrecy to avoid this getting back to Janice.  At the end of the semester, I moved out, Ron graduated, and everyone went home for the summer.

Come next year, I started at the new school.  Ron was now several hundred miles away for grad school thanks to surprisingly low scores on the quantitative section of his GRE, which is all the more ironic considering how much math he supposedly knew by then.  Janice was still in the same place since she had another year or two to go at that point (I forget exactly).

Janice figured with Ron out of the picture, she would see me in the fall as a free woman (more or less; what's an engagement ring, after all?), but when school started up again, I wasn't there.  Sure, I'll admit that sounds a bit egotistical on my part, but remember that Jack was still there and would hear a lot of what came from her and her friend Elena with whom Jack had a lot of contact (They were all in the same dorm still and used to eat supper together in the cafeteria most nights).  Jack and I were emailing on a daily basis during a lot of this, so I received a steady supply of gossip reports from this front as events occurred.  It was clear Janice was living in a fantasy world of her own invention.  Here's an excerpt from one of Jack's messages from that time (with the names changed, of course): Then Janice went on to talk about Cathleen which I later told her to shut up about.  She said that Elena, Cathleen, and her were all your exes, but you felt up Cathleen, so that was the difference.  Um, okay.  Note that I had about as much of a relationship with Elena as with Janice, and the only romance that occurred in any of this was Janice kissing reality goodbye.  Over the course of the next year, she continually talked about how she planned to break up with Ron, thought it took another year before she did.

I'm not sure why Jack even continued to interact with her.  In his emails, he used to alternately make fun of her or rant about how she annoyed him (usually by correcting him on his grammar or something obnoxious like that).  Moreover, Janice was insanely jealous of Jack.  He and I were like brothers when we were roommates, and we really did almost everything together.  Even after I left, Janice continued to insinuate I was a better friend to me than he was.  Here's an excerpt from another of his emails: Oh, and more things you won't believe.  If ever you never believed that Janice was jealous of me for your friendship.  If ever you never believed that I have to compete.  I have the example now.  Janice has, tonight, officially found herself in a war situation.  I'm literally tired of it.  First she mentioned that she had seen the jacket (the one you gave me I was wearing tonight) before I had ever seen it.  And then, that the jacket rightfully belonged to her.  If ever you doubted anything I've said in the past, that statement all but, hell it did, proved it.  I'm going to second Jack on this.  Janice was certifiable.

Close encounters of the awkward kind

Thankfully, I only saw Janice once more.  My then-girlfriend and much of her family lived in the same town as the school where Janice and the rest if the old gang were, so I was back in the area from time to time.  On Halloween night (appropriately enough) the year after I transferred, I had taken my girlfriend's cousins trick or treating, then dropped by the dorm to visit Jack before I headed back home.  Janice happened to be in the lobby when I arrived.  I called Jack from the courtesy phone while Janice cornered me.  I didn't want to flat-out blow her off and possibly make a scene, so I went along with the conversation without really committing to anything, just a lot of  me saying "Yeah.  Uh, huh."  A couple minutes later Jack showed up and we went back to his room.  Janice tried to come down there a little later, but we just ignored her knocking and kept our voices low until she left.

A few months after that, Janice managed to track down my email address.  What's scary is that she made this effort to the point of success back in the days before Google and the like.  I still have no idea how she found it.  Over the next few months, I received several messages from her, and ignored all of them.  No replies, nothing.  As long as she didn't sound terribly desperate or psychotic, I wasn't worried.  After all, she didn't drive (I still have no idea why), so I didn't live in fear of a surprise visit.

As you can probably guess, there were a number of cards and messages by snail mail as well.  This was in spite of the fact I had never once written, called, or visited her other than the accidental encounter on Halloween.  I even have one letter from more than a year after I transferred in which Janice's end of the conversation reads as though we've been corresponding the whole time.  Perhaps in her mind we had been.

Additionally, she used to send my parents xmas cards every year.  Janice had met my folks a few times when they came over to visit me in the dorm.  In the letters she always enclosed with cards, she would include items she thought I would be interested in, like that she had gone to a U2 concert and how they played some song she liked.  She knew I had been a U2 fan back then, but what would my parents care about this story?  They had no idea what she was even talking about.  It was weird.  No, actually, it was transparent.

I never bothered to read the letters; I always got things secondhand from my mom who liked her well enough (Janice was a good Catholic girl, after all).  She also included a picture of herself after she had finally lost a lot of weight.  She was a bit late on that front, and what cemented things for me years earlier was not her appearance but that she had repeatedly insulted Cathleen, something she has never deigned to address, let alone correct.

My parents liked Janice, but I don't think they ever wrote her before.  However, after five years of sorry attempts like this to keep in touch after I'd transferred, my mom finally wrote back and mentioned that I had gotten married and moved to Texas.  That ended the xmas cards and everything else.

Much of the text above was inspired by the fact that I had been re-reading old emails I saved from my college years.  After I wrote the story, I happened upon the series of messages from between me and my old roommate Jack after I transferred in which I comment on Janice writing to me repeatedly.  To put these in context, I hadn't seen Janice since the accidental encounter on Halloween more than a YEAR earlier.  At this point it was about fifteen months since I'd transferred, during which time I hadn't replied to anything she'd written, called her, etc.

Unfortunately, I didn't save any of her actual emails, just the ones between me and Jack and a few other friends, though the vague references to the contents of Janice's messages makes me wonder what she said.  I know she also sent me a birthday card a few weeks before the email messages began, which is what I'm referring to in the first excerpt.

10/23/95: I finally read Janice's card.  It frightened me.  She keeps pulling this shit that she almost gets away with.  "To someone I miss terribly."  I actually felt guilty for a second.  Then I realized who it was from.

10/31/95: Even more scary thoughts for today.  It would be on Halloween that I get a letter [Email. -ed.] from Janice.  It was sent on the 27th, though there's no indication of how she got my [email] address.  I'll forward you a copy after this.

11/1/95: No mail from Janice today (she sent the last one on the 27th), so maybe this will be the beginning, middle, and end of it.  I think she got my address through Gopher [This was a menu-driven program for navigating parts of the internet before the WWW].  I think I remember her mentioning using it in one of her letters to you, so it's entirely possible that that's where she got it from.  [My ex-girlfriend who was at the same school as Jack and Janice at the time] told me that you can use that for addresses anywhere that has a Gopher in places, but since everything was so slow when I was using the 2400 [baud modem] I avoided that, the news [i.e., the Usenet] and everything else that required a lot of time to display.  Anyway, to answer your question, I have absolutely no plans to write her.  I haven't in all this time, so I can do without for another few years.  If she writes me again a few times I'll just send her a short note with something like "Janice, please do not write me.." and if she does again I'll re-send the same note with a ps saying that she's going to loose her net account if I hear from her again. [Since this was a university account in the early days of student access to the internet, misuse of computers meant your account was canceled.  I simply chose to ignore Janice rather than contacting her simply to establish justification for blocking her.]

11/5/95: Janice wrote me yet again so I'm going to send you the latest piece of evidence proving that she has absolutely no common sense.  See you tomorrow.

11/7/95: It's scary that Ron writes you and Janice writes me.  I hope this doesn't continue.  As humorous as their letters are they give me nightmares strangely enough.  [Yes, I literally had a nightmare during this time that Janice was harrassing me in person.]

11/15/95: I got a letter [Again, email.] from Janice today (a person who apparently has too much time on her hands).  I'll forward it to you along with a few things people sent me since I've been off. [We used to forward a lot of jokes back then, but I didn't save any of the forwards for some reason, just the actual messages.]

11/20/95: I got a couple of new messages from Janice.  It's really starting to scare me now.  I'm not sure what (or if) she's thinking, but you remember how Norman used to talk to his mother's corpse and then do her voice like it was answering him?  Nuff said.

11/26/95: Janice's letter frightened me and that's all I'm going to say on the subject.  I think if I get anything else from her I'm going to write the help people and ask them if they can put a mail block on my account the way you can get a phone block.  I don't know how long that service lasts, but I'm going to ask the sys-op to get me something like that so I won't get anything from her.

Postscript: After I found this series of messages, I collected the excerpts above and forwarded them to Cathleen.  As I put it to her, "I guess the moral to all of the above is that you would have to be insane to have something against Cathleen.  And here's our Exhibit A."


Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.
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