My Friend's Roommate's Laser Tag Party
Mortuary College Part 3
As I’ve stated before, I didn’t know anyone when I got to Nashville for mortuary school. Luckily, only a few days after moving in, some familiar faces arrived accompanied by their heads and bodies and limbs. They were people from my hometown who were attending universities in that very same city: David, Robert, and Nate all living together at Vanderbilt and Amanda at Belmont. For context, I was friends with the first three since middle school and Amanda since preschool. Also, David and Amanda were dating. They’re now married with kids and a house and a pool and the whole thing. When I moved in, I knew they weren’t far behind, and I was counting the days. They would bring with them a comfort and familiarity that my 19-year-old self seriously needed.
Early that first semester David called to invite me to J&J’s Market & Cafe, a coffee shop where people could play the cool, hip acoustic guitars they’d strategically strewn throughout and play any board game imaginable. The reason for the outing that night? To challenge Amanda and three of her friends, including her roommate who was very nice but whose name I can’t remember, to a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit. We were just playing for fun, and it wasn’t meant to be super competitive, so I don’t want to dwell on this, but we destroyed them. I’ve heard one of them, to this day, has to cut pies into either four or eight slices because six will lead to flashbacks of that night.
After the slaughter, two of the girls returned to Belmont in shame, I assume, while the rest of us headed to Vandy to hang out in the boys’ apartment for a little while. Now, people of a certain age group from my hometown have this thing where, when we get together, we tend to dominate conversations with stories of Savannah, Tennessee, our small river town that is apparently intriguing and entertaining to outsiders. I’ve been told it happened at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. It happened when I attended the University of Memphis my freshman year and throughout my time at my alma mater, Freed-Hardeman University. And it happened that night on the campus of Vanderbilt. We all sat around talking about the weird things we did for fun in high school. When you live in a town with nothing fun, you’re forced to create your own, and we were the best I know at doing that. As the night continued the lone non-Savannah person, [Roommate], was glued to the stories of our yelling at other people’s girlfriends while blasting 8-track tapes of Wings and The Doobie Brothers from the funeral home’s 1979 Oldsmobile, Christains in Action (re-read that one because you probably missed it), the 10th-grade Science Honorarium trip Nate and I still owed $6.00 for despite having already graduated, the explicit pages my first ever girlfriend (one week, 5th grade, dumped me on my kitchen phone for a 4th-grader) slipped into our freshman yearbook right before it was sent off for publishing, nearly getting the cops called on us and/or shot to death by the staff of Eddie’s Superfoods, including my now wife, after an English club Halloween party, all of which I’m sure I will write about eventually.
Then it got late enough that I needed to leave, so I could be well-rested when I looked at photographs of restricted cervical embalmings and various sutures the next day. David offered to walk me out since it was my first time on campus. I told him he didn’t have to, but he insisted. Once we were outside, he turned serious.
“So, what do you think about [Roommate]?”
That seemed odd, but I answered anyway.
“She seems nice. Why?”
“Would you ever want to, maybe, go on a date with her or anything?”
Now, I was currently dating my then girlfriend, now wife, so that’s exactly what I responded with.
“Well, no. I’m dating Natalie.”
“Oh, yeah. I didn’t know how that was going, so I just thought I’d ask.”
I feel like he told me she had asked about me, but it could also have been that he and Amanda just wanted to try to fix her up with someone, and there I was. I honestly can’t remember, but I want to make something clear in case she did ask: There are no more than a handful of times that I could write about where a girl was interested enough in me to consider going on a date, and “handful” is probably being generous, so please don’t think I’m trying to paint myself as some Saved by the Bell-era Mark-Paul Gosselaar here. I was not that.
The next time I called my then girlfriend, now wife, I told her the story of [Roommate] because I thought it was funny, and, also, I was apparently an idiot. She did not think it was funny and wasn’t at all happy with David and Amanda. Eventually she understood that they weren’t aware of the seriousness of our relationship given the multiple long-distance scenarios of the past couple of years, and everything was fine.
Skip ahead to the end of the semester. My then girlfriend, now wife, plans a trip to Nashville for the weekend, and, without knowing about that, David calls again.
“Hey, do you remember Amanda’s roommate, [Roommate]?”
“Well, it’s her birthday this weekend, and we’re all going to eat and then play laser tag, and she wanted to know if you’d want to go.”
“Actually, Natalie’s coming up this weekend, so if it’s cool for her to come too, I can see if she wants to.”
David said that was fine without actually asking anyone, and I checked with my then girlfriend, now wife, Natalie, who said she thought laser tag sounded fun. We couldn’t do dinner with them because we’d already decided to eat at Big River Restaurant and Brewery on 2nd, but we planned to meet them at the laser tag place. The others were having celebratory dessert at fill-in-the-blank-restaurant downtown when we finished our meal, so we met them there instead to join in the festivities. After the greetings and hugs and it’s-so-good-to-see-yous, Amanda introduced Natalie to [Roommate]—a perfectly civil exchange that should in no way serve as any kind of foreshadowing.
We paid our money, vested up, listened to the rules, and stood at the door of the blacklit ghost town that awaited. I asked Natalie if she was good at laser tag. She’d never played before so probably not.
The doors opened, and we all jogged in—not running because that was against those rules—and began simulatedly shooting one another. I don’t remember who won that night, but I remember who lost: [Roommate]. In a close second-to-last came Natalie. [Roommate] was not happy. Natalie was ecstatic.
When we got in the car, I asked my then girlfriend, now wife, if she had fun.
“Yeah I did! I beat that [Roommate] girl. That’s all I wanted to do.”
“That was it? Why?”
“She flirted with you that night. I wasn’t letting her beat me.”
What followed was the account of a perfectly reasonable young woman, one studying to someday educate children, so determined to defeat another young woman in laser tag that she followed her around for the entirety of our time inside the neon-marked course. She would shoot [Roommate]. [Roommate]’s vest would flash, and her gun would disable. Once [Roommate]’s equipment reset, *pew*! Another hit, vest flashing and gun disabling. [Roommate] barely got any shots off. The only chance she had was when Natalie was hit. As soon as she could shoot again, though, [Roommate] would get it. Every time.
While writing this, I’ve asked my now wife, then girlfriend, to help with some of the details from that night nearly 21 years ago. When I got to this part, she buried her head in her hands laughing.
“I forgot I ruined that poor girl’s birthday.”
She did ruin that girl’s birthday, but she did it in the name of love which is the noblest of causes.
This Thursday I’ll be discussing Grief, Humor, and Funeral Directors with the nice people at Cadence.
Here’s an Old Piece of Mine That I Like
One of my favorite titles I ever developed was Baskets, Ranked, and, with the help of Marissa Maciel’s fantastic illustrating, we made it happen. Originally published by The Weekly Humorist.
Here’s a Piece Someone Else Wrote That I Like
This is a piece from Julia Steffen and is illustrated by her husband, Jim, formerly of down-the-road-from-me, but now they’ve moved. Julia has been a huge help and encouragement to me in my writing (as she has been for a ton of others, honestly). This is Limited-Edition 2020 Cream-Egg Fillings. Originally published by The New Yorker.