“I’m calling about someone who was just brought in there. Peter Bergstrom.”
The nurse was checking while I waited. Then: “Yes, I do have a Peter Bergstrom.”
“Is he okay?”
“I’m sorry, we can only give information to family members.”
This wasn’t going to work. Peter had been in a car accident that afternoon. Now it was getting dark and Shelly was waiting at her house to hear.
“I’m not related, but Peter’s my roommate.”
Another pause. “I suppose I can tell you. Peter Bergstrom has terminated.”
Now I paused. It was hard to take a leap from those words to Peter being dead. I knew that’s where I had to go, I just didn’t know how to get there.
“Do you mean…” My voice was starting to falter. She allowed some compassion.
All I had left was what I had been trained for. Politeness. “Thank you,” I said, as if she just served me in a store. I hung up.
Peter was one of three roommates I had in the second semester of my senior years. Peter, Bud and Chip were all acting majors, a year behind me. They had been in London the fall semester with Shelly, my girlfriend. I had spent that previous semester in L.A. on an internship.
Coming back to school in Ithaca in January, the guys had rented a house downtown. Shelly arranged for me to be the 4th roommate. By the time I got to town, they had all moved in and I got the last bedroom. It wasn’t a room so much as an afterthought. And that’s how I felt the house. I was an outsider, the lone cinema major among actors. They were a threesome. I was Shelly’s boyfriend who kept his stuff in the big closet where he sometimes slept.
Shelly and Chip were from the same town, Greenwich CT, and through her Chip and I had become friends. But Bud and Peter were mostly strangers to me. Bud was a legend among acting students for his comedic gifts. I was duly intimidated and we barely spoke. Peter was polite, but distant.
I spent more time down the street at Shelly’s than in my box. The odd man out.
Peter knew that. One day, when the two of us were alone in the house, he started a conversation. It was just about mundane things. The words didn’t matter. The point was, he was saying let’s be friends. And I really appreciated it. He turned me onto a new album he had just bought; “End Of The Century” by The Ramones. I figured at the time he was just being kind to Shelly’s boyfriend. It only occurred to me after that it wasn’t Peter who had been polite, but distant. It was me.
Because I was making my senior film, the semester passed like a ghost. Peter was an extra in my film. Half the acting department was involved.
It was the last week of school when Peter was in the backseat of a car, going to local wineries with friends. The accident was really minor. Some bruises, but no one else was really hurt. When Peter didn’t move back there, the others thought he was joking. His spleen had ruptured. He was alive when they got him to the hospital.
I hung up from the nurse and called Shelly. The whole department was waiting for word. Shelly would tell them. People were already starting to gather at her house. “Come over,” she said.
I had no context for this, nothing to compare it to. I had grown up in the suburbs, outside New York. Life there seemed like the outer manifestation of a mediocre TV show. Nothing much happened. Once, I stole a candy bar from the store across from Sid’s. That was something. Twice, bullies tried to lure me into fights and I wouldn’t let them. My sister and mother argued a lot. But otherwise, I kept my head down and crept from class to class, year to year. I avoided peers and family and kept my interactions limited to the TV in my room. It was a non-life and I felt like a non-person.
I was alone in the house, when I hung up from Shelly. I wasn’t thinking. I went outside and found myself running hysterically in the direction of her house. It was my time to be upset. But deep down, for a reason I didn’t understand, I knew that my life had just begun.