Authored by: Tafeni English and Maranda Griffin
I distinctly remember my very first day on the campus of Troy State University. The fall quarter had already begun, and I was at the mercy of the Dean of Students and the Admissions office to allow late enrollment. I realize that I am dating myself as the university underwent a name change and is no longer on a quarter system. It seems that my dad pulled right up to the middle of ‘the quad’ and commenced to drop me and all my luggage off, only to realize we had to walk a few buildings over to Shackleford Hall. While this detail may seem miniscule it was one that I recall with embarrassment as students were moving about with independence as I was being escorted on foot with bags in tow by my father. I have countless fond memories of Troy and one that I forever hold dear is that of endearing friendships.
Going to college was a foreign concept as my parents had not been afforded the opportunity of a four-year university experience. I didn’t have much of a frame of reference as to what to expect. I never did any college tours and I completely missed my pre-college orientation because I was in basic training securing the money necessary to make college an option for my future.
My first quarter in school I joined a roommate who was an upperclassman and began to forge friendships with caution. There were several people who went to Troy from my hometown, so my initial safety rested in gravitating to them as I acclimated myself. I met Tafeni, who would become infamously known as my BFF, during my freshman year at Troy. One of the biggest adjustments to college life is dorm life and living with someone. She and I both were adjusting to college roommates like most of our freshman class. We seemed to immediately click with one another and our circle of friends became known as nine-deep. Nine deep became a colloquialism to describe our peer group, all freshman women living between Shackelford and Hamil Hall. When you would see one of us, you would see all of us. We all came from meager backgrounds and only one person in the group had a car, a red Chevrolet Chevette. Amazingly, all nine of us would defy spacial odds and pack into that single car and head to the Lagoona. We shared so many coming of age memories with one another collectively and individually. Part of the sharing included hopes, dreams and aspirations which included a college women’s rite of passage – sorority life. We all had varying influences that shaped our interest in being a part of a sorority. For me, that was Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived on the campus of Troy State University, the fall of 1992. All I knew for sure was that I was looking forward to a new beginning. Although I was sad to leave my family, I welcomed college with open arms and a bit of naivety. I was anxious to begin my college life. I had all these visions of attending college and living a successful life with new and old friends. I knew the world had a lot to offer I was excited and uncertain at the same time. I was excited about making new friends. While I was excited to make new friends, I also wanted to keep my high school classmates close. I kept replaying in my head going back home to football games on Friday night meeting up with my old classmates and sharing our new lives with each other. I imagined my college friends traveling home with me on a few given weekends, meeting up with my old friends. Or my high school friends visiting me in Troy. Although that’s what I deeply longed for, things beyond my control would prevent that for a long time. It wouldn’t be long before I discovered the extent of my family and friends meeting up would initially be through my phone calls back home and yells of hey through the phone line in the background. Eventually weekend pickups from my dad or brothers, many of my college friends would find themselves engaged in conversations with my family.
So here we are. My first day on campus. My mom and I along with my aunt ready to get me settled and moved in. I was so nervous. I was wondering who my roommate would be. Would we like each other? Would I see my friends made during summer orientation earlier that summer? Will I fit in? Hoping people wouldn’t prejudge. Repeating in my head not to prejudge. I learned over the summer I would be living in Clements hall the co-ed dorm. Troy is looking good. I arrive on campus only to find out it’s the dorm on the other end of the campus. First bad sign. Although my roommate was nice, she was an upperclassman. It didn’t take long for my buddy from orientation to find me (Princess). After two days of walking back and forth from each other’s dorm, she put me on. She said, you know I don’t have a roommate, so you need to request to change dorms. Boom there it was. The request was granted and off to Hamil Hall I went. Hamil Hall where great memories and great friendships would be made.
As we were all settling in to the routine of classes and getting to know each other, friendships begin to blossom. Initially it was a group of five and we would gather in a room at the end of the hall, the five would soon expand to eight and then the final addition dropped in and we were officially, the nine-deep crew.
While all of us were good friends and we shared a lot among the larger group. There were a few of us who were forming deeper friendships. One of which would be myself and Maranda. She arrived on campus a few weeks after the start of the semester after completing basic training. In my head on repeat, my earlier declared mantra of “don’t prejudge.” She was quiet, but full of life and loved to have fun.
I envisioned the nine-deep crew being together forever, even when the time came for our lives to go their separate ways. I envisioned us growing together and having this deep sisterhood that would span the rest of our lives. Well of course as our freshman year is nearing an end, discussions ensued about where we would live. Maranda and I decided off campus we would go. It was exciting. Of course, my parents were not having it, but eventually gave in with stipulations of my financial responsibilities. That brought on a level of anxiety I wasn’t quite expecting. In any event we seemed to be getting through it, even with a few bumps and bruises learned along the way. Maranda was definitely the stronger one financially.
By the time we made it to our sophomore year and had met the obligatory requirement to live in the dorm for the first year of school, Tafeni and I had our eyes set on bigger and better things…..an apartment. We convinced our parents that it was cheaper and spread our independent wings a little bit wider and moved off campus. One of the things I noticed about the move is that our wolfpack peer group began to dissolve. It wasn’t that our relationships ended but just how we identified ourselves as we continued to mature as women. It is said that our paths through life are rarely straight and it was during this off-campus experience that this became evident. Life threw us some unexpected twists and turns that we hadn’t prepared for, were broadsided by, and ill equipped to navigate. We had never had our own apartment and with that came major responsibilities, namely financial management that we struggled with. In addition to learning how to stay afloat financially, Tafeni endured a significant life event; the murder of her youngest brother, Nick. This was an emotionally devastating time. Lacking the capacity to fully support her through this experience we began to isolate from one another.
We were heading into our second quarter of living together, when I received devastating news. My baby brother was murdered in my hometown. I’ve lost loved ones before, but not like this. I felt as if all of me was gone. I struggled to make sense of it and struggled even more about the direction my life should take. I had just spoken with my brother the night before. He told me that he had decided that he really wanted to stick with softball and had been looking at possibly coming to Troy. Of course, you know I was ecstatic. Why wouldn’t I want my little brother coming to Troy?
During that difficult time, the nine-deep crew was there. They sent a card and there was one or two designated to call and regularly check on me. I know they were concerned and showed up in the way they could at the time and I appreciated them so much for that. After being home for a week, I had already resolved that I would not return to Troy until the summer. I really wanted to stay home and be close to my family. I was already devising a plan. I could go back to my old job and send money back to Maranda to handle rent until I returned in the summer. I would stay home and be with my family to help in any way I could. Mostly I didn’t want my family alone. Especially my parents and younger siblings. My parents were not hearing it. They both felt if I stayed home that I would not return to school at all. Once it was determined that I would be returning to school, I found some comfort because I felt the nine-deep crew would be there. And they were, they showed up in the capacity in which they knew how. Of course, with each of them and their own personalities, you had the one with a million questions and the one who thought they should just leave me alone. Being off campus was hard because in the past we would pile up in someone’s dorm room and talk until the wee hours of the morning. Now being off campus, it was just Maranda and I with an occasional visit.
I longed to be home with my family. Upon returning to Troy, I felt so alone. I convinced myself I was strong, and I was alright. Only I wasn’t alright. When I returned to Troy I made every attempt at regaining what normalcy looked and felt like, but it wasn’t working. I knew many people genuinely empathized with me. I could see it in their faces, the kind smiles. Instead of looking at it differently, I felt people pitied me. I think people did what most of us do in my cultural. They leave you alone. I always knew Maranda was not a woman of many words. She had always been that way. In many ways she’s right, neither one of us knew the magnitude of how the grief I was experiencing would impact us both. Things begin to change. I feel it was a combination of grief and growth. As the distance grew, so did the rumors. Other peers would say things like what’s wrong with you and Maranda, I see her with so and so all the time and she’s never with you. Or she barely speaks to us anymore, I guess she is hanging with her other friends. And I’m sure she heard similar rumors as well.
We started to pursue interests and friendships independent of each other. Ultimately, a wedge would come between us that left us not speaking to one another for almost three years. As I retreated, Maranda began developing new friendships. Initially she was always including me. And although she included me, I often felt left out. As other relationships began to appear stronger, ours grew weaker. At some point, I convinced myself those were her friends and they were providing her with what she needed at the time and I couldn’t. I have to be honest, at first, I was intimidated by those new friendships because I always envisioned we would always have the same circle of friends. So, I begin to withdraw and sought to make other friends, my own friends. As Troy is a small campus, of course we still mingled in the same circles, avoiding eye contact and not speaking when we were in the same spaces.
Due to our limited communication, the silence was noticeable, and it was straining. I’m not even sure how we ended up not rooming with each other anymore, but it happened. And there was the end of our friendship. There were times I wanted to reach out to her but didn’t. I remember one time asking one of the nine deep to intervene and go ask her what was wrong. In the end we decided that wasn’t a good idea. At that time, I think my insecurities began to get the best of me. I felt as if I wasn’t worthy to be in the same circles with Maranda and her new friends.
I wanted friends, so I began to seek out friends who I felt was a good fit for me. In many cases, it was hard making new friends on campus because the Black community was so tight, it was hard being in circles knowing I had lost my best friend. I had befriended a young lady through work. We were really good friends. Eventually, I would began hanging out at her house and eventually moving in with her family. They treated me like their own. They reminded me so much of my family back home in Lincoln. They were good, hard working and honest people for the most part. To this day, although we don’t communicate, that family remains near and dear to my heart. As a result of that relationship, I also begin to associate with many other members “locals” as we called them on college campus. I was fine with that, they understood, I was a “college” girl and yet they embraced me all the same. It really did remind me of my hometown of Lincoln, AL. Many people assumed, I was acting out by associating with the locals. I basically did the same thing with the locals that I did with my college friends. Just in different environments.
There was a distinct line of demarcation between college students and the locals in the small town. I would see Tafeni in her new circle and was somewhat confused. To me it seemed she was developing into someone different, someone I didn’t know. At the time, even though we didn’t have any communication, I now realize that what I was sensing was actually a perceived threat to the relationship we once had. In judgment, I subconsciously formed opinions about what she was doing and who she was doing it with and labeled it all not good.
Pretty soon those relationships would be impacted by my busy schedule. I was working two jobs in the community and still trying to balance school. School had become my #1 priority and many things I once aspired to do, such as pledging Delta Sigma Theta and being involved in various school clubs had to take a back seat. Mainly because my grades had dropped, and I really needed to focus on what was most important. I had to choose. The next two years would go by very quickly, as I wanted to accomplish my goal of finishing school in exactly four years.
I can honestly say that during those years of separation, I missed our friendship. Troy was such a small campus and community, so we routinely saw each other. In those times, I would watch and wonder what in the world is going on. Be as all wars go, I didn’t take the initiative to say anything. Yet, we had some really good mutual friends who little beknownst to either of us were working behind the scenes to facilitation the reunification of our relationship. One evening we were all at a mutual location where we were welcomed by our mutual friend to make amends. It didn’t take much at this point as we were now Troy alumni and a little wiser. We readily jumped at the chance to restore our friendship with few questions asked. Since that Sunday evening, we haven’t looked back.
Upon moving in together in Montgomery, we also landed the same job. We were more mature and our communication with each other had improved. If it was a hard conversation, we would write. Well Maranda would write, and I would want to talk it out. I know most of the times I rambled. But she understood. That’s the beauty of our friendships. With maturity, comes wisdom, or at least we’d like to hope so. We took our lessons early on in our friendship and while they were hard and fast, they were a necessary seed for what our future held. Soon would enter the marriages, relationships, children, divorce, one re-marriage and a host of merging families and friendships. We got through them.
I don’t know if we really work on sustaining the friendship. It feels as if that’s understood. For me, I operate in knowing and I hope I’m not taking that for granted. When I really sit and reflect, I feel it’s the security we have within and the security in our friendship. It boils down to just allowing each other to be. Trusting the silence and trusting the togetherness when our schedules will allow it. We gave each other permission to grow a long time ago. And we understand that growth will look differently over time. As we gracefully grow in wisdom, I also think we must be intentional in continuing to maintain the bond of friendship. If anything, ever happens to me, without a doubt, I would entrust my daughter’s care solely to her. Although she’s entered adulthood, I couldn’t think of a better role model than my bestie to continue guiding my daughter into womanhood. I trust her with my life and my well-being.
While several of our college friendships did not mature and sustain, this relationship weathered several storms. Sustainment, simply is maintenance and support. As our friendship evolved we were no longer threaten by other relationships, distance, time, or inconsistent communication. Our relationship has been sustained because when we need each other the most, even when the need is unspoken, we wholeheartedly support one another. We champion each other to maximize potential, celebrate wins, and shoulder defeats together. We have learned that pursuing different interests and friendships enriches each of us and allows us to be the best of friends to each other while modeling relationship to others. Every lesson that had its origin at Troy helped cultivate a deeply rooted friendship that no matter what direction life now takes us, it will never take us apart nor away from one another. Forever forward, Hamil.