As we go through life, we have the opportunity to meet, interact, work and in some cases live with an amazing variety of people. Many – if not most – fade from your memory, into mental obscurity, unless there is an event or reminder that brings their memory back.
But there is that unique minority who you remember no matter how much time passes, or how long they were directly in your life.
Last week I was saddened to learn that my old college roommate Aida passed away. She was way too young and it’s another terrible reminder about the ravaging impact mental illness can have on a person.
I first met Aida in Clark Hall – the co-ed dorm I lived during my junior year at University of Oregon. Originally from the tiny Eastern Oregon town of Burns, Aida was paired with Anna, another freshman who hailed from Wisconsin. Pretty much instantly the legend of Aida and Anna was born. I honestly don’t know where to begin in trying to describe them. They were two fun and funny girls who weren’t afraid of pulling pranks or pushing the envelope. So naturally I got along famously with both of them.
As that school year wound down and we all were trying to decide where to live, we agreed on a still somewhat unconventional idea in 1986 – we would share an apartment and be roommates.
Aida paid her own way through college (and eventually through law school as well). She did it the hard way – working for the Forestry Service fighting fires during the summer. Before my senior year I found myself without a job after unexpectedly getting laid off from a landscaping job. I remember calling Aida and lamenting my position and she matter-of-factly told me “Dave, it doesn’t matter what kind of job you get, just do whatever it takes to earn some money. Pump gas if that’s what it takes.” A week later I did just that – I spent the final 7 weeks of summer working at a Union 76 station in Portland pumping gas.
My Senior year was memorable in so many ways. I’ve been asked by friends to pick my favorite Aida memory and I honestly can’t – there are too many to choose from. As Anna reminded me when she informed me of Aida’s passing last week, Aida truly had a larger than life personality. If you were anywhere near her, it was impossible to ignore her.
I loved and admired Aida’s ambition and drive. As much fun (and drinking) that we did that year living together, we also all pushed each other academically. I had a (fairly) strict rule of studying Sunday through Thursday – and then releasing that pent-up college energy on Friday and Saturday nights. Years later Aida thanked me and told me that this discipline helped her throughout college and law school. I was deeply flattered.
Where do I start with the memories? Given our living arrangement we naturally called ourselves Jack, Janet and Chrissy – after the 3’s Company characters. We even called the apartment manager Furley. We had “family meetings” once a week when we would talk about anything that bothered us – and gave us an outlet to air frustrations. Looking back, it was a pretty mature approach for a 21 year old and two 19 year olds.
If I had to pick one favorite memory, it would probably be Christmas of that year. We decorated the Christmas tree in our own unique way – the angel on top of the tree had her hair spiked like Billy Idol thanks to mousse we decided to apply. It was in preparation for a holiday party we hosted that included other friends from Clark Hall – Kelly and Cami (who were themselves roommates and would go on to be roommates the following year with Aida and Anna after my graduation). It was a night filled with many laughs and lots of beer and wine.
As I mentioned earlier, Aida earned her degree from UO and went on to Law School and passed the Bar in the state of Arizona where she settled with a husband (at the time). She set up a successful law practice and produced three beautiful daughters over the years. I lost touch with Aida for a chunk of time but it seems that somewhere along the line something changed and at some point we lost the Aida we knew and loved during our college years.
In 2012 we decided to have a mini-reunion here in Seattle around the Ducks-WSU football game. Kelly and Cami took the train from Oregon and Aida flew to town with her daughters for the weekend. Unfortunately Anna wasn’t able to join us. We met Friday night at Buca di Beppo for dinner and I remember seeing the glimmer in Aida’s eyes when I walked into the restaurant and we saw each other. We hugged tightly and she introduced me to her daughters. Before I knew it we were back in UO mode – Aida entertaining us with stories as only should tell them. I laughed so hard I cried. We got to experience the good Aida that night.
The next day it was a different story. We met for lunch and Aida wasn’t the same person. She was saying things that didn’t quite make sense. What started as a celebration soon became a concern as we witnessed her behavior and emotions changing rapidly and unpredictably. While we were able to enjoy the game together, there was an air of uncertainty and concern when the weekend ended. It was clear that Aida had some issues and we collectively worried about both her and her daughters.
Ultimately there was little anyone could do to help Aida. And its a damn shame. When I think about Aida I will remember the young woman I knew in college – full of ambition, hope and life. Someone who was smart, beautiful and funnier than hell. Those of us who knew her then know that we lost that person awhile ago but it doesn’t make last week’s event or news any less sad.
My thoughts and prayers go out to her family – especially those beautiful daughters. I hope they carry the best of what Aida had to offer and share it with the world in the years ahead.
Rest in peace Aida.