As a popular destination for people in my dorm community with a hankering for beer pong, my room began seeing very heavy traffic each weekend. Some nights, new faces were more common than familiar ones, especially with the parade of strangers that OJ ushered through my door.
One particular weekend, a broad framed and slightly portly fellow from up north named Pat joined us. He was quiet, but beer pong breeds instant camaraderie and as Pat’s face grew redder with each game, we boisterously projected a genial manner on the guy and he smiled more and laughed harder as the night progressed. Pat was an easy-going guy and fun to have around, if only as another body in the room adding volume to the laughter and happiness to the sweaty drunken atmosphere. At the time, we were always in need of beer pong opponents so that we could play with teams of two, so I felt like we found a real keeper in Pat.
He partied with us twice in one weekend. With the populations that OJ assembled varying between the two nights, I came to realize Pat’s connection to the chain smokers in the courtyard. He didn’t do much to shift the group dynamic with us, so I assumed he was just a quiet guy lost in the ruckus of the cigarette gang and that was why I never noticed him before.
The next weekend, OJ and I prepared to gather bodies for binge drinking. I mentioned inviting Pat and we tried to run him down, but never got a hold of him. This became a recurring pattern over the following weekends. Back then, I remembered Pat’s last name and I found him on Facebook and friended him. I asked him where he had been on his wall, but got no reply.
I asked the chain smokers if any of them had seen Pat lately. One casually mentioned that Pat had been Baker Act-ed the past couple of weekends. The Baker Act is a law that states that someone can be detained and observed for up to 48 hours if they are reported to be a danger to themselves or others – at least that was what I learned from my peers. I was shocked that such a quiet, laid back guy could be locked away for something like that. I was even more flabbergasted by the way that the smokers were laughing about it until one of them elaborated on it.
Pat had a girlfriend back home who was a drama queen and things had become quite a train wreck between them. His psycho girlfriend’s favorite tactic was to call the cops on him after they had a fight over the phone. She would tell the officials that he was threatening to hurt himself, and just like that, Pat would vanish for a couple of days. “What a bitch!” I thought, finding this to be an easy explanation to believe.
When Pat returned, I only saw him and spoke with him in passing. As he resumed his use of Facebook, some of his posts were pretty dark and brooding. It isn’t uncommon for people to jokingly say things like, “Oh my God, it was so awful! I just wanted to kill myself!” Something about the way that Pat phrased those sentiments online was different though. There was an angry edge to them, as if he genuinely disliked himself and felt that he deserved physical punishment for his inadequacies. I searched my beer hazed memories for any sign of sadness in the big quiet guy and I thought I understood a little bit about why he was so quiet. Maybe he didn’t want to hang out with us anymore because being around people having fun just made him feel more alone. It was a feeling that I could have related to only a couple months before meeting OJ.
I never saw Pat again, even in passing. I think someone told me that he moved back home. I couldn’t comprehend the disconnect between the guy drinking beer with me and the guy who very openly desired to hurt himself. It showed me how superficial the bond between college drinking buddies can be. I had two very fun nights with this guy by my side, and yet I didn’t learn a single thing about who he really was. It wasn’t real friendship, just intoxicated physical proximity around a drinking game one night.