Sunday night was the worst shift I could possibly have. Sunday nights were hopping in the Writing Center, consistently packed with last minute procrastinators who needed serious help with papers due the next day, and I, as a serious procrastinator myself, always had my own work to do. When my boss asked me to fill that shift, I was looking for every reason to say no, UNTIL.. .
I learned Suzanne was working with me.
Suzanne was everything I was not. Freshly back from studying abroad in Rome, she was a poised and sophisticated English literature major, with a signature look and a confidence that belied her years. She wore bright red lipstick which showcased her stunning smile, and was never without a jaunty scarf tied around her neck. At a college where the majority of students spent their days in sweatpants, she was distinctive. She had STYLE, and smarts, too. I was thrilled to have the chance to get to know her.
And get to know her I did. In the cocoon that was the Writing Center in the basement of LeMans Hall, a foxhole friendship bloomed. We bonded over tutoring difficult students, and worked to balance teaching writing to others while learning how to write well ourselves. We talked and laughed and shared ourselves with each other. We discussed literature, writing, and our dreams for our lives. We talked about her incredible family. (Eight daughters. ONE BATHROOM). We talked about leaving Saint Mary’s and how that was both exciting and frightening. We talked about Shakespeare and love and Catholicism and family life and feminism and poetry. We talked about why we could never stop eating the chocolate covered graham crackers that our boss kept in a jar in the office. Whoever got there first brewed the tea and checked the appointment book, hoping that it was empty, so that we could enjoy the evening talking and dreaming and laughing together.
Our time at Saint Mary’s ended and we went our separate ways. At our five year reunion, I saw Suzanne from afar, walking with her best friend Sarah. As it is with reunions, I looked for her later in the crowd, but she was gone.
Next time, I thought. Next time I will be sure to catch up with Suzanne.
I didn’t know that there would be no next time.
Suzanne died in Tower Two on September 11, 2001.
This year, my class returned to Saint Mary’s College for our twenty year reunion. It was a time of rejoicing, celebrating, and reconnecting. But something was missing for me, and for many.
She wasn’t there.
After mass at the Church of Loretto, from afar, I saw Suzanne’s best friend. This time, I would not wait.
I told Sarah how much I missed Suzanne. I told her how difficult coming must be for her, to be here without Suzanne, and how much I admired her courage and love. I told her about the foxhole friendship I shared with Suzanne and how much I miss our friend, and how I will never forget her.
Tears came to both of our eyes. Sarah calls over a young girl and she darts toward us, dressed for church, her brown hair swinging and deep, chocolate brown eyes dancing around, taking everything in. All I can think of is how much this young girl resembles the sophisticated, stylish friend we all lost.
Sarah introduces me to this young girl.
“This is Suzanne.”
Tears fall as I meet Suzanne’s namesake, who looks so much like our friend that it leaves me breathless. The young Suzanne, now accustomed to this reaction from her mother’s friends, asks if she can please go play on the island. We watch her run away, to the island, toward freedom, and into her own future, with a guardian angel on her shoulder who wears bright red lipstick and a jaunty scarf around her neck.
In loving memory of Suzanne Rose Kondratenko, Saint Mary’s College Class of 1996,
who perished in Tower Two on September 11, 2001