1993: I first met Jarrett Seals, my freshman roommate at Wesleyan (Butterfield A when it was the last dorm on campus with shared hall phones), in typical fashion. Moving a car full of carelessly packed books, CDs, and clothes into our dorm room, parents hovering anxiously, posing for farewell pictures. We were at the threshold of a new world of experiences. Excited, nervous, and yes, a little scared. When I look at those pictures, I can still see it in our eyes.
I’m from Poughkeepsie, NY, 90 miles north of New York City and home of IBM and Vassar, which many in town viewed as a little too queer and elite. It’s not a suburb exactly, but not quite the kind of city one imagines when thinking of cities. I had a happy and pretty ordinary upbringing. An early life obsessed with insects and frogs, which gave way to soccer and video games. AP classes, tennis, band, year book, hosting exchange students, model rockets, all that shit. For me, Wesleyan was going to be a wonderful place to play ultimate, study physics, and bloom late.
Jarrett was a black club kid from New York City, in those days typically dressed hoop earrings, baggy shorts, striped socks, and platform shoes. He was totally open and hungry for experience. He was worldly. He had learned Spanish growing up, learned Portuguese during a three week trip, and would go on to learn Italian at Wesleyan. It is hard to believe now, but he was the first openly gay person I had ever met. He quickly formed a crew of like minded shady bitches: the House of Shade. Arts, fashion, style, dance, and snaps for days. He was going to be a fashion designer.
Even as I squarely enforced a no smoking policy in our room, I loved that we were roommates. This was what I imagined Wesleyan was all about. A model of harmonious diversity right in my room! I was diving into life on campus with a fearless and over the top live-in role model. He called me out for my disinterested fashion sense; I held my own throwing shade at his friends.
Still he was restless. I remember a Thursday part way through our first semester, I was up studying when he came home. Frisky and tipsy. “Sam I had the best time… I had some pot. I had some vodka. I had some sex in the attic!” His first action in college. He had discovered Eclectic.
That night turned into many more. Did you know you can snort heroin? I didn’t. Eventually he found having a roommate an inconvenience and transferred into his own room, leaving me with a coveted single occupancy double. We remained friends but drifted apart, his studies took him to Rome our junior year and he came back mentally done with college. The world awaited! We hugged at graduation. He got a Fulbright to work at the Guggenheim in Venice. Then I heard rumors he was back in NYC. That we was addicted to drugs.
In June of 2003, I learned that he was dead. 28 years old. Overdose of heroin. He was one of the most passionate, alive, fearless people I ever met. How? Why? What if…?
When I heard about the bad Molly on campus, the students in critical condition, a flood of memories of Jarrett washed over me. I cried. I mourned his loss again. Way too young. Way too soon. What on earth would he be doing now? Something that I could not do. Something that I would admire.
Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Have fun, explore, experiment, but be safe. The world needs you. You are loved and admired, even by people you no longer really know.
Borgeson is a member of the Class of 1997.