When I was a sophomore in college we had a tradition where your roommate would set you up on a date for the residence hall’s annual dance. My roommate and my R.A. knew I had a huge crush on a young lady named Maria, who my R.A. actually had dated for some time. So, they went and asked her and she agreed to be my date.
Until the night before the dance and then she decided that she had too much homework and had to bail.
They didn’t know how to tell me…so they tried to scramble, but by that time…everyone had a date already and it seemed as if I would have to go “stag.” Both my roommate and R.A. broke the news to me. To be honest, I was touched that Steve, my R.A., would even ask his ex-girlfriend for a favor so that I might have a date with her. My roommate, Joe, went the extra yard and tried to find a suitable replacement. Finally, my phone rang.
“Mike, it’s Steve DiSalvo.” Steve was the Resident Director in my old freshman year dorm and is still today, a close friend. “I heard about what happened. Come on over here and we’ll talk about it.”
So I went over. I was upset about this but also I was really honored that these three guys would go through so much trouble for me. I was shy and not very confident in these days. I didn’t really date and thought that most women weren’t all that interested in me. My roommmate was very confident and it didn’t help that I shrank in his shadow often around women.
Regardless, Steve met me at his dorm and said, “Let’s see, who might we know that you might like to go with to this dance?”
Just then, Melissa Morrissey entered the lounge we were sitting in. I had been a freshman advisor to her and had helped her register for classes.
“Hey Melissa,” Steve said. “You remember Mike, right?”
“Of course!” Melissa replied. “You helped us at registration and we saw each other at the movie in the grass.”
“So Melissa, you want to go with Mike to the Sesqui Dance tomorrow night?”
Melissa didn’t hesitate. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled a beautiful big smile and said “Sure! Why not? Sounds like fun!”
“Pick you up at 8?” I said. And she readily agreed.
“I have a great dress too! Thanks for asking!”
She darted down the hall and Steve just looked at me and said, “YOU are going to owe me, BIG TIME!”
I picked Melissa up at her dorm and she looked like a thousand dollars. Her long blonde, curly hair made her look like she could play the lead in a production of “Repunzel” the fairy tale of the girl with the long blonde hair. She had the perfect little black dress for the occasion. And she met me with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.
We had a wonderful time. We danced every dance. And hung out with friends. We grabbed a beer or two with friends later and in general just enjoyed each other’s company. There was no pressure and everything just seemed free and easy. For a “last second date” Melissa made me wish she was my date for every dance.
It was a weird time at Fordham. A student had murdered a local Bronx resident and the campus was on lockdown for fear of retribution. So there were all these activities in the late evening to encourage us not to go to the bars. That night we went to an on-campus movie after the dance and just laid out on the couches with friends. It was sweet and wonderful and in general, outside of my wife, Melissa was the best date ever.
Melissa didn’t know I was really struggling to feel accepted that year. Friends from freshman year had kind of faded. My roommate and I were good friends but started to get on each other’s nerves. I began to question if I wanted to go into the media that year and in general I was feeling lost. My grades were better than year, but still weren’t the stellar marks I was used to getting. I didn’t date and wasn’t sure that anyone would be interested. My confidence was at an all time low and then…when I found out about not having a date for the dance, I was probably at one of the lowest points of the year, perhaps even one of the lowest points of my life.
Enter Melissa. And she turned it all around in a single evening. And I have treasured the memory of that evening for more than 20 years now. It was an evening that didn’t end with a brief hook-up, nor even a passionate kiss.
It was, however, an evening that ended my loneliness. It may very well have been a major turning point for me.
Today I have shed many tears. This Friday, Melissa suffered a major heart attack and died at the much too young age of 42. We had kept up just a bit over the years mostly through facebook. She had started a business and had done some extensive traveling. I’m seeing a lot of posts from people who said Melissa mentored them and that was no surprise to me.
She was a great friend to all and will always be beloved my me as that great friend who very well may have lifted me up just when I needed it by a single act of kindness.
It may very well be a corporal work of mercy…”I needed a date…and you danced with me.” It seems too trite to say that perhaps God needed someone to dance with too, especially since she died much too young, but I may very well picture her doing that today…and remembering.
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” -Jeremiah 31:13
There seems to be no amount of dancing that can ever end my sorrow at Melissa’s death, but then I remember that she danced with me in the first place, when nobody else would. And in remembering that my joy is restored. Let us celebrate her life each time we dance, especially with a beloved and remember her as a beloved and treasured friend.