Low Talent, High Enthusiasm

“Zoe, you have to see this video. Look. Look!”

I just entered our dorm room, and Ryley is already holding her phone in front of my face, laughing so hard it seems to be hurting her. She always laughs like this, with her eyes squeezed shut and the sound explosive. I could hear her from the other side of the door, but now that we are in the same room, the sound is contagious.

Ryley is laying in her bed, among mountains of clothing and cardboard boxes that cover the floor. Her clothes don’t appear to be from the same person – clothes from thrift stores, clothes from her mothers’ closet, clothes from the newest collection at Urban Outfitters, clothes she made or embellished herself. Although we are moving out tomorrow, and Ryley has been in our room for three hours, I see only five shirts in a single box. She knows what I am going to say and interrupts me before I can speak.

“Look, I wanted to pack but then I learned about the importance of the soybean industry in the global economy and I had to learn everything about it.”

Immediately, she sits up straight in her bed and begins to explain to me exactly what has happened with the soybean industry in the past two years. This is normal for Ryley. She is a journalism student, but more than this, she is a storyteller. Whole she speaks, she twirls a piece of hair between two fingers on her right hand – a habit she has had for so long that there is now a permanent curl in her hair. Her phone buzzes. She looks at it for an instant and continues with her story.

She speaks quickly, as if her head is so crowded with thoughts that she must get them all out as soon as possible. Sometimes I think she could speak for days without stopping if no one interrupted her. Most times I think you could listen to her speak for days without ever even wanting to interrupt. Her phone buzzes again, and she continues talking as if she didn’t hear it.

Ryley describes herself as “low talent, high enthusiasm,” although anyone who knows her could only agree with half of this description. Her life is full of unique stories. Sometimes, these stories escape while she speaks. She casually mentions the time she participated in a rollar-blading marathon when she was 10, or the time she participated in the national tap dancing championships when she was 13, or the time she ran a marathon when she was 16. “I finished the race in 8 hours,” she exclaims proudly, “dead last!”

Her phone buzzes another time. Finished with her story, she holds her phone in her left hand, scrolling through pages of messages and notifications she has received in the last 30 minutes. She continues twirling her hair with her right hand. Suddenly, as if she had a stroke of genius, Ryley drops her phone and her hair, gripping the air in front of her with her newly-freed hands. “We need coffee!” Another habit of Ryley’s – the use of the plural. If you are in a room with Ryley, you are a friend, and you are automatically expected to be ready for one of her adventures.

Today, two years after this, Ryley is no longer my roommate. We live in countries on opposite sides of the world. Still, we talk through Facetime as much as we can. Even when trapped inside my phone screen, her energy can not be contained. When her first article is published in a big publication, I call to congratulate her. Ryley answers on the second ring.

“We haven’t spoken in four days. Tell me everything. Now. Now!”