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by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary

How It All Goes Down

Best Friends

  • Patty begins the second chapter of her autobiography by speculating that she might have sleepwalked through her first three years of college. That's really the only excuse she can think of for having become best friends with a girl who basically stalked her.
  • The real reason, she admits, probably had more to do with the cocoon of Big Ten athletics, and her lack of any sort of social life outside of practice and hanging out with her teammates.
  • She decided to go to the University of Minnesota – mostly to spite her mother (who wanted her to go somewhere that would be more impressive to her friends), but also to be as far away from her family as possible.
  • Patty's best friend is named Eliza, and the girl's definitely messed-up. But back up for a second (again). One day, this girl sitting behind Patty in her Introductory Earth Science class starts telling her how amazing she is at basketball. She's her biggest fan. Then after her next game, this girl gives her a piece of paper on which she's drawn the word PATTY in big bubble letters all over it.
  • Patty wonders why Eliza wants to be friends with her so badly, since she doesn't seem to actually care about sports. Eliza fancies herself a poet, and likes music Patty has never heard of, like Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground.
  • But Patty enjoys having a friend outside the bubble of the basketball team. Also, she's never really had one best friend – she's always just "friends plural, never anything intense" (2.2.79).
  • And if she's honest with herself, she likes how devoted Eliza is to her – always waiting for her outside the locker room, stuff like that.
  • Eliza likes to drink and smoke, and is constantly pressuring Patty to drink more, and to try smoking pot.
  • Eliza also has a very unhealthy relationship with her parents. They send her lots of money and don't seem to want to have anything to do with her otherwise.
  • The summer after her freshman year, Patty goes back to her parents' place. Her sisters aren't nice to her, and ridicule her for living in Minnesota.
  • When she returns to school, Patty starts a relationship with a boy named Carter. It's her first real relationship.
  • Between class and basketball, Patty really has very little time for a relationship, and sometimes they spent only a few hours a week together.
  • Looking back, Patty considers this, in some ways, an ideal relationship. They're together six months.
  • Unfortunately, it turns out he and Eliza are friends from high school. One night, Patty tries to surprise him at his apartment, and he's there with Eliza and another girl, doing cocaine.
  • Eliza tries to get Patty to join them, and it's pretty classic peer pressure. "You've got to try it," she says. "You won't understand if you don't try it" (2.2.164). Boo.
  • So she breaks ties with Carter, but unfortunately not with Eliza, because Eliza begins one of her "full-court presses" (nice basketball metaphor) that she uses whenever she needs to convince Patty to still be her friend (2.2.170).
  • At the same time, Eliza continues to pressure Patty to take more drugs, sleep with more guys, and come to punk rock shows.
  • The next summer, Eliza begins dating a guy named Richard Katz. He's a musician – a recent graduate who works demolition during the day and is in a punk band called the Traumatics.
  • Eliza has much less kind things to say about Richard's roommate Walter, who Eliza describes as "this nerdy hanger-on guy Walter" (2.2.185).
  • The two had been placed in a dorm room together their first year at Macalester College, and have been close friends ever since. Walter is a "heartbreakingly responsible Minnesota country boy" while Richard is a "self-absorbed, addiction-prone, unreliable, street-smart guitar player from Yonkers, New York" (2.2.186).
  • (Richard, Patty also tells us, bears an uncanny resemblance to Muammar el-Qaddafi , longtime leader of Libya.)
  • The first time Patty meets Richard, it's a hot August morning in the apartment she and Eliza share. Richard is cool and condescending (read: obnoxious).
  • While Eliza is in the shower, he takes obvious pleasure in showing Patty a notebook Eliza keeps with all sorts of clippings and photos of Patty in it. It's classic obsession stuff. Really quite creepy.
  • Despite the fact that Richard's so obnoxious (or, let's be honest, probably because of it), Patty is intrigued by the guy, and asks to attend one of his shows. Richard tells her to bring earplugs.
  • So, come September, Eliza brings her to a smoky club (Patty, being an athlete, is very protective of her lungs – and, remember, this is the 1970s, and people could smoke inside then!) to see the Traumatics open for the Buzzcocks.
  • As soon as they get inside, Eliza less-than-enthusiastically introduces Patty to Walter and then disappears, running off backstage (presumably to do drugs with Richard).
  • Patty doesn't think Walter is nearly as nerdy as Eliza said he was. He has a big curly mop of reddish-blond hair, and reddish cheeks too.
  • Walter asks her if she brought earplugs. She says no, so he tears his in half to share them with her (so polite!). As the crowd surges forward, Patty drops the earplugs on the ground. The band starts playing and it's unbelievably loud. So she runs outside, and eventually Walter comes looking for her.
  • He offers her a ride home – by which, he means, he'll happily escort her home on the bus.
  • Walter asks if she really likes punk rock, and she says she likes Blondie and Patti Smith (translation: not really).
  • So then why did she come, he asks? Because Richard invited me, she says, and he understands.
  • Patty asks if Richard is a nice person. Walter explains a little bit about his friend's upbringing: mom abandoned him and "became a religious nut," and his dad was an alcoholic who got lung cancer when Richard was in high school. Richard took care of his dad until he died.
  • Finally he says, "He's a very loyal person, although maybe not so much with women. He's actually not that nice to women, if that's what you're asking" (2.2.296).
  • Walter then asks Patty if she's a nice person, because he doesn't understand why she's friends with creepy Eliza. Patty admits that part of the reason she likes her is because she knows that she (Patty) is better than her (Eliza).
  • Patty tries to convince Walter that the difference between the two of them (Patty and Walter) is that he is a genuinely nice person, while she is not. But Walter says she seems like a genuinely nice person too, though.
  • And here's what Patty writes about this now, looking back, in her autobiography: "Patty knew, in her heart, that he was wrong in his impression of her. And the mistake she went on to make, the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter's version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn't right. He seemed so certain of her goodness that eventually he wore her down" (2.2.313).
  • They get back to campus and Patty realizes she's just been talking about herself for an hour; Walter just asks questions and never says a word about himself.
  • Walter asks if he can call her sometime and she tries to evade the question, saying how busy she's going to be, with training and class and the like. He's really persistent, though.
  • But really, as far as Patty's concerned, the most intriguing thing about Walter is that he's friends with Richard Katz. So she's really just thinking of using Walter to get to him.
  • Patty and Eliza have a big of a falling-out, followed by another full-court press.
  • Meanwhile, Walter begins attending Patty's basketball games, and obviously has a crush on her.
  • They go to the theater a few times together, but unfortunately Patty is still not attracted to him.
  • Patty begins to learn about Walter's background. He's from Hibbing, Minnesota (most famous today for being Bob Dylan's hometown). He's in law school because, although he'd really like to study acting and filmmaking, he knows a career in law would be more helpful in supporting his family.
  • He also works construction 25 hours a week. And then wakes up at 4am every day to study.
  • His parents have a motel in Hibbing (called "Whispering Pines"). His father's an alcoholic, his brothers are deadbeats, and his mother is disabled and depressed and can't do much around the motel anymore.
  • Walter takes the bus up on weekends to help out, and basically runs the place during the summer. On top of that, during high school "he managed to star in school plays and musicals, inspire lifelong devotion in numbers childhood friends, learn cooking and basic sewing from his mother, pursue his interest in nature [...] and graduate valedictorian" (2.2.337).
  • He got Ivy League scholarships but decided to go to Macalester so he could stay close to home.
  • So, yeah, Walter is basically the sweetest and awesomest guy ever, and Patty would be so lucky to have him as a boyfriend. Alas, she has a crush on mean old Richard.
  • Next, Richard dumps Eliza. Eliza is not happy about this, and is convinced it's Walter's fault.
  • Patty goes home for Christmas. On Christmas Eve she calls Whispering Pines to talk to Walter. He is, understandably, very excited to hear her voice on the end of the line. But Richard is there with him, and Patty's confused about which guy she's excited to talk to.
  • Meanwhile, Patty's mother is rethinking her decision to abandon Jewish holidays twenty years earlier.
  • The next night (yes, Christmas), Eliza calls. She says she has leukemia.
  • Patty returns to Minnesota and, during the rest of the winter, plays nurse to Eliza – bringing her soup, cleaning her apartment, etc.
  • She refuses to return any of Walter's phone calls, and ignores all red flags that something about Eliza's story doesn't quite make sense.
  • In late February comes the biggest game of the year, against the highly-ranked UCLA squad.
  • That morning, Patty had an unpleasant conversation with her mother, during which her mom just gushed about how awesome Patty's sisters are, and asked nothing about Patty herself.
  • Then Patty runs into Walter outside the library, and he takes her to task for avoiding him for two months. He's really hurt. He seriously almost starts crying.
  • After much arm-twisting, Patty finally tells him about Eliza's leukemia.
  • Walter laughs: "OK. And is she still doing heroin?" (2.2.397)
  • Patty goes to the game. She plays awfully. It's the worst game she's ever played. She just can't focus, and can't play, and can't do anything right.
  • After the game she cries in the locker room for a good half-hour. Then she goes to Eliza's apartment and confronts her about her drug use, finding heroin and needles and other bad stuff.
  • Eliza says that if Patty leaves, she's going to kill herself.
  • Finally, Patty calls Eliza's parents, and they show up after midnight. Eliza tells them everything, about the drugs and the lying, and Patty leaves and never looks back.
  • Outside in the cold winter air, Patty wishes she could go re-play that UCLA game right now! She's sure she'd kick some Bruin butt.
  • She feels so liberated – she's suddenly really excited to hang out with Walter again, and wants to talk to her mom again so she can be nicer, and feels "[r]eady to be an all-around better person" (2.2.511). We're just pulsating with hyper excitement here!
  • She's so excited that she starts running down the path, slips on a patch of black ice, and tears the hell out of her knee. Ah jeez, there that goes.
  • In the next six weeks, she has two operations to fix her knee. Her mom flies out for one of them, but is mean to the doctors. Walter takes great care of her otherwise, coming to visit Patty almost every day (except when he's, you know, doing one of the other ten-thousand awesome things he does).
  • Patty's friends ask her if she has feelings for him. She says sort of, but sort of not. Then she compares him to "a really nice, well-trained dog" (2.2.518). We can safely say that's the last thing a guy wants to hear.
  • One thing Patty does love about him is that, even though he is super smart, he makes Patty feel like her opinions are interesting and valid as well. And Walter is passionately opinionated about just about everything: from energy conservation to Iran's Islamic revolution, from population control to women's rights.
  • One day they're debating about women's rights. Walter is considerably more motivated about this issue than Patty; she doesn't think much about it, except for an embrace of basic fairness.
  • On a similar note, Walter is a little disappointed to hear that she doesn't have any big career ambitions. The most important thing, for her, is "to live in a beautiful old house and [...] to be a really, really great mom" (2.2.541).
  • Patty asks Walter why, if he's such a feminist, he's friends with Richard, who treats women so poorly. Walter says Richard is for equal rights as well, but his relationship with women is like an addiction.
  • One night, they go to the movies: their first real date. (Gentle reminder: during this whole time, Patty is on crutches.)
  • Waiting for the film to start, Walter says Richard is moving to New York City soon, and asks if maybe she'd like to move into his room (i.e., Walter is asking her to move in with him – um, on their first date).
  • Patty feels offended, since Walter has never even tried to kiss her. She also secretly feels sad that Richard is leaving (and not asking her to move in with him). Then the lights go down.
  • After the movie, they go out to dinner and argue about the movie. Patty's drinking wine, and for the first time feels attracted to Walter (without any thoughts about Richard, even). So she suggests they go back to his apartment, so she can "see the room" (wink wink).
  • But when they get there, Richard is there, and that just messes up everything.
  • Now, of course Patty is reminded of her crush on him, and Richard knows it, and Walter is clueless to the whole darn thing.
  • The scene is really awkward. Richard tries to leave and Patty tries to get him not to.
  • How did she do that, you ask? Well, Richard is chewing tobacco and Patty asks to try some and almost vomits. Laying on the charm, indeed.
  • Then Walter is tired and says he has to drive her home. Patty says, no, he should just go to sleep, and how about Richard just drives her home instead. (Ouch!)
  • But first they check out Richard's soon-to-be-vacated bedroom. The walls are painted black.
  • Then it comes out that Richard's going to be driving to New York in two weeks, and Patty needs to be back there for her parents' 25th anniversary party.
  • Patty asks if maybe she could get a ride to it. (Uh-oh.) Richard says he'll think about it. (Walter's so tired he's basically asleep standing up during this conversation. So clearly not aware of what Patty's trying to do.)
  • Then the two of them (minus Walter) walk out to Richard's rusty old car.
  • Before they go anywhere, Richard tells her she'd better stop stringing Walter along – they both know he (Walter) is super into her, and it's not fair to him to lead him on if she doesn't like him back.
  • Richard presses upon her just what an extraordinary person Walter is. Patty says she's well aware.
  • Then Richard gives her some more details about Walter's life, emphasizing how unbelievably impressive (and impossibly difficult) it is for Walter to take care of his parents in Hibbing and work 25 hours a week and get straight A's and somehow magically have lots of free time to hang out with Patty.
  • Well, actually, he says it more like this: "And yet you're apparently unaware that his dad's dying of liver disease and his older brother's in jail for vehicular assault and his other brother's spending his Army paychecks making payments on his vintage Corvette. And Walter's averaging about four hours of sleep while you're being friends and hanging out, just so you can come over here and flirt with me" (2.2.734). Slam.
  • Patty feels bad, and admits she's a jerk, but (rightly) insists Richard is a jerk too.
  • Richard agrees to drive her to New York if she stops leading Walter on. Like that will help.
  • So, for a week, she and Walter don't talk. Then one day he calls and says his dad is in a coma. She blurts out that she misses him. Walter is, of course, totally psyched to hear this.
  • She tells him she might be driving back to New York with Richard. He reminds her she already has a plane ticket, and she lies and says it's refundable.
  • So Patty and Richard set off for New York. The trip doesn't go so well. Richard finds Patty irritating, and Patty finds Richard obnoxious.
  • They talk about Walter most of the way.
  • They get to Chicago and will be staying with some sketchy friends of Richard's. The place is a dump (like, really gross).
  • Richard sets her up on a mattress (with blankets and everything!) and goes off to sleep on the couch. Patty tries to convince him to share her mattress (so to speak), but Richard says no.
  • The rest of the time, Richard ditches her and goes out with other friends. When he finally calls (two days later), it's past the time they were supposed to leave Chicago, and even if they left right then Patty would miss the anniversary party.
  • She calls her mom and her mom gives her a huge guilt trip about missing it.
  • Patty responds to this by deciding to take a Greyhound bus back to Minneapolis, and then another one up to Hibbing. Walter picks her up at the bus station and they share a very passionate kiss (their first).

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