I loved my college experience. I loved the exchanges of fascinating ideas, in the classrooms and the dorm rooms. I loved the beautiful, Jeffersonian buildings, the graceful weeping willows, and the huge expanses of lawn. Most of all, I loved building strong friendships with kind, brilliant, intellectually and artistically passionate women and living them day in and out, for four years.
Everyone cried at graduation, but most people recovered and went on with their lives fairly quickly. I grieved. I had been a miserable misfit in my high school and, more damaging, in my home. Except for summer camp, I had never before felt I belonged anywhere, and the experience was powerful.
As a result, I have always had strongly ambivalent feelings about class reunions. I loved returning to a place and people that had been so nurturing to me. At the same time, I found the inevitable changes, in the campus and in my friends, painful to take in. We had less and less in common, and the spouses and children of women who had been my closest friends were virtual strangers.
Our 25th reunion, in 1999, was the worst. I struggled to make small talk with women to whom I had once routinely bared my soul. The tours and mini-classes for which I had signed up were nothing more than hard-sell fundraisers. The campus was so built up as to be unrecognizable. My ex-roommate's husband was also repelled, and he and I drank too much wine and made rude sotto voce comments throughout the awards dinner. My roomie was justifiably ticked off at our immaturity, and barely spoke to either of us for the remainder of the weekend. I swore I was done — I would be happy to get together with friends individually, but these group functions were too much.
Until this year. The same roommate, who has long since forgiven me, reminded me that this might be the last time we were all well enough to travel and socialize—despite some serious illnesses, our group has been remarkably lucky in that department. So, with mixed feelings, I traveled last week to our 40th, and had a truly wonderful time. We left our spouses home, skipped all of the official hoopla, and talked. It wasn't chitchat—there was no time for that—instead we were open about heartbreak, struggles, and of course the joys and passions of our lives.
At one point, someone marveled that J and M, who had been inseparable roommates at school, still seemed so close. J responded, "Well, we grew apart for quite a while. I never married, and M married and had children, so we didn't have much in common. But that doesn't matter these days — we're just ourselves."
That summed it up for me. I miss them already.