In the fall of 1985, my mom dropped me off near the little town in Minnesota where I would be starting college.
Fortunately, my aunt and uncle lived at the spot where she stopped the car, so it wasn’t like I was left trying to hitch a ride to campus or anything. Mom had a meeting back in Montana the week my college experience commenced; thus, she dumped me on my aunt and uncle a little early with instructions to “ditch the girl at the dorm next to the smelly ponds sometime next week. Oh, and here are her sheets, size Extra Long.”
They heeded her words, and a week later, Sheets and I were deposited at an imposing cinderblock structure on an otherwise bucolic campus. After the goodbyes, I felt as many freshmen do: a little excited; a little bewildered; a whole lot lonely. I tried to act confident and cool as I blasted my cassettes of Howard Jones (“OOOOH, what’s love got to do, got to do with it?”) and bought new highlighters, accoutrements which would, I hoped, help me decipher my HISTORY OF EARLY MODERN EUROPE textbook. Who was this Balzac, I wondered, and would covering his life story with bright yellow marker make it more meaningful?
Essentially, I was bewildered and adrift.
Gradually, though, that business of hanging in there and faking it did pay off. I met some people, and we flirted with each other. Pretty much, they all lived in my dorm. On some levels, they affirmed my feelings of worry and inferiority, for they were Big Smart, well-traveled, and accomplished. In comparison, I felt Just Smart Enough, provincial, and a touch hayseed.
More importantly, however, they affirmed my worthiness. They thought I was funny; they invited me to sit under their tapestries and listen to The Replacements; they wanted to go in with me on a late-night Domino’s double cheese pizza. Together we wrote (in highlighter) own new history. They transformed me.
Now, twenty-two years later, these pals from college still rock me like a hurricane. After graduation, everyone cast about for careers, spouses, homes. While we threw our voices into the greater world, this college crowd also continued its common thrum. I was with some of them the first time they got drunk. Later, I was with them when they got married. We’ve carried each other through divorces and the deaths of parents and the joys of babies being born. Damn it if these people haven’t turned out to be found-siblings that only cost our families about $30,000 per year in tuition to discover.
Along the way, there have been times when our closeness has waxed. Then it’s waned. For a few years, I thought some of the relationships were gone, that they’d shriveled beyond repair or care.
Now that I’m forty, though, I sit at the vantage point of a queer maturity: I can see the larger arcs of friendship. It came as a big life lesson to realize that even when a relationship has seemed dead for some time, it can still be revived. What I sometimes thought was belly up had simply gone dormant. With the slightest puff of air, we always resuscitate completely.
Hence, when many of us gathered a couple of months ago to celebrate the birthday of one of our luminaries, it was a true celebration–and not just because there were little hors d’oevres of butternut squash soup served in shot glasses and shrimp tacos and scallop empanadas and free wine and Red Velvet cupcakes and itty spanikopitas.
It was a celebration of longitudinal camaraderie.