The word count on my novel is too low. The number on the scale too high. Nevertheless, I went. It was the first time I’d returned to the campus where so much of who I am today incubated. I went to my first college reunion. The 30th was the charm.
Why so long? In retrospect, all of the answers confound me. There was the heavy work schedule when I lived in New York City, the 3000 miles when I moved to Los Angeles. The jobs. The children. The real reason. The stupid, dumb, irrational tiff my senior year. So many emotionally weak justifications. The loss of my friend. So much time.
Then there was a lunch with a classmate who was in LA to visit family. A reconnection. The reembrace of the great women whom I’d been privileged to call friends.
I’d put so many memories of myself and the experiences that made me the me who is now typing on a shelf deep within my memory. The reunion was the perfect venue to dust off those slivers of my past life. It was time. I bought a roundtrip, non-fundable ticket to Boston.
Best money I’ve spent in years. I am so very, deeply, truly – overly adverbially so – grateful to my amazing classmates who welcomed me with more grace and warmth than I likely deserve. Thank you. I’d forgotten how awesome all of you are. It was a joy to spend time with you and remember how much I liked all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
There are the new memories made. The bartender who was paid and tipped – and told to absolutely not pack up the bar. The joy of dancing with abandon. The look of the new buildings. My insistence on eating the lumpy oatmeal I remember from my college meals. The events. The cocktails. The remembrance of sisterhood past. My hope for future sisterhood.
Then it was Sunday, a few hours before the reunion was to end. It was time. I went into my sophomore year dorm room. The real reason for my long absence. I had to stand there, 32 plus years later and ask, does a room remember? The dreams discussed… dashed… deferred? Can a space hold pain within its walls? ‘Yes’. The pain was there. Tears brought back memories from my mind’s distant, dusty shelves. I remember you, dear, sweet friend.
It was a crisp fall day when my high school pal arrived for a weekend visit. I introduced my buddy to my friends and a good time was had by all. My roommate slept in another room so that my friend could sleep in her bed. He was male, good looking, smart and a good soul. Thus, naturally, our relationship was purely platonic.
When I went to wake him up the next morning, he made a gurgling sound which I interpreted as a bad dream. I stroked his back for comfort. I went to the dining hall and got him blueberry muffins. I tried to temp him with the cafeteria delicacy. But still he wouldn’t wake. I turned him over. He was blue. There were announcements seeking those with CPR knowledge, there were paramedics. It was all for naught. For reasons that I’ve never had confirmed this great guy died in his sleep.
The pain of the following weeks, of calling his family with the incomprehensible news, the shiva, the funeral, the attempt to return to “normal.” A new, sadder normal. The room, the same room – which became a single when my roommate got a single next door – where I stayed for the rest of the year. The classwork I managed to plough through although its importance paled. I listened to Alive and Kicking until its grooves were too worn to play. I missed you. I dreamt of your resurrection.
Does a room hold the memory of the never-exhaled wish? Of the pain and loss within its walls? Does a space retain what happened within? I don’t know. But standing within the same walls where I’d shed so many tears 32 years earlier, where I would retreat to try to heal from the aftermath of the tragedy, I remembered you. In fragments and flashes I remembered the love I had for you, my sweet, sweet friend. The world is a lesser place because you no longer walk upon it.
My heart aches with what might’ve been – of the stellar soul who departed too soon, of the connections that might’ve been nurtured over the years. Apologies for the past and present compete for space on my blubbering tongue. I am sorry for all that I’ve missed. I am sorry that my friend died before he could be invited to a reunion – of college or high school. I am sorry I missed your weddings. Divorces. Births of your children. Deaths. I’m so very sorry – mostly for myself – not to have been there to bear witness – possibly to have helped. I am so very, truly, deeply apologetic – again, overly adverbially so – to have dared let my heart forget how awesome all of you are.
I am sorry for retreating for long moments during the reunion weekend. The bed did suck – dear heavens, how did we sleep on those mattresses night after night… let alone fuck on them? But I needed moments to process. I sat by that old schoolhouse desk with the window opened to the chatter and laughter that wafted across campus to do the work I owed. Write a sentence, shed a tear. Repeat. Tears of all kinds dampened my face. Loss. Love. Gratitude
I am sorry that I locked myself out of my room on the way to a late-night bathroom break. I’m so sorry that you had to see why my knees live in fear of my boobs. But I’m not sorry to have been seen by all of you. Thank you for looking. I am blessed by your grace – I am grateful. Thank you for the easy, unquestioning welcome back. You and yours always have a place to stay in LA. But at the very least, I’ll see you in five years.