Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The 5-Year Reunion, Part 1

This weekend is my 10-year college reunion.  (Holy effing hell. Naturally, preparing for this inspired me to go back and see what I'd written about the 5-year reunion...

What follows was first published on MySpace in October of 2009, and has been heavily edited for both length and self-dignity here (please don't think I am currently this pathetic).  Split, as the original was, into three portions, I present to you a portrait of a lost little girl who was equally in need of a hug and a good slap upside the head.

Enjoy. :)

Rhodes College is a small, highly nationally ranked, academically challenging liberal arts college in Memphis, Tennessee.  Renowned for the beauty of its campus, it is located on 100 sprawling acres in the heart of Midtown.  Elegant buildings, ancient oaks, manicured lawns – in this modern and increasingly complex world, Rhodes retains a charming hint of the Old South (mostly the hint about old money).

Most students live on campus and all live by the honor code:  no one cheats, no one steals.  Any student can walk into the refectory for lunch, drop his backpack by the door, and no one will touch his things, no matter how long he leaves them unattended.  Dorm rooms are left unlocked.  Professors give take-home test without fear of students cracking their books to double-check their answers…

Yes, after spending the formative years of my early adulthood in such a haven of wholesomeness, it should come as no wonder that I’ve had some difficulty these five years since I’ve graduated adjusting to the world everyone else lives in, otherwise known as “reality.”


Reunion Weekend 2009 started Friday afternoon with lunch at the Rat.  Much to our delight, the woman who took Kara’s and my money when we paid for our meals mistook us for prospective students.  (Likely because we look as old as we act [18 or younger].)

After, we wandered campus until we found a stack of new Rhodes magazines.

“Flip to the Class Notes,” I whispered, as if Kara wasn’t already paging to the section in the back labeled “2004.”

As we speed-read the updates in the new issue, we contemplated who was likely, or unlikely, to be in town for the weekend based on what they’re doing now.  Which made me wonder if it was likely, or unlikely, that others would view me as sad for not having somewhere better to be. (“Becky ’04 is still harboring an inferiority complex that results from her compulsion to compare herself to people she hasn’t seen in years.”)

That, of course, led to speculation about the half-forgotten boys we long ago lusted after, all of whom, we concluded, were almost assuredly among the no-shows.

And that was probably a good thing.

I, for one, wasn’t sure I was walking into this reunion at my best.


Crystal and Kathryn flew in an hour apart.

Kathryn and I lived together three of four years at Rhodes; Crystal and I were friends throughout college but didn’t truly bond until we lived in Ireland together.

With Julia.

“Have you seen Julia yet?” Crystal asked me as I drove us straight from the airport back to Rhodes.

Kathryn had changed clothes in the airport bathroom and Crystal, trooper that she is, had spent all day on a plane in her going-out outfit.

Kara, in the passenger seat, started cackling.  “I forgot Julia was going to be here!”

I used to look back on my months in Ireland, post-graduation, as a period in which a great injustice had been done to me, with Julia and me fighting over some boy.  But with a little distance, I can now see it for what it was:  a time in which I was an enormous bitch to someone (who, honestly, deserved it), and she was equally bitchy in return (ditto).  Though I’d heard bits of gossip over the years, I hadn’t spoken to Julia since Crystal and I left her in Ireland, sneaking out one day and leaving her to pack up and go home all by herself.

Naturally, she was the first person we ran into at the Alumni Reception.

“These are the girls who were in Ireland with me,” she told her boyfriend as Crystal and I walked up.

The way she said it made me wonder exactly what she'd told him about that trip.


At the Alumni Reception, everything was the same: Ph.D’s, passing the bar, long-term academic goals, overachievement.

Me?  I am an administrative assistant.  Part-time.  I’m trying to finish a book, but having some trouble because three of the four people I’ve sent it to so far won’t give me their feedback.  My biggest distraction right now is running, which I do at speeds usually reserved for the elderly or small children learning to walk.

And no, none of this was I particularly happy to be sharing with a roomful of people who were all racing each other to see who could add the most letters to the end of their names.

I would spend the rest of the weekend spitting out monosyllabic answers, but regardless of whatever karma I was due, the universe paid me the huge and undeserved favor of not having to go through that particular conversation with Julia and her boyfriend.  A photographer interrupted us right as everyone turned to hear my story.

Julia was back in school, of course.  Pursuing a higher degree.  Her boyfriend (who, because of what he was wearing when I met him, I referred to as “Sweater Vest” for the rest of the weekend) looked like he adored her…

I had felt fine that morning.  I had felt fine when we walked in, even.  But now, staring down someone I hadn’t seen since 2005, I was panicking, seeing myself through her eyes, wondering if I was failing at life because I hadn’t shown up with a sweater-vest-wearing boyfriend of my own.

As soon as the photographer finished taking our picture, Crystal and I went to get food.

And that was the last time all weekend we talked to Julia.


We sat down at a table with Kara and Kathryn…and then Megan and her husband, Jonathan, and their friend Justin joined us…and then Jessie, who shared so many biology labs with me…and Stacy, who went to high school with me and yet led such a different college life than I did…and Abbey, who was on the cross-country team and ate so many Rat meals with us, icing her knees over dinner at a time when I knew nothing about what one’s joints feel like after a hard run…

We wound up at a bar in Cooper-Young where Kara and I texted Alex, who was stuck in California with the military.  Then we hit up one more bar downtown before Kathryn, Crystal, Kara, and I went back to my place, not saying much because we were exhausted (and maybe a little dazed at being thrust back together), cramming ourselves into my small apartment, squished on my futon and sprawled across my floor.

But before we drifted off to sleep, in the way that people sometimes do when they’re lying in their beds, half out of it, we started talking and laughing about things that weren’t all that funny.

As we laughed in the dark, I shoved my doubts to the back of my mind.  I could almost believe that we really were the same people, that life was fine, that I didn’t care what other people thought, and that above all else, nothing had changed.

Part 2

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