It occurred to me last week (during one of my usual random trains of thought) that it's been 15 years since I graduated from college. 15 years? 15 years ?!?! (Think: Jeremy Piven in "Gross Pointe Blank" asking "10 Years, man, 10 years!" and hitting John Cusak.) What have I been up to? Well, I haven't been in the army cultivating a life as a trained assassin, that's for sure. Maybe my next career.
It struck me as odd that so much time has passed and yet, it feels like I blinked and the years just slipped away. Remember where you were 15 years ago and then think about how loooooong 15 years seemed. Me, I was slaving away in a hot gym in Rochester 15 years ago. I was spending my off hours working at Victoria's Secret at the mall or playing volleyball at Charlotte Beach and spending a little time at Hot Shots in between. I could be found wandering around town with Kristina, more often than not, at a bar somewhere for ladies night. I was living in the dorms on campus, having given up my apartment to save money (camp coaches could crash on campus for free - say that fast 10 times.) I was coaxing my little Toyota Celica through the summer, hoping that it would survive just a few more months. I spent days on the phone with Pepperdine and another law school in San Diego, trying to weigh my options and figure out how to pay for school and living expenses. I spent countless hours going around and around with financial aid offices and loan companies, trying to find someone to co-sign for my school loans, since my credit had been obliterated by Rochester Telephone Company and a tiny little thing called credit cards. (Who knew that at 18 when they start giving credit cards to you that it could come back to bite you in the ass by the time you were 21 - but more on that in another edition.) I was living the life of a college graduate, comforted that I didn't need to be out looking for a job and scared shitless that I would move all the way to California and not be able to hack it.
I only vaguely remember the graduation ceremony itself. I remember that it was raining when the day started. I remember that I didn't have any money to buy a nice dress to wear under my gown and figured that no one would see it anyway, so why bother. I remember wearing cut-off denim shorts and a Pearl Jam t-shirt, my usual uniform around town. I remember my Mom getting pissed off at me because I wasn't more dressed up and my indignation that if she had wanted me to dress more "appropriately," she could have contributed to the effort. I remember that my grandma Norton came, but that I felt afterward that I barely got to see her or talk to her. (Something I would come to regret even more the following December when she passed away.) I remember having dinner a night or two before graduation at that restaurant near Clover Park that has the big water wheel - what's the name of it? with Sarah Cooley (Doozer!) and her mom. I remember that someone was drinking Old Fashioneds, something I had learned how to make in my bartending class, but had never actually seen anyone order.
I remember kind of floating through the day, thinking that it should have felt different. I should have been spending time with my friends, hugging, getting photographs to seal the day in my memory (or scrapbooks.) I did get a few of those pictures, but someone, I felt detached. Whether in truth or by creation of my own twisted mind, I have always felt on the fringes of certain friendships. I have always held myself back, never wanting to offend anyone, or insinuate myself where I was not wanted. To that end, people sometimes mischaracterized me as aloof or stuck-up. In the end, it was that fear of overstepping that likely caused me to hang back - too far, as it were, and miss out on some of those hugs and photos and tears.
I remember finishing that summer of camp and cashing all of my paychecks and cleaning out my bank accounts. I remember selling that little Celica, not realizing that I needed to tell the DMV that I sold it (something I learned later when the person who bought it got a ticket that followed me to California.) I remember looking for a new car to get me to California, and going to look at one with Annette - she told me to make sure the horn worked. It was a blue Honda civic hatchback and it ran, so that was a good thing. I remember packing it to the gills and then sitting in my little room in the dorms (I think it was Michelhouse that summer) and crying because I couldn't fit it all in one trip. I remember driving home to Jefferson and unloading the car and fighting with Mom because I would have to go back that night to get the rest of my stuff. I remember Mom reluctantly coming with me and helping me to load those last few boxes and then driving back to Jefferson with me late at night. I remember re-packing the car the next day to begin my journey to California, and I remember my mom leaving for work that day and feeling like she didn't really care that I was leaving because she barely said a word. I remember the drive to California- stopping in Columbus to see Jen and having just a few hours of normalcy, hanging out in a bar, having a beer, before getting back in that car and being scared to death of what was ahead of me, but starting the car anyway. I had no other choice. I couldn't go home and I couldn't go back to Rochester - there was nothing left there for me - or so I thought.
I look back at the last 15 years and still see strings of some of those friendships. I have reconnected with many of the people I knew in college, some closer friends that others, some falling away as life has taken over. I see other friends maintaining their closeness, whether through geography or regular visits - something that I could not afford while in school and now made more difficult by the usual things - work, children, the kids' school, finances. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had I stayed in Rochester, or nearby. One of my professors was campaigning for me to go to law school at the University of Buffalo. Aside from thinking she was nuts to think I would want another 3 years of Rochester winters, I was ready to see the world - from the sunny side! Now I wonder what life would have been like had I done that. Would my mom have still moved to California? Would I have kept some of those friends from school closer than they are now? Would I have still made it to the West Coast later? (It goes without saying that I would not have met Rob, and that my personal life would have taken a different path.)
In the 15 years since I graduated, I have been back to Rochester 3 times. My first visit back was after just 4 months of school, I took advantage of a winter break and spent a week there, I think. I remember not having a clue about travel - in the sense that I never thought about how to get to the airport or get back from there when I returned. (I ended up begging rides from people I knew at Pepperdine.) I remember that my flight to JFK got delayed because of weather and I ended up having to take a cab to LaGuardia to catch a different flight to Rochester - the airline gave me a taxi voucher than the cab driver wouldn't take. The guy who was supposed to pick me up couldn't wait for me and had to go to work, so Kristina arrived on her white horse to pick me up. I think the travel time was about 23 hours - ugh. Another trip was after I met Rob - also during the holiday break, I think. That time I flew to Ohio and then drove to Rochester for a few days. Kristina and I (and maybe Sarah) went to Tahoes downtown and her car got broken into. Our purses were all stolen (my glasses were in it) and we thought we lost everything. Someone called her dad's house later that night and said he found all of our papers in the trash and offered to return them (for a price and a guaranty that we wouldn't call the cops.) We got most of our stuff back (minus the bags, the glasses and the stamps.) Lucky for me, I had been carrying traveler's checks (don't leave home without them) and didn't lose too much money. I remember talking about Rob, a lot. I think the girls got sick of me.
The last of my three trips came in 2007 - I was struggling with my relationship and with where I fit in my own life and needed to get back to where I really started, where I became "me." I told Rob I was going, and he asked to come along. I showed him (and Brooklyn, who didn't seem too interested) where I grew up - where I drank a lot and what was "home" for me for those 4 years. I showed him the beach where I played volleyball all those summers and took him to Tahoes (this time, the one out in the 'burbs - he was not impressed.) I reconnected, just a little bit, with me.
Sometimes I go through the daily struggle and don't think about where I came from and where I've been. Sometimes I think of Rochester and it seems so far away. Sometimes my four years there seem like a single grain in the sands of time. Someday, it will be. Still, I feel connected to the people there, connected to who I was and what I learned there - not just in the classroom, but of "real life." Sometimes I can still hear the seagulls at the beach and sometimes I can still smell the chalk in the classroom.
I'm reading a book right now in which the character was living in Paris and went back to Hungary. At the time he went back to Hungary, he expected to return to Paris in just a week or two. But it was the beginning of World War II and the injustices against Jews were beginning to grow. He got stuck in Hungary. He says something as he is looking back on his journey, something that struck me- "How could he have known it would be his last night as a resident of Paris? What might he have done, how might he have spent those hours, if he'd known." Sometimes I wonder, if I would have changed anything, knowing what I know now. Would I still have spent that summer the way I did? Would I have gone through the last few months of school as I did. Would I have spent more time with friends and family? It's interesting to have hindsight - they say it's always 20/20.
For now, I content myself with looking back at photos - I seem to be smiling in most of them and the people who are with me are smiling as well. I take that to mean that I was not offending them and that they were comfortable with my presence. Some of them, I can ask and will trust that they tell me to go away when I am bothering them, even now, even thousands of miles away. I comfort myself with knowing that they accepted my friend request on Facebook, or even sought me out on their own. And I save these stories to tell Brooklyn when she is older, so that she will pause to collect her own memories, and photos and to savor them when 15 years has passed her by.