June 22, 2014

Frisbees and floor stains: The weight of 15 years

I'm typing this in a shiny, well-lit Macintosh computer lab in upper Sayles-Hill. 

It's very, very clean.

This room used to be a smoking lounge, filled with dark, ratty couches and overflowing plastic ashtrays and a stench that followed you home.

Sam and I are at Carleton for our 15-year college reunion.

We only live 40 minutes away, and we've occasionally ventured to Northfield for a taste of nostalgia and Basil's Pizza, but staying on campus, surrounded by classmates, is an immersive, other-worldly experience. This weekend seems exempt from regular geography and time.

Now that I've felt 15 years, I should know its size and its weight. It keeps changing.

Sometimes, 15 years is a translucent veil that I might brush aside and step into a familiar moment as a former version of myself. Walking into Sayles makes me want to check my mailbox and wish for a Friday Flower; climbing the Hill of Three Oaks, I'm a freshman wearing a backpack full of gin and Fruitopia.

"The Hill of Two and a Half Oaks" is still an appropriate name.

At other times, 15 years is a vast expanse of time, almost too heavy to hold. My decade in Nevada, my marriage, Evie and Felix's lives, my entire career - all of these things fit inside those 15 years between graduation and today.

One of the hardest things about coming back for reunion is confronting the persistent list of things I would have done differently, had I entered college with the perspective I have today.

I would have attended the Black History Month convocation where Illinois State Senator Barack Obama was the featured speaker.

I would have spent less energy worrying about whether I fit in, or whether certain guys found me attractive, and I would have spent more energy exploring my interests.

I would have taken photos, written blogs, and documented the small pieces of my life that are lost to time: the configuration of my dorm rooms, the sprawling Saturdays, the deep late-night conversations in which my friends and I figured out all the important things.

I would have spent more time getting to know my professors and more of my classmates.

I would have tried writing a paper - at least one! - thoughtfully in advance of the due date, instead of pulling a heroic, caffeine-fueled all-nighter.

Coming back here for reunion means confronting those regrets. It means seeing my teenaged self through the lens of my current life experience and perspective, seeing all the flaws of young Monica Czernek from Fargo, and it means forgiving her. It means accepting my college regrets and appreciating the reminder to engage with my life, to rise above insecurity and petty drama, and to write more. 

College may be over, but I am not done with Carleton, nor is it done with me.

Every 5 years, we're invited back here for Reunion Weekend.

It's an opportunity to revisit places of significance and see them in new ways.

I look fondly at Goodhue, my freshman year dorm, which I cursed for being so far away from the rest of campus, but which really is quite lovely in its proximity to nature.

Room 103, just to the right of the door, was my first home at Carleton.

Heavy rains have made Lyman Lake more full and vigorous than I remember.

The path between Goodhue and Evans, a trail I've walked many times.

I notice the things that have changed, like the electric car charging stations and the ubiquitous WiFi. 

I notice the things that remain constant, like the frisbees flying over the Bald Spot or the stately look of Evans Hall.

Embarrassingly, I graduated without mad Frisbee skills.
Was it always so green?

They remodeled the inside and took out the strange interior columns.

Every dorm room still comes with a landline phone and mysterious floor stain.

The town of Northfield is still postcard-quaint, with familiar shops like Ragstock and Goodbye Blue Mondays, plus new ones that fit right in like The Sketchy Artist and The Contented Cow.

If The Cocoa Bean had existed when I was in college, my Freshman 15 would have been closer to 40.

My senior year apartment was on the top floor of this building, and it was a great vantage point for the Jesse James Days bank robbery re-enactment.

Amidst all these memorable places are the people. 

Barry and Sam were the two longest-haired guys on the 1998 Carletonian staff.

Of course, there is Sam. Our entire relationship can be traced back to a conversation that started in this very spot, in front of Laird Hall, and ended with me boldly inviting him to hang out.

We're still hanging out.

Reunion is also about seeing people we haven't talked to in years. Some were good friends in college; others we didn't know as well. With each reunion, those boundaries blur and the amount of time we spent together between 1995-1999 becomes less relevant, and we are more interested in the connections we can make today.

There is a common current that runs through Carleton people and makes us recognizable to one another. It's a way of being in the world, and it's hard to describe except that it's quirky and smart and thoughtful - and it's home. Carleton people are good people.

I met most of these people when we were teenagers. Today, we are parents of young children.

The class of 1984 is staying in our dorm; seeing them is like looking into our future. In another 15 years, we will be gray-haired, our kids will be college-aged, and we will (hopefully) be partying as heartily as our 50-something neighbors did last night.

We will meet again, right here. We will meet for our 20th and our 25th and every milestone until we are the old people buzzing around on golf carts or pushing our walkers across campus.

We will eat meals in tents and drink too much wine and we will notice all the things that have changed and those that have not. We will greet each other warmly and talk about our kids and our dogs and our jobs and the places we are now from. We will befriend classmates we barely knew and we will uncover memories we had long ago forgotten. We will see reminders of our former selves and wonder if we were really that young. We will throw frisbees and sleep in dorm rooms and marvel at how big and how small these expanses of time can be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I particularly appreciate your paragraph immediately under the photo of Sam. With every reunion I attend, the emphasis on the here and now becomes stronger, and I am happy to rediscover just how interesting they still are, those friends of my long-ago teen years.

Hebe Shipp