When one of my former roommates suggested a bunch of us “girls,” get together for a weekend, I jumped at the idea. Monique found an adorable, affordable B&B in the middle of Geneva, an old house that was big enough for each of us to have our own individual bedroom with enough shared space to make for a communal experience. And it was wonderful reconnecting with my old friends, women I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.
We curled up on couches, stayed up late in our jammies, catching each other up on our lives, our loves and our losses, our successes and our failures.
And that part was wonderful, intimate and restorative.
But then it was time to venture out to the “larger” campus to connect with other alums celebrating their reunions as well.
In general, I think I do pretty well socially, but last weekend, I was forced to confront something that I don’t think I processed until this weekend.
While Hobart & William Smith Colleges was a good fit for me intellectually, socially, I was a complete misfit.
I grew up in a family where alcohol did not exist. With the exception of a very infrequent glass of wine, neither of my parents drank alcohol. We never had beer in the house, and their basement “bar” still displays the same unopened bottles of liquor that were there when I graduated from high school. We just didn’t drink. The few times where I’d tried alcohol in high school, I ended up feeling afraid and alone. It just really didn’t agree with me, so I evolved into the designated driver and avoided most social activities that revolved around alcohol.
And then I went to college.
I remember my first night on campus. It was a warm September night, and all the girls in my dorm dressed up in pretty summer dresses to attend a fraternity party.
“It’ll be fun,” someone told me.
So I put on a dress and followed along.
That night, in that frat house, I was ogled and objectified. Men made unwanted advances, touching my hair and my body — which was bad enough — but watching my female classmates consume so much alcohol that they were literally falling down drunk was worse.
I didn’t know how to talk to people who were drinking so excessively, people who were so over the top sloppy that they didn’t respect my boundaries.
Meanwhile, they all seemed so comfortable — drinking & laughing & talking about lacrosse.
It was like that most weekends and, eventually, I stopped attending those types of parties altogether, opting to study in my room or in the library.
Last weekend, I had to confront my social anxiety around alcohol consumption.
While most people were much better behaved then they were thirty years ago, at one point, I was so overwhelmed by all the drinking and so underwhelmed by all the small talk, I retreated to the basement to regroup.
While I was hiding out down there making friends with a row of washing machines, a former classmate approached me aside to remind me how I’d helped him to edit several English essays which were difficult for him. (Though I have no recollection of doing this, it sounds like something I’d do.) He said that with my help, he went from earning C’s to A’s. I was stunned.
We continued to talk about what we’ve been doing since graduation – our families, our work – and eventually we went back upstairs. Though he disappeared back into the throng, and I stayed on the fray, I felt seen and heard.
I imagine he has no idea how much that interaction meant to me.
During that conversation, my former classmate told me I’d made a difference in his life.
And it rocked my world because, quite frankly, most of the time I don’t feel very significant at all.
When I left the party shortly thereafter, it was dark outside. There was a rabbit on the lawn, sitting perfectly still on the grass. Her fur was grey in the moonlight and she looked alert and a little afraid. I don’t know if anyone else saw her, but I did.
I often feel like I move through the world like that rabbit — off by myself, on alert, ready to skitter away, secretly hoping someone will notice me.
Back at home, I was eager to get into my studio.
I knew I wanted to honor the weekend, that moment in particular.
This piece isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it may have to live with me for a little while as a reminder that all creatures, great and small, are here for a reason — and that we are all truly connected to one other.
Do you attend reunions? Why or why not? Has anyone ever said something to you that moved you to tears — in a good way? What was it?