07 June, 2016

Ten Years Gone

(click for mood music)

I feel like I ought to preface this post with a discussion of how unbelievable it is that ten years have passed since I graduated from college. Even as my body grows older year by year, I still feel about 18 on the inside. But time passes on, and things change, and it really has been ten years since those heady days of my young adulthood, when I first set out from my parents' home and tasted of independence - albeit with training wheels on - for the first time in my life.

Looking back on my time in high school, I realize that it didn't mean that much to me. There was a person or two who made a significant impact on my life, and some unforgettable times were had. But there was also a lot of crap to slog through. College was different. I can honestly say that I had some of the best times of my life - and some of the worst - during my college days. But there isn't a time when I look back on those days that I don't long wistfully to return to them.

It's the first time I really felt alive, and like I could spread my wings, and command my own life - all of which are important to me. My anxiety keeps me trapped in a prison. It makes me feel helpless, like a passenger in the train car of my own life, with no say in where it's headed (although mostly it just seems to sit in the train yard not moving).

People talk about college being a "bubble", insulated from the real world. And that's true. When you graduate and go out into that real world, you learn fast that it's not like college. College, as much of a challenge as it is - and it is - is like bumper bowling compared to real life. But it's not just the challenges (like working yourself to the bone just to pay the bills), it's the feel of it, too. The environment. The atmosphere.

At college, you're surrounded by young people your age - many of whom are idealistic, academic, interested in the pursuit of knowledge (notwithstanding the very accurate stereotype of college as a place to get drunk and party seven nights a week - that's one of those inscrutable paradoxes in life). In the real world, you're surrounded by "adults" in various stages of life, all consumed by the daily grind of working to support their families. Some of them have nice jobs, cute kids, and fat paychecks. Many of them aren't so well off. Often times it's just depressing.

I don't know if it's just me, but these aren't people I can relate to. I was never interested in the usual things people are supposed to be interested in - "making a life" in terms of marriage with children, suburban homes with white picket fences, school buses, and nine-to-fives. I'm not interested in social standing, or even financial standing, except insofar as struggling for money puts a serious damper on a person's mental health, and tends to put a strain on relationships, and just generally makes life more miserable to live.

What I am interested in is learning and experiencing life; thinking deep thoughts and feeling strong emotions. Living and hanging with friends without the concern of spending the majority of our waking hours working to pay off our lifestyles, and instead heading to a café to have long, friendly conversations. I swear, there isn't a person in this town I'm living in that could carry on an intellectual conversation with me if I tried.

But the best thing about college was having friends - real friends - for once in my life. People I could hang out with, spend time with, and feel comfortable and relaxed, and just enjoy my time. I never had that before. And I haven't had that since. I've had other things of value - like a person with whom I can talk about anything - literally, anything - without ego or concern for my reputation - because she accepts me just the way I am, flaws and all; and, what's more, she appreciates parts of me that no one had ever openly appreciated before, which has helped me not only to find myself, but to find the me that I most enjoy being (in certain respects).

That's incredible, and I don't take it for granted. I know a lot of people don't have that, and that's too bad. But something that I miss having is just a friend (or two or three) where it doesn't have to be deep like that all the time, but you just kinda click, and tell jokes, and enjoy each other's company. Somebody to share activities and interests and meals with, but not, like, your whole entire soul. I had that in college, and I miss it.


I guess that's a pretty good (maybe too good) preface for my idealistic expectations of what a college reunion would be like. Without thinking about it too hard, I guess I had imagined that reunion would be like getting back on campus and being surrounded by all the people you used to hang out with when you attended college, that you never get to see anymore, and simply picking up where you left off. Like the proverbial "getting the band back together". The first problem with that is the fact that all of the people you went to college with who were not in your graduating class are celebrating their reunions on staggered years, and may therefore not be likely to show up for your reunion. But even among the people in your class, only a fraction are bound to return for any given reunion. What determines whether a person will attend their own reunion or not is myriad and unpredictable. I, for one, did not even notice when my five year reunion came and passed me by (I don't think I even realized that five year reunions were a thing).

To be honest, when I left college after graduation, I left with a lot of bitter feelings. Good memories, to be sure, but painful ones, too. I learned a lot about myself - including my limitations. Whereas I had graduated from high school triumphantly, with a girlfriend on my arm, and plans to ship off to a prestigious college in the fall, my college graduation was tempered by the realization that I had nowhere left to go. I had jumped the train of my continuing education, disenfranchised with my own chosen field of study. I was also in poor spirits, having spent a lot of time in depression, after facing the reality that there were certain things in life I couldn't have just because I desired them. To this day, I am still bitter that my college diploma hasn't earned me a single penny to make up for the exorbitant tuition that my family was so kind (and fortunate to be able) to pay for me - something I am reminded of every time the university sends out its feelers for the alumni donations it thrives upon. But, at least now, I can recognize that the fault of that is my own (namely, my anxiety), and not the university's - that ten years from graduation, I am still very much living a NEET life.

In any case, I could count the number of familiar faces at my reunion on one hand, and though they were among those individuals with whom I had spent a lot of class hours within my major, they were not of the category of people I would classify as among my "inner circle". Which is to say that the reunion was obviously not what I had absentmindedly dreamed it to be. Late into the first night (after an exhausting drive that put us on campus an hour past registration close), I laid awake in bed (staying once again in a dorm, to get the proper flavor of being back at college), remarking at how insanely noisy the building had gotten - though only after about 2:30ish, when I imagine the local bars had turned their patrons out after last call, so that they could simply bring the party back to their own dorms - thinking to the rhythm of an errant fire alarm that it had been a mistake to come back. The thought passed through my mind that the earlier reunions were only for the popular kids - the jocks and frat types who had always been responsible for boozing about and initiating a campus-wide discussion about the problems of alcohol. Later reunions would provide prime opportunities for the more affluent and successful alumni to return to campus and show off to their peers everything they have accomplished (or to earn major reputation points by donating some of their amassed fortunes back to the university), but these early reunions were all about keeping the party going.

I confess, that thought passed through my mind. And it may indeed have some merit. But by the end of the weekend, having had the opportunity to show this new person in my life (well, new for the past six years) a cross-section of my previous life, and many of my old college haunts (if not introduce my old college buddies), and the source of so many stories I've told, I came to the conclusion that it was worth it after all. Because the bottom line is that I enjoyed being on campus again, to reminisce and revel in the nostalgia of days gone by. It is a beautiful campus, to be sure, and I like that it's all self-contained, with everything you could need right there within walking distance. And I was genuinely saddened Sunday after noon, trying to drag out lunch and postpone the inevitable by tapping in to the characteristically relaxed and social atmosphere of the snack bar (munching on a classic turkey melt), when it became time to think about heading out on that long trip through the mountains, back home. I can't say what my life will be like in five, ten, or fifteen years, or what space there will be in my schedule or pocketbook, but I can say that I would relish any opportunity to return to campus again in the future, all the more so if any or all of my old college buddies were interested and had the means and the plans to visit, too.

Other things I liked/didn't like:

* The book store has moved off campus. :-(

* But it has grown into a three story juggernaut (located downtown). :-D

* Due to new-fangled security measures, I couldn't access any residence halls except the one I was staying in. :-(

* Many buildings were under construction and off limits. :-(

* The brand new south campus apartments (think gateways) look really fancy. :-D

* I did not meet my first reunion goal, which was to become an accomplished blues guitarist and perform with a band during reunion. :-(

* I did, however, meet my second and more recent reunion goal, which was to wear a pretty dress to the formal dinner (I got several compliments!). :-D

* No Italian Terrace. :-(

* I couldn't find the radio station's new location. :-(

* 7th St Café did not appear to be open (I really wanted to get one of their delicious banana smoothies!). :-(

* College graduates are decidedly more well-bred than the general population (especially of the hick town I currently live in). It was a treat seeing all the legacies about campus. :-D