We were standing around in a massive tent. Plasticky, temporary floor covered what was usually the infield of the outdoor track. Memories of grass squishing under my feet slammed against recollections of exhausting track practices. The resultant swirl of emotions was sudden and disorienting. I shook my head to clear it. Countless faces I was supposed to recognize milled about. It’d only been five years since graduation- how could I have forgotten so many people?
We were four. Black girls. Roommates. Harvard Grads. Picking over the remains of the food offering like so many listless vultures. The snacks were just fine. What better facilitator of reminiscence was there than the sights, smells, and tastes of dining hall food? This was a reunion after all.
Oh I remember hating this! I remember this being the only thing I could reliably eat! Are those ranger cookies?! Put them in my face, please!
Scads were packed into lines that circled a large bar area in the center of the room. I stood with them, all of us wild-eyed and near-frothing. The drinks were weak; provided by over-grown undergrads still wading knee-deep in the pacifying, seemingly unending waters of frail friendships, meal plans and placating infrastructure. They were simply too young to anticipate the sheer desperation and anxiety with which we were imbibing. A girl just in front of me took her drink from a bartender and stared at it, clamp-mouthed and breathing deeply. I could practically hear her yelling in her head: ‘I ordered a double. A DOUBLE. I don’t think that means what you think it means, young Chad!’Do I ask that guy what he’s been up to since graduation even though I’ve been following his every post to Facebook?
The band blared incoherently. Snatches of songs I couldn’t place but knew I hated landed around me. I groaned. Like any good millennial, I’d spent my twenties ‘finding myself.’ What I’d found was that I did not believe in live cover bands. There is no better force against the
social ineptitude introversion I’d spent the last five years cultivating than booze and Beyoncé, and I was getting neither.
Common distaste for the music served as the conversation starter I and my classmates had been groping for. After commiserative introductions though, I still felt lost. I wanted to ask if people were happy and fulfilled. I wondered if the transition from the ivory tower to the real world been as tough for them as it’d been for me. I wanted to know if folks felt as removed from their college reputations and personalities as I did.“Oh you’re doing reliably impressive things? Fantastic! Am I also doing things that look great on paper? Sort of! Sure! Am I nodding enthusiastically enough to extract myself from this conversation yet??”
I needed to know if anyone else felt them themselves slipping into a stereotype of their college self. If you leave and change, but bend to expectations when you come back, have you changed at all? I didn’t want to talk about my job at Google, and I definitely didn’t want to feel as good as I did talking about my job at Google.
Alas, those kinds of truths wouldn’t reveal themselves until the next night, when there were more drinks, more comfort, and more Gaga. This night was for awkward moments.
The most illustrative of these came near the end of the night. I stood in a semi-circle with my roommies. All told, we’d sustained one beer-covered-dance-floor fall, a lost earring, two ex hook-up encounters, an accidental pissy handshake. And port-a-potties. Still, we were smiling. Reunions with people we’d forgotten we loved had put us into a giddy mood. Giggling, silly, and enjoying each other.
An ex came up to our little semi-circle of four. We’d seen each other on more than a few times since graduation. We hadn’t dated even, in nearly a decade, so I felt little more than the usual dread of impending conversation with someone with whom you were very familiar. We politely inquired after his girlfriend, who’d elected to nap instead of party. We asked about another classmate’s birthday celebration– the reason he was late to this very affair. It was all quite cordial and casual.
But then.He moves to hug the leftmost roommate, then the next. He comes to me. I smile slightly, and reach out for this obligatory embrace. I am met with a confusing gesture. He’s put his hand up for a high-five.
We all looked at each other in horror. All five of us, even him, stared at each other for an unending moment, mouths literally agape. My eyes were so wide, I thought they’d pop out of my head. I’d have been grateful for that– anything to cut the encounter short. I prayed for fire, a lightening strike, precipitous illness, dear God dear God dear God.
I stole a quick glance at the roommate to my right. She looked stunned, and like she was about to dart off. I willed her to stay put. My belly felt hollow- I’d experienced the emotional version of the Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face slap. Confidence, stunned confusion, then a sharp slap of dismay.“I was going for a tomahawk. Uhh… Heh,” he sputtered.
I gurgled some sickly reply. He put down the high-five hand and offered a crazily awkward ass-out side hug. Moving on to the last roommate, he hugged and announced: “Well! I’m going to get another drink- my last drink! I’ve only had one drink. This will be my second! So… bye!”
He left, and we looked at each other pointedly. I gave one, hard, guffaw. “I can’t believe I stayed here! Y’all know I almost dove under one of these tables!” my near traitorous roommie admitted. We laughed incredulously. We were trying not to do the ‘cackle as soon as you leave the room’ thing, but we were beside ourselves, nearly hysterical at the dramatic dissipation of tension.
One thing was for sure– things could only get better from there on out.