At 3:00 on a Thursday afternoon, unable to think of a profession that would not lead me to a young adult-, mid- or late-life crisis, I sprawled on my futon in dry-wick running gear, sweat irrationally clinging to my skin. The sleep I had been deferring hunched me over like a high school backpack, and I caved in. I dreamt of un-tacking my posters and moving out my boxes, shutting the door and seeing the rays creep in through the window to highlight the mothballs, dust balls and pancakes of bubblegum on my slatted floor. A cell phone call from my high school vice principal, Mr. Slattery, roused me like a shot of epinephrine — heart sprinted, sweat beaded on my palms and soles, temples thudded in 3/4 time.
Disorientation — caused by fatigue, shock, general absent-mindedness, and an ill-advised taking of Benedryl — fogged me for several minutes. Was Mr. Slattery ringing me up because I’d overslept my AP History of Art exam? Did I miscalculate the grand total from the penny drive?
No, of course not. I’d never have done those things; I was far more responsible as a teenager.
Mr. Slattery just wanted to know when I’d be visiting Academic again (more schools should be named with adjectives; greatest oxymoron: our sports’ teams “Academic Athletics” jerseys).
I’m good about visiting my high school and old teachers, but bad at corresponding, let alone visiting, my high school friends. Right after graduation, once I made the rounds and had everyone with whom I had ever shared a class, a meal or an awkward locker conversation sign my yearbook, I tucked the album away in my bureau, underneath a stack of cotton camisoles. I had gotten all the glitter-pen signatures and warm wishes I wanted, but I didn’t want to read them.
Their presence was enough; acknowledgement was for another day, another year. Perhaps I already knew that I’d sever myself from most people within a month, that their “keep in touches” were a wasted desire.
I had an idealized vision for each of my girlfriends five years from the point we closeted our caps and gowns: Lana, married and expecting a fair, Scandinavian baby; Faith, living in New York, trying to make it big and abandoning the myth that smearing Preparation-H on one’s thighs and then packing them in Saran Wrap would slim one’s silhouette; Joan, in medical school, braving her fear of bursting blood vessels; Georgiana, abandoning her job as a steak knife telemarketer and penning that screenplay — the one that had been percolating all through our English classes.
I wished them well but failed to “KiT” for four years, so when Lana planned a reunion and I happened to be in town, I tried to avoid her.
But, guilt and my mother (“you are too old to play hide and seek”) are strong motivators, and they dragged my blistered heels to the get-together. Lana’s engagement was on the fritz; Faith was still holding fast to the hemorrhoid cream; Joan could not afford med school and Georgiana worked for an indie production house as a script-reader (of mostly unreadable scripts).
They hated their colleges, bodies, romances and futures. These weren’t the girls I knew at Academic. Sometime in four years, they’d veered off the courses I’d charted so earnestly for them; and as I kissed each goodbye, I wished I’d stayed oblivious and illusioned. Horrible, twisted thought.
It is difficult to know whether my visions for my college friends will pan out, but perhaps despite my best intentions, I’ll manage to sever these ties through disuse and won’t ever have to find out. Already I find myself exchanging cringe-worthy niceties and empty promises to “catch up for a meal soon” when bumping into some of my more peripheral thefacebook.com friends on the streets. Clearly I’m running out of time to have these meals and meetings.
But, I also fear that I might change my ways too far in the opposite direction. I do not want to be one of those graduates. You know the type — unable to quite let go, unwilling to grow up and leave Neverland, they hang around New Haven for no discernable reason, lolling about with an air of undergraduate malaise during the day and bestial desire at Toad’s at night. They love Yale, the security of college or the prospect of bedding undergrads too much to move forward into the real world. Thankfully, given my track record, this is only a very distant possibility.
Scrolling down away messages on my buddy list, I notice that my fellow seniors have taken to documenting their “lasts”: last class, last paper, last section. (My soon-to-be-law-school-bound friend Shin keeps mistyping “last” as “lsat,” a subconscious reminder that she is not yet done suffering.)
These catalogues are sometimes nostalgic, sometimes joyous, but rarely ambiguous, as my own would be. I appreciate that we keep each other abreast of these markers, but I wonder how willing we’ll be to share our future milestones, or more precisely: whether we will care enough to actually find out. In the hierarchy of my buddy list, Yalies are followed by high school friends, who are followed by elementary school friends. I hope that each new set of people I encounter won’t bump these earlier groups down so far that I’ll stop keeping in touch — even so remotely.
Smita Gopisetty has Dusty Baker’s cell phone number. Don’t ever call her “Smitty.”