Sunday, September 24, 2006

how many years?

Life/God has a sense of humor. As we grow older and our connections with our pasts grow dimmer, we reach out to renew these bonds whenever we can. Our sense of identity seems to be tied up in other people – at least our memories are tied to other people.

I remember my first semester of college which began in January 1963. I moved from a permissive home environment to a very restricted dormitory experience with a roommate who had transferred from a girls’ school in New Orleans. She had red hair and went to sleep every night listening to a classical piece. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten it; I thought it would be etched into my memory because classical music was not something I’d experience much before that. We were very different, and I avoided my dorm room.

I took chemistry, English, and I’m not sure what else. We walked to classes, of course; the campus was small. The dean of students drove her 1938 Chrysler around the campus and gave us rides when it was raining. And, it was always raining.

I don’t even remember how I met her, my friend – tall, blonde, cowboy boots and a reversible blue plaid Pendleton cape with a hood. She walked with purpose, and I think I wanted some of that purpose because I was just a bit intimidated by my dorm mates who seemed very sophisticated. And, she lived in a dorm of snobs – the elite of the social clubs lived there almost as if it were a sorority house. Although she'd been a debutante, she wasn't.

We seemed inseparable. Walks downtown in the afternoons when we could leave campus. Sitting in the Goose, trying to play ping-pong upstairs. The cape became a symbol of our friendship. The only way you could tell who was under the cape was the height. I was short.

Rain, being lost, wondering what life was about, not meeting the expectations of our families. The renegades. We rode bicycles out to Propst Park and learned how to spin a top at the local donut shop.

Somewhere along there, I began to meet and date the boys from the Air Force base just 10 miles from town. The school didn’t like this much. They wanted us to date boys from Mississippi State University – the agricultural school that was 23 miles away. Buncha hicks and snobs, if you ask me. One date was all I could stand, and I don’t even remember his name.

Once I met this tall, lanky fellow who laughed a lot, and I told her she had to meet him. I think that’s about the time I began drinking more heavily; so I don’t remember much from then until the Dean of Students came looking for me when she was missing. And, I knew, they had eloped! Horror of horrors! This just wasn’t done. Bad news at the girls’ school.

Now it’s 42 years later. Tonight we reconnected by phone. What joy! She teased me as she always had, and I just poked the fun back at her. She and her husband have apparently had a good life; they still laughed a lot tonight, big laughs, full of love and transporting me over the years. They have children and grandchildren. I’ve had a good life, too, as filled with joys and sorrows as theirs. I suspect it would be easier to tell us apart now; if only we had that cape, we could pretend once again.

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