When I was more active in the writing game (being a member of Romance Writers of America, going to conferences, etc.) there were some terms that bugged the crap out of me because they were so twee.
“Are you a plotter or a pantzer?” was my public enemy number one. Plotters are planners who write everything down on Post-it Notes or outlines, they have huge corkboard maps of plot points and a dossier on every character. Pantzers fly by the seat of their pants. They wing it.
I have wung it all my life. I know it. I admit it. I am not ashamed of it, it’s part of my genetic makeup that comes from who knows where (as a child of a closed adoption, I have no clue). I had a full year to study for Jeopardy!, and instead I crammed the almanac two weeks before filming. I meant to lose 30 pounds before my college reunion, but the months kept turning into weeks and…..forget it. You know the rest.
My reunion went by too fast. If I calculate the math (hahahaha!) it comes out to 30 hours. That’s it. A little more than an hour per year to catch up. It wasn’t enough.
I sailed through four years of college by winging it. I always made good grades in school without much effort, so I thought I could do it in college, too. I was wrong. It took a lot of shit grades my freshman year to understand.
I graduated with a low B average. That was an accomplishment for me. If you saw the grades I got in algebra and biology, you would understand. But I did get an A in Deviant Behavior. Stop laughing. Really. Stop it.
I was sick a lot in college. I had kidney stones and lady problems that resulted in two surgeries my senior year. I had an operation two days before I walked on stage to get my diploma, and I could barely stand, let alone take steps.
I write these things not to say “poor, poor pitiful me,” but to show that even though I went through a lot and put myself through even more, those four years were the happiest of my life. I’ve said it for 25 years and I mean it to this day.
But my college experience was different than a lot of my classmates. In truth, we all have different experiences, and divergent perceptions of what happened. I am always fascinated by the idea of identity, how we carve out who we are and what we like, what we believe and what we stand for. And how we reconcile all the things we did in the past with who we are now.
For me, college was about hanging with boys in bands. Going to as many concerts as I could and making sure I was in the front row every time. It was drinking more than I should have, but not nearly as much as others, and doing stupid stuff when I did indulge.
Put aside all my endless nattering and philosophizing and what I’m trying to say is I’m glad I was there. Because I was, even though I found out this weekend I was NOT in the freshman class photo, or in the graduation one! Where in the HELL was I? I swear, I don’t know. Probably hiding in some nook or cranny listening to Echo and the Bunnymen on my Walkman. But I was sad this weekend, too, even though I hid it from everyone but my husband and one of my closest friends.
I was sad for all the professors who meant so much to me but were no longer there. I remember the one who passed away after my freshman year, but gave me a bunch of his records. I still have them. The one who put up with my flibbertigibbet behavior, like the time I spilled cherry Kool-Aid all over my completed paper on Mary Shelley. It was done on a typewriter, so there was no way I could replicate it – I had to turn it in all red and gooey. And she laughed at me and wrote a funny note on that hot mess, but still gave me a good grade.
I miss the professor I worked for. We had some laughs. He’s not dead, but, still. I hand-cranked 500 mimeographed syllabus sheets for him, and sniffed every single one. You can bet my diploma on it.
But mostly, I missed my friends who weren’t there. I kept in touch with them for several years, even if I was the only one sending letters. Some of us even got together all the way into the 2000s. One of them passed away. But time happens and the tide rolls in and out and people lose touch. I blame myself a little bit for these things, even though they are beyond my control. I blame myself for a lot of things I probably shouldn’t.
I missed my friend the artist. The one I haven’t talked to since Hurricane Katrina. She was my best friend for almost 20 years. She hated school; made no secret of it. Disliked almost everyone, and thought they disliked her and laughed at her expense. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. I can’t count the times people asked me about her this weekend, or said how much they liked her and how outrageously talented they thought she was. Which is true. See what I mean about perception?
The best part of my weekend was taking honey for a walk around campus. Showing him a few secret places I remember fondly. The theatre where I used to show the classic film series one year – I got the job when one of the above-mentioned professors leaned out of his office one night and asked me and some compatriots if any of us knew how to run a projector. I was drunk and told him I was born running a projector. It was a lie, but I learned how on my own. I wung it.
I showed honey a photo of the women’s bathroom (because let’s get real, I couldn’t take him there!) where I would hide my books during exams, under the couch cushions. Then, I’d take a huge Coke to class and have to pee copiously throughout the test. I’d just sidle down to the ladies room, grab my book and stand on the toilet seat in a stall. Sort of an open-book test, know what I’m saying?
I showed him the hill I fell down, spraining my ankle and putting me on crutches for a week. I did not show him the pothole I stepped in a week later, finally breaking it. That thing is long gone, and on a street I don’t remember. Was bourbon involved? Maybe…..
We even drove by the site of my infamous car wreck. I still miss that red Thunderbird. I loved it more than most of my old boyfriends combined.
The lake I used to sit in the middle of, on a paddle boat with a wine cooler and a Judith Krantz or Jackie Collins novel, was hard to see because they’re building a new chapel. Ahem. Clearly, I needed some Jesus back then, and more cultured reading material. But no – I love trash and I always have.
And my favorite place, the library. I remember falling asleep on the third floor couch when I was supposed to be cramming for a final. Waking up while the Japanese students hovered over me, laughing and pointing and trying to wake me up.
There’s a kitty in the library now. I think her name is Libris. She crawled right up behind my head and stroked my hair, just like Ringo. She found Jon and me in the magazine stacks, where they had lots of stuff from 1946 but no 1970 Vogue magazines. Did I read them when I should have been studying? Don’t judge me too harshly when I answer in the affirmative.
And I got a little teary walking into the hall where all my English and history classes were. Thankful for all I learned, for the books I read, even the ones I hated (I’m looking at you, James Joyce). But missing those who are gone forever.
You can go back, and you can reminisce and you can get nostalgic. But I think of that episode of Mad Men, the finale of the first season. The Carousel, the one about the slide projector. How you can go back, but there’s such a painful ache when you do.
I felt it all weekend. I miss my friends. I miss the first man I ever loved, even though I’m happily married now. I miss my off-campus townie friends. The goths and the freaks and the wasteoids. Man, we had some fun.
Honey went on a little drive and took a photo of St. Joseph’s church, downtown. The giant spire reaching to the sky, the gorgeous stained glass. “Yes, I went there,” I told him. “My goth friends and I went to a production of Handel’s Messiah during Christmas. I’ll never forget it. A bunch of scary boys in black with crosses and earrings, and me.”
Who was I in college? I still don’t know. Was I the bad girl? The crazy bitch? The funny one? The dumb blonde? Was I all of those things, and the me deep down inside, the one who still feels things too deeply, who internalizes every slight, who deflects every compliment? People told me they remembered me as confident and stylish, but in my mind I was foolish and awkward. Where does the truth lie?
Jon calls these my “Admiral Stockton Moments.” Who am I? Why am I here?
I don’t know. All I do know is I had fun. I’m glad I can look back and say that.