Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Higher Education

Most people go off to college looking for a good time - and in a city like Boston, which seems at times overwhelmed by its collegiate population, God knows it’s all too easy to find. There are 50 plus institutions of higher education in the city, (one of which I attended,) and when they’re all simultaneously in session, it’s as if the whole place is bathed in youth and sex and naiveté. Young men and women dive into a murky sea of possibility overflowing with post-adolescent fishies who attend classes and float across grassy quads by day, and bob up and down from keg party to bottom bunk to frat house by night. They strip themselves of their pasts, their family baggage and high school identities and blend in, standardize. I remember having the sense that at least 1/3 of the city was perpetually in search of a party, a beer, and a body to keep the bed warm. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to find something wonderfully different in my own search. Something in addition, that is, to a bit of a binge drinking habit, a closet full of regretful animal skin clothing and pictures too indefensible to show even my future husband.

At first glance, our individual backgrounds, family lives, interests and personalities in general indicated that we were more likely to become enemies than best friends. But the chemistry we shared from the moment we all laughed together over cheap alcohol and cold pizza was uncanny. We were 7 wildly different people from towns throughout the Northeast that although not far from each other, were most certainly worlds apart. With Greek, Italian, Irish, French, Portuguese, Scottish, and Austrian coursing through our veins; we could not have looked and sounded more unalike. We came to college from private schools, public schools and catholic schools and grew up wealthy, poor and everything in between. Despite our differences, or perhaps because of them, we grew to be the closest of confidants and most reliable partners in crime thanks to a never-ending supply of embarrassment, countless shame-filled mornings and enough alcohol to drown a small village.

To this day, I have a difficult time putting my finger on exactly what it was that led us to open our hearts and minds enough to get the ball rolling. How did 7 kids that may not have even spoken to each other in high school end up being the kind of friends that screw you later in life by setting impossible standards? Was it because we shared those pivotal moments in which we thought we were going to be arrested, evicted, or fired? Or was it because we were always there when one of us thought her heart was broken for good?

Whatever led us down that path, we ended up better off for traveling it. Once we realized we could trust and rely on each other, that new found sense of security unhinged something in every single one of us. We gave each other the strength to face demons few of us had the courage to admit were even there before we mad met. There was a veritable spring cleaning of all the skeletons we had previously kept in our own closets. We divulged all our dirty little secrets, greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities, cried over the battles we fought with ourselves and our families, told stories we had always feared would scare people off or make them want to run away. When we saw no one was going anywhere, passing judgment, or using any of it against anyone else, we became a strong impenetrable unit.

I think we were so insulated by our unencumbered acceptance of each other, that we grew to be even more blissfully ignorant to the reality than your average college students. We formed a safety net so tightly woven, that we were dangerously unafraid to fall as long as we lived together. We indulged each other over and over and supported every bad decision – or at least made excuses for the worst of them. It was phenomenal really – this group of intelligent, strong, opinionated and very stubborn women threw all rationality and reason to the wind in the interest of offering a kind of support that, for a long time, I feared I would never experience again. I realize now that it was that profound acceptance and blind loyalty to each other that made our transitions into adulthood and true independence that much more difficult. We afforded each other the luxury of living in our own world for over 4 years, rarely did anything but stand by each other, laugh and have the time of our lives.

I never realized what a double edged sword that was until a recent reunion in Boston. We ended a long weekend of 18 year old partying and 40 year old hangovers on the couch with photographs, scrap books and stories scattered across our laps and falling in between our legs and the couch cushions. Everything has moved so rapidly in the years since that wonderfully chaotic and comedic stage in our lives, I had forgotten exactly how nuts I had been. As I flipped through pages covered in vulgar but hysterical quotes and pictures I hope are never seen by outsiders, familiar tears of laughter rolled down my cheeks and that recognizable ache curled around my ribs from the constant contractions that come with uncontrollable laughter. I turned to the girls and said, “Wow. Why didn’t any of you tell me that NONE of this was ok?”

They all looked at me a little confused and didn’t even bother to respond to my question. I should have known that in those days, any honesty which might have mildly resembled criticism or judgment (regardless of how founded) simply wasn’t in the repertoire.