This past weekend I attended my college’s Homecoming festivities, as I do every year. I made the 4-hour journey with one of my dearest friends (we’ll call him “G”) who has a much nicer car than I do. I arrived at G’s house mid-morning so we could grab a late breakfast and be on the road early enough to avoid the worst of the Friday traffic through Charlotte. It was a good plan, and it mostly worked; we had a fashion emergency and had to stop at a mall on the way, but we got to the hotel in plenty of time for me to lay down for a few minutes before getting all dressed up for the evening.
And dressed up I got. I wore a black dress I’d bought some months earlier that I’d not yet had occasion to put on. It’s a wrap dress with a side tie, and because of the way it draped, it exposed quite a lot of cleavage. I almost didn’t wear it because of that; I tend to keep the girls under cover. Not because I have a moral problem with cleavage, it’s just that I’m generously proportioned in that area and I feel incredibly conspicuous, and therefore uncomfortable, with my tatas on display. But that night I figured “What the hell!” and put on the dress. I curled my hair and used my smoky eye shadow and red lipstick. The patent leather pointy-toe slingback shoes went on last. My jewelry was understated, just a pair of earrings. I figured I didn’t need anything else to draw attention to my breasts. They were pretty much out there all by themselves.
Thus bedecked I went in search of G. The plan was to meet some friends for an early dinner and then go to an awards ceremony and reception at the school. The restaurant that had been chosen by the group was just steps away from the hotel, which was fine as we didn’t have a lot of time.
Some of our friends had arrived earlier and were already working on their entrees when G and I got there. G sampled the broiled shrimp on one of the plates and determined that it was rubbery and flavorless, and should be avoided. I for some reason decided to throw caution to the wind (as evidenced by my skin-revealing attire) and order the fried shrimp. G told me not to. I did it anyway. I figured it was fried, how bad could it be? I was also ignoring the fact that in the past three months I’d cleaned up my diet significantly; I hadn’t had anything fried in a very long time. But I was feeling reckless (as I imagine women who routinely wear low-cut dresses must feel), and I ate the shrimp.
I didn’t realize what a colossal mistake I’d made until about five minutes after I finished the half-dozen butterfly shrimp on my plate. Suddenly I felt flushed, and my stomach gave a huge lurch. We paid the bill and I somehow made it back to the hotel, but at that point, my big night out was over.
I’ll spare you the details.
The next day I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything, but I did get dressed and go tailgating with everyone.
Normally I’m all over the place at the Homecoming game. Mind you, I never actually go IN the stadium to watch the game, I just wander around the parking lot talking to people. That day, though, I wasn’t feeling up to much, so I stayed where I was. Most everyone I wanted to see came by and hung out anyway, so I didn’t miss much. What did happen is that instead of being an instigator, my shaky physical condition forced me to take on the role of observer. A good bit of the time I either sat or stood watching other people and listening to them talk either to me or to others. What I saw didn’t surprise me; it only reinforced to me why I make this trek every year.
We love each other. We might not even know each other very well, or maybe we haven’t seen each other in a long time, or maybe we didn’t particularly enjoy each other’s company when we were in college, but now, all these years later, we come together and tell our stories, past and present, and we wrap each other up in the sure knowledge that no matter what happens we can always come here and find Home.
I spent a good part of the day with a woman who had been my suite mate for two years; we’ll call her “S”. S and I weren’t close friends when we were in school together, but we always got along, and even though she was a year older than me, for some reason I felt protective of her. I never told her that because it was a strange thing to feel about someone you don’t know very well, but I always sensed a vulnerability about her that triggered that response. It was great to reconnect with her, and to hear more about her journey. I had forgotten what a good storyteller she is, and I so enjoyed hearing her voice again and knowing that she is happy in her life. At one point she loaned me her ticket to the football game so I could use the most proximate ladies room, and as she dug it out of her pocket and handed it to me I spontaneously said “I love you!”. She looked at me and said “I love you, too.”
That’s why I go every year, without fail, no matter what else is going on. So I can love and be loved by these people who either share my history or something very similar to it. We understand each other because we’re the ones who got it. We all drank to Koolaid and got on the bandwagon and swallowed the same pill. That means that deep down where it counts we have something fundamental in common. I’m not sure what that is – values, beliefs, aspirations – but whatever it is, it binds us together. I know that not everyone who attended that school feels the same way about it. I guess they never felt the love that suffuses the place. I feel sorry for them. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.