I don’t know what compelled me to look it up but this exact week 23 years ago I began college life.
Well, to be exact I was a week away from beginning classes – those started right after Labor Day. The week before I was settling in to my room at the residence, met my roommate, my floor mates, and did the usual stuff; registering for classes, picking up textbooks and so on. But I was still … I don’t know if haunted is the word. Maybe still tied to home, my friends, my previous life. This was a week and a time I had been looking forward to for the previous five years but I was still feeling conflicted. Worried. Scared.
By June that year, I’d settled into something of a comfort zone. As one of those kids who never quite fit in with any group, by my senior year I had fit in … with the other kids who didn’t fit in. We weren’t preppy, we weren’t nerds, jocks, burnouts, or stoners. We just … were. If you were to look at us you’d see the Doc Martins and flannel shirts and think “grunge kids” but that was just how we dressed and that was before Alt Rock made its mainstream splash. We were maybe more “artistic” than the norm, but not enough to be considered one of the “artsy” crowd. We were average, and average wasn’t a bad thing. I think you’ll find most kids that age fit into the category of “normal, average types”.
But once we graduated our summer began, it felt like we were living on borrowed time. We had summer jobs so only really got together on weekends, and sometimes at the place of one or another’s employment. I worked at the local newspaper, on the assembly line. Basically, the newspaper you had delivered to your home began there (hot off the presses as they say). Then it went down the line where people stuffed the day’s advertising inserts in, it went through a machine that wrapped the bundle in plastic, then it reached me, who ran the machine that tied the papers into bundles to travel down a conveyer to a waiting car. Those bundles in turn were delivered to the kids mostly who in turn delivered the individual papers to the homes on their route. It was about as exciting a job as it sounds.
We were all around town, but we weren’t. Our schedules didn’t overlap much. Parties, movies, hangouts were increasingly infrequent. It was like we knew we were drifting apart but didn’t want to admit it. There was always going to be more time, right? But we all knew with every day we were closer to that inevitable parting of the ways. June turned to July, and by the approach of August, shit, as they say, began to get real.
Those remaining weeks were a blur. Buying bedding, buying supplies, things for my dorm. In a pre-internet age that meant my electric typewriter, my stereo and cassette tapes, my posters, my portable TV. It meant leaving a town I couldn’t wait to get out of, but found the closer moving day got the more I wanted to stay. To crawl into bed and cocoon myself in it and never come out. To be 18 for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong; I was excited. I mean, this was Film School, which I’d been dreaming about for years. Not just any film school but The One everyone wanted to get into – the one that only allowed 50 new students a year. I was one of those students. I was lucky. This was my future, right on my doorstep. But that meant having to say goodbye. To my town. To my friends.
And on the last weekend of August – Aug 29-30 – I said goodbye.
I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but someone realized that two of us – Nathalie and myself – would be leaving Sunday, as we were both attending the same school, and our classes began a week before the other schools’, which meant orientation began a week earlier. And we knew this would be the last time the whole group of us would be together at the same time for a good number of months. What we didn’t know was it would be the last time that group would be together in any place. What did we do? We went to Andy’s and hung out in his basement like we had countless times before. Drank, snacked, listened to music, shot the shit. But a countdown that had begun with months and dwindled to weeks and days was now measured in hours. My dad was driving the next morning and he wanted to get an early start so I think I may have been the first one to leave. There were no group hugs or tearful goodbyes. I think we’d all convinced ourselves that things wouldn’t change that much. Charles, Elliott, and Moira were going to university in the same town also so we’d still see each other a fair bit (and did in that first year, but even then that faded like most friendships). Soon enough I was back in my car, back on the road, back to my house. My room was all but packed. The shelves looked barren, given everything I was taking with me had already been loaded into the trunk of the car.
We left at 8am the next morning. I said goodbye to my mom, my sister, our dog. My mother managed not to cry until we were pulling out of the driveway, and I’ll admit I got a little misty eyed too. We drove the three hours, dad helped me carry stuff up to my room, we grabbed lunch nearby and he told me how proud he was – that I was only the second in the family to go to university after him. We parted ways and I went back to my room and when I closed the door and sat there I realized I really was alone. Then I unpacked.
The years that followed – 1992-1996 – would go on to be some of the happiest of my life. I forged friendships both personal and professional that remain to this day. I still work alongside people I met that first week of university.
That was 23 years ago.
Right now kids the age I was back then are trekking off to university, leaving home for the first time. Some just said goodbye to their friends and promised they’d stay in touch. And maybe they will – with social media can you really lose touch like you used to? But there’s something about when goodbye really meant goodbye. I think it made us cling to those moments a little tighter because each other’s lives weren’t a text message or Facebook post away. I think to say goodbye to childhood you really do have to say goodbye.
I don’t want to sound like another aging Gen X-er going “in my day things were better” because they weren’t. But in an era where things weren’t videoed and documented like they are now I feel like we held onto those moments a little more because we couldn’t revisit them with the click of a button. When they were over they really were over. I have few regrets about those years, and that place in my life. Sometimes I miss that town, those basement parties, and those faces. Some I’ve managed to reconnect and stay in touch with. But if there is anything I do wish is that there were photographs of that last party and that last night together. It only exists in my memories now; of a night twenty three years ago when that group of friends came together for one last hurrah, and then say goodbye so our lives could truly begin