Sunday, October 13, 2013
Back to the Future
In the fall of 1982, I made my way to the University of California at Davis.
I was a freshman in the freshest sense of the word.
I knew nothing.
Having been educated in Catholic schools for twelve years I was sheltered,
academically prepared and emotionally unaware.
I was excited for the change...ready to meet new people and see new things.
Day 1, I moved into my off campus dorm.
Being Linda's daughter, we were early and prepared. I was moving in as soon as possible so consequently my two other room-mates were no where to be found.
My mom scoured the drawers and carefully placed my super clean clothes in their rightful place.
I noticed across the way that the guys living across from us were very cute.
I thought it was my lucky day.
My parents were ready to go shopping for items that were crucial to my success...a lamp, a fan, a bulletin board...and insisted that we find a store. Since I thought my room-mates would be moving in while I was gone, I took the opportunity to write a note of welcome.
It went something like this:
Hi Roomies! I'm so excited to meet you. It's going to be a great year! I went to the store with my parents but I'll be back. Love, Beth
P.S. Check out our across the way neighbors -- they are foxes!:)
Little did I know that my room-mates would be horrified.
Knowing nothing about me but that note, and having a lot in common themselves, I was lumped into the slut/man-eater/hussy category.
It was two against one immediately.
Luckily, I knew nothing of their instantaneous decision about me and went about my days being blissfully ignorant.
I had rushed and joined a sorority which only fed the fire of their assumptions, but lucky for me, I was busy with that and didn't really notice.
I liked Billy Joel, Elton John, the Beatles and Foreigner.
They liked country.
They were both from rural towns.
I was from suburbia.
I liked preppy clothes and 501's.
They were Lee jeans and cowboy boots.
They both had boyfriends.
I wanted none of that.
About six weeks into school, we had a show down.
We had our first big talk about things that mattered...
I found out that I really could relate to the logical, no-nonsense smarts of Pauline.
She shared some of her music with me.
Turns out, Alabama is pretty good.
She told me about her family and her boyfriend, Bruno.
Her parents had immigrated from Holland.
Her dad was an independent trucker when he wasn't working on a neighbor's dairy.
She was the second of three daughters and her older sister hadn't gone to college (yet).
Pauline was valedictorian of her high school -- a college counselor recognized Pauline's potential. That careful guidance landed her with a scholarship and financial aid enough to attend college away from home...it was huge!
Pauline was not about to mess around in college.
She was a serious student and expected the same from her friends.
Bruno's picture (an 8x10 glossy) was next to her bed.
Life was very black and white and clear for Pauline. I liked that.
Another few weeks later and our room-mate, Cheryl, revealed that she was leaving college at the end of the quarter to get married.
Pauline and I created what can only be called an 80's type intervention.
It consisted of a lot of begging, pleading and challenging the logic of such a crazy idea.
We assumed she was pregnant...she wasn't.
When she told us she just loved her boyfriend and missed him, we argued the feminist approach.
We tried to help her see that college was a great opportunity for her.
She was determined to marry her 25 year old policeman boyfriend by Christmas.
Exploring Antarctica seemed to make more sense than that -- for Pauline and me.
After that, the teams switched.
Pauline and I distanced ourselves from that insanity.
In Pauline's case, even though it wasn't rational, she felt an odd sense of betrayal...after all, Cheryl was her first friend away from home.
Together, Pauline and I grew closer.
Pauline got to know the guys across the way.
They encouraged her to rush as a Little Sister a fraternity -- the ag fraternity, of course.
She loved it.
Bruno's 8x10 found it's way into a drawer.
Pauline shared her beloved favorite Dutch candy with me: Dubbel Zout.
(I spit it out in horror...turns out it means "double salted licorice"...pure salt.)
I shared my mom's cookies.
We studied together, laughed together and became real friends
living for two more years together in college.
That was 31 years ago.
Today, Pauline is married to Bruno.
She has three kids and lives just a few hours from me in a rural town.
We exchange Christmas cards and when our kids were little we met up halfway at a park to play and catch up.
She isn't on Facebook. We don't Instagram.
I think of Pauline as such a big part of college for me.
She was everything that I wanted in a friend -- trustworthy, kind, funny, honest and ready for fun.
But it didn't start off that way.
And now it's Mary Kate's turn.
She has her room-mate, Taylor, from a very different town and a very different life circumstance.
They are three weeks into it...maneuvering and negotiating...still feeling each other out and getting to know if they can trust each other and become friends.
Yesterday, was my birthday.
I was missing my baker-daughter and my sunny son...both away at college.
I was wrestling with the profound lessons that are learned each day away from your family...when no one but you can fix it for you.
John called me outside.
There standing before me was an 18 year old boy, known only from pictures, Zeke.
He introduced me to his girlfriend who is a freshman at UC Davis.
He handed me some chocolate mint ice cream.
"My mom wanted you to have this for your birthday. She hopes you still like chocolate mint."
Pauline's son. And Bruno's son...all grown up too.
Out in the world.
Our kids are sharing their sunshine and still doing weird things for their mom.
I was so touched and tickled and shocked.
It was just what I needed -- the perfect birthday surprise.
Just the reminder that friends never really go away.
Those memories are tucked in a safe place and those moments are still real.
Mary Kate has a chance to find her Pauline.
I hope they seize that chance and don't let differences prevent them from seeing the commonalities that they both share.
They might miss out on something great.
Thank you, dear Pauline, for your thoughtfulness, your kindness and your friendship.
31 years, 2 husbands and 7 kids later...
I'm the lucky one and I know it.