On Friday afternoon, the Class of '97 seemed a respectable lot. A handful of Ph.D.s and advanced ABDs, some lawyers, several MBAs doing arts administration and nonprofit organization, public servants of various stripes, and a surprisingly large number of people working at animation studios. Nearly everyone seems to live in Brooklyn, DC, and San Francisco--nice, grownup cities where they presumably pay rent and do all those usual adult things. And evidently the early 30s are not only the age of perfection, but the age of reproduction, as well: babies were EVERYWHERE. Their presence is partly attributable, I think, to my college's alumni's habit of intermarriage; entire family units were plainly in evidence.
In the beginning, we seemed civilized. Ordinary. Even dull. And yet, by Sunday afternoon, the dorm where we were all housed was--there is no other word for it--trashed.
Some of this, such as the cracker crumbs embedded in the hall carpet, may have actually been due to the presence of babies. But overwhelmingly the trashing was the result of plainly regressive behavior on the part of the reunion attendees. The floor of the lounge was covered--covered--in chocolate sprinkles and spilled beer. Coffee tables were scarred by rather inept efforts at uncapping beer bottles without benefit of an opener. Folding tables sloped to the floor, their legs buckled underneath them. Furniture had been dragged outside and left there. Fireworks of sketchy provenance had been fired into the outer walls of the building (in all fairness, I should say that they weren't actually aimed at the building; they just went--directly and with force--in that direction). At one point late on Saturday night, the cushions from all of the many sofas in the lobby were gathered and made into an enormous pile; one couch, denuded, was drawn up to the edge of the pile and used as a diving board. I'm sure that some of its springs were broken--surprisingly, no necks were--and only some of the cushions made it back onto the (wrong) sofas. The entrance to my hall had developed a stench so awful that one had to hold one's breath when passing through it. Other, older reunions had been repeatedly raided for beer, and empty bottles littered every public area. Clouds of marijuana smoke drifted across the quad. And one of the many old campus bands reconvened for a performance of their "hit single," whose name I don't know but whose chorus is "Fuck you, fuck me, fuck everybody; you suck, you suck, you suck big time."
Perhaps it was the heady combination of escape from adulthood (we didn't have to clean up our own messes) with escape from studenthood (we couldn't be punished for anything that we did). Our age was showing, though. Even the childless had a hard time making it through the days without a nap, and I found that sleeping from 4am-12pm really doesn't work for me anymore.
Fatigue notwithstanding, I had a great time. I roomed with a really good friend that I'd been out of touch with for a while, and, in the manner of actual roommates, we spent pretty much all weekend together. My college, a small-town SLAC, generates a strong sense of loyalty and community, so going back there was--for everyone, I expect--a real mixture of pleasure and nostalgia. So much is the same: the smell of the mailroom, for example, took me right back to Orientation week; the steel drum band still wears ridiculous costumes and gets the whole campus grooving; and the comedy improv troupe doesn't make any more sense than it did in the mid-90s.
But a reunion is not a real recapturing, and there was an undeniable difference between my memory of college and this brief reconstruction thereof. Because we're not the same, despite the weekend's shenanigans. There were moments when I felt kind of sad, intensely aware that that time in my life--a time which I remember with intense fondness, when I was often very happy--is absolutely over. And yet, I know that I couldn't go back to it; I--the I that I am now--could never have that experience again. Would I want to? If I'm honest with myself, I know that no, I wouldn't. I like the self that I was in college, but the self that I am now is, in many ways, so much better off--more confident, more wisely restrained (most of the time), less desperately anxious over every little drama--and the thought of having to relearn everything that I've gathered in the last 10 years is, frankly, exhausting.
Even so, it was undeniably fun to catch a few glimpses of the past. And I found myself reassured by the fact that the students look more or less the same as they did when I was there. A friend of mine, spotting a few of them crossing campus, said, "That's what I came here to see. A big-ass beard, a tee-shirt that doesn't make any sense, and totally ironic light-up sneakers." It's good to know they're still out there.