Is it possible that I am old enough to be reunited with college friends that I hadn't seen in 35 years? Apparently I am!
Here starts a special story of deep friendship, a long separation, and a most unlikely reunion.
In the early fall of 2019, just months before the pandemic. I received an email that there was to be a reunion of my USC Pi Phi pledge class taking place in November of that year. Although I opened and read the email, I immediately closed it and moved on, knowing that I would not be attending. There had been other such reunions in the past, all of which I had skipped, so why would this one be any different? But for some reason, this time it felt different. I went back, re-read the email and thought perhaps I might be open to going this time around.
I emailed my good friend Tessa, who lives in the Bay Area. She is my only friend that remains from that brief and very painful time in my life. I asked her if she might want to fly down to LA and attend with me. After talking it over, I agreed to go, with her support. I was both nervous and excited, as I had not seen this group of girls, nor been strong enough to revisit this chapter in my life, in 35 years.
To give you some background, I attended USC for the first two (very unhappy) years of college. There was virtually nothing good about my life during those two years. It was such a painful chapter in fact, that whenever I was asked, during the entirety of my adulthood, where I went to college, I chose to omit this chapter altogether, instead mentioning that I had attended and graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts. It felt like a dark secret, both from myself and the world, that I harbored for many years and one cloaked in deep shame.
I was a naive 17 year old in 1982, the year I graduated from high school, as many of us are at the time in our lives. I made the ill-fated decision to follow my high school sweetheart, Rob, to USC. Looking back, it was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life, as I soon came to realize. Shortly before school started in the fall of that year, we broke up (badly). All of a sudden I found myself attending a college that I never wanted to attend, were it not for him. Not only did I have to go ahead with it (what choice did I have just weeks before school started), but I had to see him every day, merrily riding around on his bike with his new girlfriend, Anne, perched upon his handlebars. The situation was both devastating and seemingly inescapable for me. There have been few times in my life where I felt so trapped and filled with despair.
I tried to make the best of a bad situation by joining a sorority, but even that turned out to less than ideal. Instead of feeling included and carefree, as one might expect, I felt perpetually out of place. But being who I am, I soldiered on for close to two years, trying to make lemonade from the lemons I had been given.
I hated my major (biology/premed), I hated being in a sorority, I hated seeing my ex-boyfriend everyday with his new DG girlfriend, I hated where I lived, and I hated everything about USC. I was desperately miserable. However, amidst the darkness, there were two bright lights, Cyndy and Lisa. They were sorority sisters of mine and the only source of joy and support I had. They were wonderful, smart, and so very funny, We were true kindred sprits. The three musketeers. They made an absolutely unbearable situation, bearable.
Despite my wonderful friendship with Cyndy and Lisa, by the end of my sophomore year things were not improving and I made the difficult decision to withdraw from USC and finish my college education elsewhere. That elsewhere turned out to be Smith College, where I would go on on to be happy, at ease, in my element and completely fulfilled, At Smith, I excelled in every way. It could not have been a more fortuitous decision.
When I fled from USC, I was filled with relief to leave all the bad memories behind. However, in making that fateful decision, I lost my dear two friends, Cyndy and Lisa. Because my experience there had been so traumatic, I chose to walk away and never look back. didn't keep in contact with anyone I had known there (except with Tessa, who I reconnected with some years later), nor even speak of my time there to anyone. It was simply too painful.
Finally in 2019, 35 years after leaving, I summoned the courage to face my fears and my ghosts from the past. I decided to attend this reunion in Malibu, with Tessa by my side. I decided that I no longer wanted to feel that I was running, nor hiding, from anything or anyone anymore. I wanted to be liberated from my demons and the only way to do that was to face them.
Tessa and I arrived to the reunion and there were all those faces I hadn't seen in 35 years. All my former sorority sisters could not have been more kind or welcoming to me. Just as I had hoped, It was liberating, exhilarating and fun all at once. In the blink of an eye, my demons and the need to keep them a secret were a thing of the past.
Shortly after Tessa and I arrived, I heard two familiar voices come through the door. They were the voices of my beloved Cyndy and Lisa. Although Cyndy had been to other reunions, Lisa had not. Lisa had not withdrawn from USC entirely, like I had, but she had withdrawn from the Pi Phi house the same year I did and had not been to any reunions since.
The minute I laid eyes on them, it was as if not a second had passed. We hugged each other for what felt like forever. We spent the entire evening glued to one another. In our catching up, I even learned that each only lived a few minutes from me, which in a city as big as LA, was a miracle in itself. I didn't want the evening to end, nor to be separated from them again so soon, so I offered to give them a ride back to my house (where their husbands would then pick them up in the wee hours of the morning). We laughed (and I mean really laughed) all the way home, as we reminisced about old times. It was as if we had not been separated for a single day, much less 35 years.
After the reunion, we immediately started making plans and had lunch a few times in the winter of 2019/2020. Then the pandemic hit, forcing us to be separated again for another 20 months, But, as the popular bible verse goes that I hear at just about every wedding I have ever attended, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Not 35 years, not a pandemic, not anything was going to keep us apart again. We reunited in October and again today, for a Christmas lunch. When I am with Cyndy and Lisa I am overcome with gratitude at the good fortune of this unlikely reunion. We spend much time revisiting those crazy days at USC. But there is so much more to our friendship than nostalgia. We have 35 years of catching up to do, so there is never a shortage of riveting conversation. We talk about our kids (ten between us, to be exact) our life struggles, our joys and everything in between. We had only two years together, 35 years ago, and yet there isn't anything I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with them.
As I pondered the wonder and miracle of friendship today, my takeaway was, never underestimate friendship's incredible durability, against all odds. What a beautiful thing.