The taxis pull up to the off campus apartment to take us into Boston. We tumble outside and into the waiting vehicles, giggling and excited for our night on the town. We’ve been waiting for months to celebrate our 21st birthdays together, and I’ve been the hold up as the youngest in the group. Now we all have licenses that allow us to order drinks whenever we wish and enter any bar that we want. This being Boston where ancient Blue Laws still exist, the night will end by 2 a.m. But that’s OK. What matters is that we’re all finally together after the previous semester of being apart.
The next time we go into Boston for a night out, I drive. After circling Newberry Street for what seems like an eternity, we finally find a place to park. But it’s a parallel parking space, and I don’t really know how to get into it. (Gulp). In the state of Illinois, where I took drivers’ ed, parallel parking is not required to obtain a license, so I never really bothered to learn. After several failed attempts, two of my friends hop out to guide me. A couple of strangers stop to join the party on the sidewalk, and my friends who remain in the car duck down giggling. After multiple attempts, I manage to squeeze my SUV into the tight spot. Those of us still in the car climb out, and we all burst into hysterical laughter, which continues until we reach the restaurant.
We started bonding our freshman year, but it was as sophomores that our friendships solidified. That was when we won the housing lottery with one of the coveted suites earmarked for students in their second year at Brandeis. I felt especially lucky, since my friends pulled me in at the last minute. Later I learned that I was not everyone’s first choice as the eighth member of the suite, though I think in the end no one had any regrets with the decision. We did, however, find ourselves having regrets about some of the other members of our suite, and by the time the first semester ended, our merry band of eight had become six.
The reasons varied why those two young women left our prized residence, but in that sick and twisted way of late adolescence, their departures bonded the six of us who remained ever tighter. We finished out the year all under the same roof together, then divided up into two groups of three for our second half of college. Yet even though we never all lived together after that sophomore year, we continued to do everything together. A constant state of joining up and dispersing made our rhythms like those of a family. We’d meet in the student union for lunch; go our separate ways to classes or the gym or activities; then find ourselves, once again, at the same table for dinner. Every weekend we would end up at parties or in Boston or Cambridge. It didn’t matter where, really. All that mattered was that we were together.
In college, there seems to be a boundless amount of time to laugh, talk and cry together, as if time has no limits, so different from grown-up life. During our 20s, when we all lived in New York, separately but in the same city, we continued to see each other often. When children started coming, and city apartments gave way to suburban abodes, our time together became less frequent. But there’s something about those friendships at 19 that keep things ticking, even when we don’t see or speak or hang out together as much anymore.
Today, our group of six has boiled down to four. I recently reconnected with a fifth member of our tribe on Facebook, and after all these years without contact it was wonderful to see her smiling face again. My other three friends all live on the East Coast, while I’m here in suburban Chicago. It seems they don’t see each other all that often, but I wish they did. Even though I can’t be with them, it would bring me comfort to know that they were together. Now I only get glimpses of my friends’ lives on Facebook, which I just joined a few short months ago. For years my friends begged me to set-up an account, so they could see me and my family. I wish I had listened. We might not be able to be together, but at least Facebook helps us to not feel so far apart.
We all turned 40 this year. We all celebrated. But unlike our 21st birthdays, none of us did so together. Marking milestones separately is now our norm. And yet I still feel tethered to all of them. That commodity called time, which bonded us together in our college days, is so much more precious and rare these days. But I know if we could find the time to all gather together, it would be as if a day had not gone by. There wouldn’t be any awkward pauses; no lack of laughter. We would fill every second, every minute, every moment talking, as if we had just left our coveted suite all together.