For college students, summer ends in long goodbyes

August 28, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

We started calling it "Jessie's Farewell Tour," and I think it lasted longer than Cher's.

During all of August, as everybody packed up to return to college, Jessie and her friends gathered daily to say goodbye. To each other, to someone else, to the same person.

She interrupted the family vacation to return home for a farewell dinner and then left vacation early so she could say goodbye -- to the same friend. Romeo and Juliet didn't say goodbye on the balcony as many times as these kids have said goodbye.

My husband and I think the friends were also attending farewell midnight Mass, because Jessie and her posse never began the evening's round of goodbyes until after 10 p.m., and the last goodbye was apparently not said until the wee hours.

Saying goodbye must be very exhausting because you always sleep late after saying goodbye. It must be very sad, too, but you are too depressed to load the dishwasher or pick up your room after a night of goodbyes.

I am being flip here, and I should not be. This summer among the old high school friends -- the first one after college began -- seems to have been one of passionate friendship. So unlike last summer.

After four years of high school, the friends, I think, were sincerely sick of each other and in a hurry to step off the cliff into college life. None of them knew what to expect, and they wanted to end the suspense.

That first fall break was head-spinningly brief. Thanksgiving break was too short to start or finish anything.

Christmas break was marked by the depressing realization that they actually had to go back to college and do it all again. Spring break happened at different times for different kids. Their lives did not truly intersect again until summer.

It took the summer -- and college summers are ridiculously long -- for the old friends to sort out their old friendships. They seem to have kept only the ones that mattered most.

I make these observations from a great distance. Jessie was gone more than she was home this summer. Between work and play, our house was not much more than a pied-a-terre -- a place where the foot briefly touches the earth. Even the neighbors noticed, saying things like: "Well, well. The engine in Jessie's car never really cools off, does it?"

But I saw enough to trigger in me familiar feelings. I remember how college changed me and separated me from friends whom I once considered closer than family. But I also remember the intensity of the friendships that remained.

College students have one leg in the future and one leg in the past, but the place where they put most of their emotional weight is with a sacred remnant of friends from home. Though they are changed beings, those are the people who do not find those changes off-putting. They are the kids who love them anyway.

I have a memory of another kind as well. I remember cutting my parents out of the script after that first year in college. They didn't have any scenes again until I was almost 30. I expect to meet the same fate.

But I won't mind as long as I know Jessie has her friends. I'll just wait for our reunion tour.

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