Thursday, August 15, 2013


A few months ago, I started getting that feeling -- that panicked, suffocating feeling that you get when you feel time running out. I rushed to my computer and counted down the remaining days. A little less than two months. Not even eight full weeks. Just 54 measly days.

I mapped out a plan. Hit the gym every day. Alternate between days of cardio and strength training. Eat less. Eliminate all carbs. Don't eat after 6pm. Shed at least a pound a week. Get rid of all the fat in my upper arm and my midriff. Get my hair done. Find a dress.

That was all I had time to do. In less than eight weeks, we were flying out to Chicago for my 20th college reunion. Eight weeks weren't enough to fashion a new career, publish a book, or make a documentary. Not enough to become a CEO or an activist or a social commentator. Not enough to establish a village or even a non-profit. Not enough to fulfill any of the aspirations I had set out for myself in my 20s.

But it was enough time to transform myself into a beach babe. And failing that, the least I could do was try to look as good as I did in my facebook profile photo.

Going back for a reunion, especially after 20 years, is not for the feeble minded. It takes guts to face all those people who heard you talk about all the things that were wrong with this world, and all the things you were going to do to fix it. It takes guts to face that 20 year old idealistic self who thought the world was populated with idiots, especially all those who submitted blindly to the slavery of law firms and investment banks. It takes guts to go back and show all that you haven't done with 20 years of your life.

I have little to show for myself these days. No job. No social accolade to speak of. No presidential award of honor. No honorary degree. No peace corps stint to brag about. No travels around the world worth mentioning. Yes, a law degree, but I am not a partner or a GC or even a lowly associate. I guess I could brag about the well publicized termination and 100K down the drain, but I already bragged about them at the last reunion.

At the least, I am married and have two beautiful children, but I learned not to treat such things as accomplishments when we read Virginia Woolf during my sophomore year.

I thought about skipping the college reunion. But months earlier, when the reunion was merely an enticing idea in the distant future, I had foolishly signed up to participate on the reunion committee. And volunteered to prepare the reunion memory book. And had goaded all of my friends to show up or consider themselves dead in my world.

The eight weeks breezed by -- more quickly than I would have liked. I downloaded My Fitness Pal on my iPhone. I hit the gym as often as I could. I even lifted weights. And weighed myself every morning. And tried on all the dresses I owned.

The day before we were scheduled to fly out, I weighed myself in the morning as usual, right after I peed and pooped and right before I was weighted down with excess water from the shower. The scale showed the same number as the day before. Just 3 measly pounds less than what it was eight weeks ago.

I threw a couple of outfits in the suitcase because I couldn't decide which looked worse. And packed the prettiest dresses for my little girl with matching hair clips and sweaters. I made sure to pack my son's hair gel and his most fashionable polo shirts and plaid shorts. Then we set off for my past.

Chicago was just as I had remembered it, and completely different. We landed in Midway Airport, where I had arrived alone in the fall of 1989 with just two suitcases to see me through the year. To get to the hotel, we drove down Lakeshore Drive, where I had cruised up and down with friends as we searched for restaurants at 2 in the morning after a dance party or another. The next day, while my son napped in the hotel with Jeff, I pushed my daughter in a stroller down Michigan Avenue, where I had wandered as a lost 20 year old, dressed in an oversized men's sports jacket, thinking about Foucault, Levi Strauss, and Emile Durkheim.

The next day, Jeff and I dressed for the class dinner. I was grateful for the cooler weather, which allowed me to wear my completely black outfit with more generous covering. I put on a little more make up than usual and the new hoop earrings I had picked up that afternoon at Nordstrom. Before I stepped out of the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror and practiced my smile. To my surprise, the person who smiled back looked pretty good. Maybe it was the lighting in the hotel. Or the extra layer of mascara. Or the hoop earrings. But I didn't see the extra ten pounds glaring back at me. I saw a little glimmer in my eyes and excitement.

The evening passed much too quickly. It was filled with squeals of delight, hugs, giggles, clicks of the camera, and too many glasses of wine. We talked about the old days, gossiped about people we knew, gushed about how the other looked, and listened to stories about families, job headaches, and infertility problems.

To my surprise, no one even asked about my career. Or if they did, it was so nonintrusive that it didn't register. I don't think it was because no one cared. It just didn't come up. Maybe because we had too many other things to talk about.

The next day, Jeff and I drove to the campus and watched our kids run around on the quads where I had spent many afternoons buried in a book or engrossed in some conversation about the meaning of life. We stepped into Harper's Library, where I had passed countless nights trying not to nod off as I attempted to finish the paper due the next day, where I had painstakingly worked on my literary magazines, where I had suffered my secret crushes. We walked down the streets where I had found life at its most intense and had tried to savor it as long as I could.

That evening, a bunch of us gathered at my old roommate's house in the suburbs and watched our kids play with each other as we bantered and chowed down Giordano's pizza.

I don't know why I expected the reunion to be some resume comparison event. I have never related to my friends through the lens of our accomplishments, so why did I expect it to happen now?

It is my own self-consciousness, my own internal conflict. It is true what they say. No one else obsesses about you as much as yourself. I don't have it all together, at least not at this point in my life, but it was okay. It didn't get in the way of anything because no one really cares. At least not in that judging way. And what a relief to find out.

It was good to go back. To see my friends, to revisit the campus, to have a chance to think about the person I used to be and the person I am now. Sometimes I miss that person I was -- that intense girl so determined to be independent, so unwilling to expose any vulnerability, so serious about living my life. But I realized that I like the person I am now. More settled, a little more secure, and willing to show my vulnerability. And a little more forgiving, even of myself. Maybe it's a sign of happiness. Or even maturity...

* * *

(Here are a couple of photos of my kids making themselves at home on my old campus. It warmed my heart to see them there.)


  1. You are such a gifted writer! You made me feel so anxious reading up to the actual reunion. I'm glad it turned out great! Must've been so sweet to see your kiddos playing at your old stomping grounds. =)

  2. Glad it went well! Those things are nerve-wracking.

  3. Great post. No one obsesses about you as much as yourself - something I need to remind myself of once in a while. Glad to hear that the reunion went well for you! -C