Monday, June 05, 2006

Anticipation (Warning: Long Mental Dump With Some Naval Gazing Ahead)

While I was in college, I developed a group of very close friends. I sort of went insane and drifted away from them toward the end of college. You'd have to be insane to allow yourself to drift away from a group like this. Far more my loss than theirs, I guarantee you. At that point in life (the last year or so of college) I wasn't really much fun to be around, I made cruddy decisions, and generally made an ass of myself. I wouldn't have hung around me when I was like that, either...a condition that really only worsened most of the time until I quit drinking.

But I did one thing right that year...I took time out from making horrible decisions and being a drunk with few real friends to invite my older and in all ways better group of friends for a weekend at my folks' lake cabin.

A legend was born.

Oh, we drank our share and raised some hell, but that wasn't what we were really about at base. The old lady who lived year-round next door was even disappointed in us. She offered to come out and show us how partying should be done. What we were really about was enjoying each others' company, playing whist, drinking plenty of beer, eating steak, doing some skiing, swimming and suntanning, catching up on news, and so forth. Nothing spectacular to anybody else, and for a long time I thought I was the only one that enjoyed it so much. It actually may have saved my life...I was very, very down at the time and that weekend (and several others like it later) helped remind me that I did still have friends who cared.

Fast forward a few years. I had lost touch with most of those people, more or less. I was rapidly losing touch with the rest. And one thing I don't handle well is letting old friends go easily. Good, true friends with whom you share good history are way too difficult to find and develop just to let them slide away in the tide of life.

I was stuck in what was rapidly developing into a bad marriage entered into for the wrong reasons, and it was dawning on me that the only thing--the only thing--I liked about my life was my career. One night I was reflecting on that, and on a sudden whim I called one of these friends--one that at that time lived in the city I recently blogged about possibly returning to sometime--and asked them what they thought of having a reunion at the cabin. They thought it would be great.

That shocked me for reasons I still don't quite understand. Somebody from my "old" life actually still liked me, in spite of what an ass I'd become by the end of my association with them. It became a mission for me. I made up formal invitations on my computer and everything. I made a rule (still in force today) that there should be no spouses, no kids, and no significant others. Just us. I called everybody, organized it, and when the time came a couple of them actually showed up early.

The best part was that it was every bit as fun as the first time, if not more so.

Fast forward two more years. We did it again.

And again the next year. And again a year or two later. Only one year did nobody make it but me (lonely weekend, and one that almost ended the tradition)...but most years out of six regulars 4 or 5 make it, and several times all six.

The last one was two years ago, and it's time again. In August, this group of friends, at least two of whom read this blog regularly including The Wife, will gather one more time to remember what it was like when the dorm halls rang with Bon Jovi tunes and people thought it was cool, to reminisce about how it was that a woman couldn't be considered hot unless her hair was as big as the rest of her put together, to find out how each other's marriages, relationships, and (gulp) child-rearing is going, and to ponder the fact that we're all staring 40 in the face. To realize that this year marks the time when if you put our lives on a time graph, the point where we all met each other would be almost exactly in the middle.

I wonder if this won't be the last time we do the no-other-people thing. That gets to be hard for those of us who have family commitments...and I think we'd probably have almost as much fun if we just all got together at a state park and camped together with our families, or maybe got together in Minneapolis and went to the state fair or Renaissance Festival or something. But it sure is something special when it's just us...

I used to be embarassed that I seemed to be the one who was most gung-ho about these gatherings of ours. I felt like a dork when someone would show up looking harried, distracted, and generally not in the spirit. But over the years it dawned on me that most times when somebody showed up in that frame of mind, by Sunday morning when you really looked at them you realized they looked rested, happy and relaxed. And I ask you...what is such a weekend for? Mission accomplished. And I helped.

The years have taken their toll on these friendships, though. I no longer am in regular contact with a couple of these people, and I suspect if I stopped calling the gatherings that they probably wouldn't give me a thought for many years, if ever. I doubt most of them think of me anymore unless they happen to see a particularly drunk, obnoxious fool and think "hey, Dan used to get that way sometimes". Heh. It would only be fair, I guess.

But there was a time when we saw each other every day. We watched "Days of our Lives" in the college lounges or each other's apartments, we got drunk and went bowling or sat on the roof of the house we rented and looked at the stars. We played video games and foosball, we visited each others' parents houses a few times, we hit the casino, we had really fun Halloween parties, we studied and we prepared for "real life".

Years later, "Real life" has now overtaken most of us almost completely, with kids and jobs and car payments and life insurance and houses in the suburbs. Nothing kills that youthful spirit like years of mortgage payments.

I look forward to at least one more break from all that. Some of them might be looking at this get-together as just another social obligation. A mildy annoying draw on their time that might be fun in some ways anyway. But I suspect by the time we part ways yet again that Sunday they may just remember what it was like when we were younger and less cynical.

At least I hope so. Else why do it?


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