It’s not Throwback Thursday, but I’m in a nostalgic frame of mind today. I heard a song we danced to back in the sorority days and had one of those gut-punching visceral memories of dancing to it with my sisters. That’s us at one of our spring formals and me in the front in the lavender dress. Note that my lace fingerless gloves match my stockings. Serious fashion choices, my friends.
People seem to react with surprise when I mention I’m a sorority girl. (Can’t say “was,” because I’m a Gamma Phi forever!) Of course, some of that reaction is no doubt due to the fierceness with which I’ll say so. Because I usually end up mentioning when somebody makes disparaging comments about sorority girls. It’s not unlike some of the things I hear about romance novels and writers, come to think of it. There’s a kind of sweeping dismissal of sororities as frivolous, brainless and, well, worthless. So, when I hear one of these remarks, I’ll usually tell the speaker that I’m one of those bimbos and let it go from there.
This song in particular reminds me of the soror and those days because it was kind of our anthem. Two of the older girls, Annarose and Sara, who were juniors when I was a freshman pledge, took it as their theme song. It spread from there. At dances, when it came on, we would all abandon our dates and dance in a circle together. Sure – we heard criticism for it. The guys would snerk. People would say sometimes that we were known for doing that and it was weird. We didn’t care about any of that. People also said that we had a true sisterhood in our chapter – something mentioned with puzzlement on occasion.
Annarose and Sara were both larger than life to me. I knew Annarose better, because she was our Pledge Trainer, so we met with her weekly. Part of becoming a full member meant attending these meetings to study the sorority history and eventually pass an exam, which included memorizing the names and faces of all 80 active members. To this day I can recite the Greek alphabet, backwards and forwards – a dubious skill, but excellent party trick. Our study sessions extended to coursework, also, and active members came in to mentor us, a much more obviously useful benefit at our highly competitive liberal arts college.
At any rate, Sara and Annarose had been roommates since the random draw of their freshman year. Sara had a habit of saying “Annarhose,” with an aspirated French accent, which naturally shortened to Hose over time. Hose was hysterical. Boisterous, caring, smart as a whip, she quickly became one of my favorite people. Sara was her polar opposite – quiet, reserved, even icy. With very white skin, pale blonde hair and a thin, ascetic frame, she seemed an unlikely match for Hose. By this you might understand that Hose was, as they euphemistically say, a big girl. It wasn’t something I much understood at the time because I thought these things wouldn’t matter in college. We were about degrees and careers, not who looked cute enough to make the cheerleading squad.
I learned better, over time, as you can imagine.
Also, as I’m sure you can imagine, people said mean things about Hose and Sara. Speculated about their relationship – also something I never thought about at the time. I just knew that they loved to dance to the Go-Go’s Our Lips Our Sealed. And we danced with them, all of us, because we were sisters. When we were together, it truly didn’t matter what people said. We could forget their lies.
I’ll always be grateful I had that.
So, I mentioned on Tuesday that I was still processing my 25th College Reunion. People keep asking me if I had fun and if I’m glad I went and my usual answers have been “kind of” and “yes.” I think it’s good that I went and I don’t regret it, and there were many fun moments, but I didn’t really enjoy myself all that much.
I felt super emotional – lots of sadness – and I wasn’t sure why.
A few things played into this, I think. I’ve been back to campus and St. Louis many times over the last 25 years since graduation, but always with very specific plans. Sometimes I was there for work and arranged to see local friends. Once I arranged for a celebration of my favorite professor, who was dying of cancer. Many of his former students from over the years came together to talk about how much his teachings meant to us. That was an amazing, fulfilling experience.
This time, it was the random luck-of-the-draw, whoever turned-up-for-the-reunion thing. There were some people I knew – Felicia being one – and a whole lot of people I didn’t remember. Very few of them remembered me. I ended up walking around by myself a lot, which was fine because I’m good with that, and it also replicated how I was in college. Most of the time I went from place to place on my own, caught up in my own thoughts, following my own schedule. So that put me very much back where I was then.
And I became profoundly aware of how different I am now.
It was kind of wrenching to realize.
See, for a very long time, I regarded my college years as an ideal time in my life. And it was, in many, many ways. At Wash U, I found my tribe in a way I never had before. I blossomed – socially, intellectually and, dare I say, spiritually – and when I graduated and moved on, I deeply missed the community I’d had there. I grieved for it. I may have idealized it.
Because, walking around, visiting all my old places, memories came back to me that made me see how unhappy I’d been at times. Especially in the first couple of years. It was a time of great growth and change for me, which often means pain. To my surprise, instead of happy nostalgia, I re-experienced a lot of that old pain. An amazing sensation, 25 years later.
The extraordinary thing that hit me was, how much better my life is now.
It’s especially clear to me as I plan to go to the RT Booklovers Convention next week. My schedule is already full – meals and drinks and parties with friends, various writing and reading communities and publishers. There are so many people I’m excited to see and talk to.
They are my new tribe.
It’s an interesting experience, to realize you’re not the person you were. Almost like a little death. No wonder no one remembered me – I’m not at all who I was then. Which, I suppose, is how it should be.
I walked onto that campus at 19 and left four years later a transformed person. Of course that didn’t stop. One of the things I most value about the education I received at Washington University is the tools they gave me to continue a lifetime of learning and growing.
Learn and grow I have.
It will be interesting to see who I am in another 25 years.
Yeah, this is me, from my sorority pic in college. You know – the array of photos that shows all the gals in the sorority. It’s called a composite, in case that’s a detail you ever need.
And yes, that’s my natural hair color.
I started to clean it up, but I need to be writing, not photo-shopping. And I just wanted to show it to you, my dear blog-gobblers, because of how young I look.
I’ve reached the age where photographs of my younger self look distinctly different than my self of today. That wasn’t true for a very long time. Suddenly I’m noticing that dewy complexion and perfectly taut skin that just isn’t quite so much so these days. Not that I think I look old by any stretch.
But I don’t look dewy, either.
I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but there’s supposedly a French saying that as a woman ages she must choose between her face and her ass.
This is a succinct way of saying that you either get to be skinny or have a youthful face, not both. That’s because subcutaneous fat – that luscious layer under the skin – is what makes us look young. In some ways I like my face of today better, because I always minded the chubbiness of my cheeks then. Suddenly I have cheekbones. And yet I weigh overall, significantly more than I did then.
Ah, to reclaim my 20-year old behind.
It how we age, that we lose fat in our faces first. A woman who viciously diets to maintain that tiny posterior raids the fat in her face. You wonder why the Hollywood actresses are forever getting “plumpers” (lips, cheeks, foreheads), while you’re thinking that plumping injections would be about #50 on your plastic surgery wish list? That’s why. They’ve worked so hard to have the super-skinny, no-fat bodies, that their faces get that weird, dry look. It’s really just skin over bone at that point.
Not a youthful look.
So my point, and I do have one, is that choosing the face isn’t such a bad thing. After all, there’s lots of ways to drape the ass. When I occasionally fret that I’m not as skinny as I could be, I give thanks for the elasticity of my skin, for the fat under my skin that keeps it smooth and vital.
It might not be dewy, but it’s not parchment either. I’ll take it.