Where I've been

Posted by jdg | Thursday, January 04, 2007 |

During my last year of college, I lived with five other guys in a house that was falling apart. One day we returned from class and the ceiling in one room had collapsed completely onto the floor. When we moved into that house there were already cockroaches there and when we moved out there were many more. For half of the year a sixth guy lived with us, but he slept in the attic and didn't pay any rent. He was the kind of guy who could disappear into the wilderness for weeks at a time and when he returned to find himself locked out of the house, rather than knock he'd just go across the street and bury himself in leaves and sleep on a hill. While trying to sleep I used to hear him up above me in the attic practicing making fires by rubbing elderberry spindles against dry-mullen stalks. There were always fun people around that house. We threw a lot of parties. At one party everyone got naked and played hungry-hungry hippos.

We once spent hours plotting out the funniest way to re-arrange the letter board of the Lutheran church down the street. Originally it stated the title of the week's sermon and the time of church services. My two favorites alternatives were, "Homos: holier than Christ?" and "Nun titty show: 11:00." In the end, we only had the balls to make it say this. For years after graduation I felt an emptiness in my life, a conflicted wistfulness for those days of debauchery and spontaneous fun. You never knew when a Sunday night would turn into a silly four-hour movie shoot or when it was time to throw a bike from the roof of a six-story building or break into the football team's equipment shed and steal all their tackle dummies. After graduation, my friends and I vacillated between asserting that we needed to move on with our lives, and gut-wrenching reunions where we realized things were never again going to be like they'd once been. It was all very St. Elmo's Fire/Fandango, except, you know, in 1999. We eventually moved to different corners of the country, but every year as many of us as possible would get together on New Year's Eve for a drunken elegy to the past.

I hadn't been to one of those parties in more than three years; but this year we got together in Detroit. I hadn't seen one of these former roommates since his wedding, and now his marriage is ending after two and a half years and the birth of a beautiful daughter. When you build your life around the commitment to another person, when you make all the compromises required by that series of acts, and then you find one day that it has all been washed away, what can you do? Where can you go when you find yourself shattered back into one person, like who you were before? This friend got in his car and drove to Michigan. I don't know if it was good medicine to be around us, but I hope it was. We knew and loved him before, and still.

If I have not been writing, it is because I have been with these guys, either in real life, or in my head, traveling back to who I was then and reflecting on how I got here now. It is strange to see receding hairlines and the marks of age on your beloved friends, knowing that they must see similar changes in the face you look at every day in the mirror. And it was so wonderful to see Juniper playing with the children of old friends. She stayed up until nearly 10:30 on New Year's Eve, deciding for the third time that week that she wanted to get naked around all my old friends. She does this thing where she looks at me and nods her head vigorously to reinforce that she should be, "Juney baby naked!" So we relented and allowed her to run around the party in nothing but her baby legs, and upon seeing Juniper's bare flesh, the 3-year-old daughter of a girl who once played hungry-hungry hippos naked in my living room stripped off her clothes and ran around the party squealing with her.