“It’s not where but who you’re with that really matters.” ~Dave Matthews
It’s the summer of 1994 and I’m eighteen. I’ve just graduated high school and am getting ready to head to college. Wait…stop…was it really that long ago? Almost twenty years? I need to start that again…
It was summer; 1994 in New Jersey. I had just graduated from a small, private high school (big hair and all) and spent the summer hanging with my great group of friends. We were all about to face our future and go our separate ways. I can’t tell you many of the details of what we did, where we were or even why. It was too long ago. I can tell you that it was fun. It was scary. I can tell you for sure that I loved both Nirvana and Janet Jackson at the same time.
My girlfriends were all similar and very different at the same time. We spent our most important teenage years together: first loves, first parties, first detentions and awards. We, of course, swore we would stay in touch (before email, cell phones and the internet were even available) before we went off to whatever schools we had chosen for whatever reason we chose them.
I chose to go to a small Catholic college in Maryland. There, in the summer of 1994, I met a new group of girlfriends. We were thrown together in a very hot, unairconditioned dorm, excited (and completely terrified) of being away from home, completely “independent” for the first time in our young lives. We sat in the hallway on the cool floor that first night trying to make sense of who we each were (to each other and ourselves) and wondering who be acquaintances and who would emerge as friends.
By senior year, our friendships were concrete. We weren’t held together by a bond of what major we had, what sport we played (or didn’t play in some cases…) or what home state we came from (although there were a lot of Jersey girls there!) – we were bonded by true friendship. In retrospect, I laugh at some of our more surface driven, early twenties commonalities: the Dave Matthews Band, cheap canned beer, Marlboro lights and the overlap of an occasional crush. We had no idea that something greater held us together after four years together.
Fast-forward twenty years to this past week. Summer: 2013.
Now connected by social media, I met up with two friends from high school after several years apart. We sat in a noisy bar for a few hours laughing about what was (again—big hair, bad boyfriends, fun(ny) times in homeroom) and what is (great careers—either working or staying home as a mom, gaining kids, losing parents or friends). We chatted about what will be, including our twenty-year reunion (which we pinkie swore to all attend). We felt a tangible bond of shared life experiences, completely separate from our relationship of twenty years ago. We were old friends again, but with new experiences to add to the memory cache.
In the same week, amid great excitement, a 24-hour getaway to my favorite Jersey shore town with four of my college girlfriends! A multitude of texts flew among us (each one carrying more exclamation points than the last). Twenty-four hours without kids or jobs or responsibilities – aah!
Finally, the day arrived and we were there – down the shore, feet in the sand, bathing suits on…laughing about our choice of sunscreen – SPF 30 instead of none at all. The sun was out and dolphins swam by, arching out of the water so that we could see their bodies shine. Pelicans flew overhead (to me, always a sign of hello from my stepfather, who lost a brave battle with ALS). We moved our chairs closer to the water’s edge as the tide went out and turned them in unison, following the sun for just a few more minutes. We applauded major career achievements. We laughed over the silly things our kids do. We almost cried as we talked about the losses we’ve suffered (some very recent and fresh, some several years old). We giggled like schoolgirls over crazy college antics, the one that got away (thank god!) and the fact that no one knew I took piano for that extra needed credit or that our school even offered a tapestry class.
That night, as we got dressed to go out for the evening, I was eighteen again. The music was on (now more Coldplay than anything else), dresses were flying and we had not a care in the world.
I realized that there are still commonalities weaved through these special friendships. Some of us married college sweethearts (I did!) some of us had kids, some of us have awesome careers and some of us are trying to find our niche after staying home to be with children (me, again).
We have all experienced enormous joys and deeply-felt sorrows - a roller-coaster ride we could never have conceived of when we were eighteen years old. Just as we couldn’t have known that these experiences were more amazing and easier to endure because we had – and have – each other. Our friendships of twenty years have thrived, not solely because of events of the past, but because the events of the present have unexpectedly added a magnificent new dimension.
When talking about our lives, more than once we all asked: What if you had made a different choice, where would you be now?
I know I can’t possibly answer that. I can say, for certain that the choices I made throughout my life have gotten me to this incredible place and for that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Beth has a BA from Mount Saint Mary’s University and has a background in public policy and education. After working in Washington, DC, she taught high school social studies and developed her passion to incorporate multiple learning philosophies, learning styles and student-centered activities within the confines of both the traditional and extracurricular classroom setting. This carried over to her personal life as Beth left teaching to care for her two wonderful daughters (ages 4 & 7). Beth strongly believes in the need to stress literacy and creativity in the early stages of child development, as is reflected in the mission of Page’s Corner and the creation of the Mission Read campaign.