It was very sad but leaving home at 18 years old to go to college in Minneapolis was inevitable.
Given that my hometown felt like it was closing in around me what with my father's death, my best friend moving away to Madison to go to college and, well, there being nothing much available to a young man who wants, if not to conquer the world, at least see it before any more time passes.
Minneapolis was a fresh start and the city lay before me all shiny and bright, blue, metallic and glass. I ended up at Augsburg College, a private Lutheran school just across the Mississippi River from the U of M where my friend from high school, Mary, was going. An older classmate, Sharon was already there and, later, my friend Barbara would follow.
But I arrived alone without family or friends and for the first time in my life I was truly on my own. Given my propensity towards celebrating television, it was also inevitable that I'd cast myself as a Mary Richards for the mid 80's declaring that "I was gonna make it after all" .. and I would.
Within days I had an assortment of friends made up mostly of a collective of women from the 9th floor. There was Tonda, the would be singer who cursed like a sailor, there was Le Ann, boadacious and outspoken, there was Anna who smoked like crazy and carried around with her groupie energy and then there was Michele whom I bonded with instantly and developed a fast if not terribly long lasting friendship. We traded family stories and each found some perspective from a virtual stranger who had no history with the people in question and endured the rigors of college life which included dorm drama with the above mentioned friends ("she said this and she said that") which taught us both how to be a good friend and how to discern who is and is not trustworthy. (This was probably the best lesson that we could both have learned in our post small town formative years).
Being just a year after my dad had died, I needed not only a sympathetic ear but also a breath of fresh air and much laughter. The group provided much of that, but Michele bore the weight of much of it, and enjoyed also the laughter I could give to her. Among other things, given that we both could tend towards self pity, it was a triumph when we could make fun of ourselves by exaggerating our whining by mimiking an SNL skit, The Whiners.
The jocks on my floor, the 6th floor, (how DID I end up on that floor anyway?) gave her no end of grief and I never quite figured out why although I suspect that they saw a guy (even as nerdy as I was) having the time of his life with this girl (she was no glamour model but was definitely attractive) and perhaps they just felt jealous. As with all the bullies in my life, I've found that to be a pretty common denominator (and I mean 'common' in all it's context). Anyway, they terrorized Michele calling her "penguin" because, they claimed, she waddled like a penguin. I didn't really see it myself and encouraged her to apply the lessons that I had learned growing up around bullies - in that you just don't participate because it just fuels them on.
Michele was also friends with Marcus who was a kind of part of the group we had going on. He was on the 4th floor where they placed all the actors, musicians and artist types. The guys here tended to be either stoned or gay (although strangely, not both). I didn't really know this at the time and so when I met Marcus (who was not stoned by the way so he was, you know) well, I didn't know what to make of the feelings that I was having. This is best saved for another time but suffice to say that Michele was responsible for introducing me to who unintentionally dragged me out of the closet.
I spent the summer after my freshman year in Mosinee walking about in spaces well worn by familiarity but now hollow and strange, already a ghost in my life. I couldn't make out the feeling but pegged it at the time as a yearning to continue on with missing my college friends and yet now looking back at it, I think it was probably more a realization of a discomfort that I had had for some time that there was some way in which I didn't fit in there. I was living a child's life of simply hanging around the house for the summer but I was raring and ready to go, to make the most of whatever time I had. Certainly life had shown me that life is not to be wasted.
My thoughts turned towards Michele a lot and I wondered if our friendship was only just that and at one point I was determined to go back to Augsburg and sweep her off of her feet and turn it into the romantic relationship that i had been searching for all my life.
Except... that once I got back to school (after facing a multitude of car problems on the way there and, subsequently a bizarre rash that left me sleepless for days, weeks) I found that as much as I liked Michele, I didn't Like her in That way. I think when you're close enough friends with someone that you get intimate details about their period, it just sort of kills that romance. I mean, of course I didn't realize til much later that I had no idea what I was looking for (but boy did I know it when I found it!).
We stayed friends for some of that Sophomore year but our friendship devolved into stock phrases like "we really need to find some time to get together again" but between her stuff and my stuff (the chorus, plays, a job with the food service, classes and my fabulously fun roommates) that just never happened.
I guess it was inevitable that first friends from college would wear away replaced by more, longer lasting enduring friends, but every once in awhile I think of Michele and remember her voice and her hugs and ...yes, her (slight) waddle.
And I give a laugh because in the end, that's what most endures.