Chris Arbutina

Centre Life column | Catching up with old friends: priceless

February 24, 2013 

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Even with the visit to the urgent care clinic, my recent reunion with college friends was no “Girls Gone Wild” weekend. Considering that we all met more than 30 years ago at a small Presbyterian-affiliated liberal arts college that boasted single-sex dorms, chapel requirements and a dry town, “Girls Gone Mild” might be more apt of a description of the six of us.

And let me also state for the record that the fact that in one 24-hour period we had not one but two medical emergencies speaks more to freak accidents and a momentary lapse of judgment than the fact that we’re getting old and forgetful.

That being said, I think before we get together again for another one of these weekend getaways somebody better know CPR and someone else had better have some basic first aid training. With age, I hope, may come wisdom.

Even with the drama, the weekend proved to be the perfect mix of old times and good times. It didn’t hurt that we ended up snagging a last-minute deal for a spacious beach resort condo (the weekend may have played out differently if we had stuck with the original plan of having the six of us camp out in a nice but tight two-bedroom apartment — there is such a thing as too much togetherness).

Over the course of 72 hours, we laughed at the memories of who we once were and brought each of us up-to-date on the triumphs, truths and uncertainties of the lives we now lead.

And I almost missed it. We’ve held these reunions every other year, and this would have been the first time I didn’t go. This time, there were just too many “too’s”: too far, too busy, too little time, too much money. But a no-nonsense phone call from my college roommate helped me put things in perspective. What’s wrong? What are you waiting for? Don’t take people like us and things like this for granted.

So I booked my flights … for the wrong weekend. Two days before my scheduled departure, I got an email from one of my friends asking me if I was really flying to Florida that coming Friday because everyone else was going the following weekend. Wailing and gnashing of teeth followed (actually it was cursing and a number of frenzied phone calls).

Two-hundred-and-fifty-two dollars in change fees later, I had secured what was turning out to be the most expensive flight to Florida ever. I felt a little bit like those credit card ads — flight to Florida, X number of dollars; college reunion, priceless — except I could tell you to the exorbitant penny how much I was spending to head south, and I was hoping it would be worth it.

It was.

There was the whole getaway aspect — the palm trees, the middle-of-the-day doughnut run, the dazzling sunshine, the powder-soft sand on the beach.

There were the breakaway moments — lazily floating in an inner tube in the pool; running on the beach, zigging and sagging (yes, you read that right), arms flung wide as we swooped and laughed as dozens of birds in formation on the water’s edge scattered into flight; scrambling over rocks to watch the cruise ships gliding up the channel and out to open sea.

There were the medical escapades — the splinter one of my friends picked up from a wooden railing by the beach that took two shots of Novocain and a good hour to remove, and the panicky moments when my college roommate, who is extremely allergic to nuts, realized that the chocolate cake with the creamy filling we each had taken a few bites of wasn’t layered with icing but a hazelnut mousse. What followed was scary but an hour later she was tired but fine, and we all had a story we will be retelling for years to come.

But what most made it worth it was the effortless way we slipped back into conversations on hold for two years, interrupted when we scattered after the last time we got together.

We picked up where we had left off. We talked about jobs and life changes, adult children, aging parents, and husbands who, while not physically present, were fixtures in much of the conversation. We valiantly steered clear of politics but didn’t even try to keep from wading into religion. We talked about the things that define us, that make us happy, that keep us up at night, that make us afraid. Anyone eavesdropping would thought us brave, stoic, funny, smart, discouraged, hurt, confident, vulnerable and serene. They would have heard right.

When it came time to leave, there were group hugs and “love you’s” and hastily hatched plans for our next weekend adventure.

I wouldn’t miss it.

Chris Arbutina writes a monthly column for the CDT.

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