I closed my mouth, swallowed, and nodded slowly. I walked into the living room with my head bowed, stopped, turned around slowly to look at his concerned face, and finally spoke. "I just realized. I graduated college 15 years ago. 15. 15! Fif-fucking-teen! No. Nope, no, nuh uh, nope, no no no no no. Not possible. Nope" etc, etc.
Seriously, it went on for a while, me just repeating the word "no" while shaking my head and pacing the room. I looked like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, except there is no more Wapner to watch. It would have to be Judy. Or Alex. What the hell, TV judges don't go by their last names anymore, like Judge Wapner. I don't think I even know his first name. He looked like a Bubba. Bubba Wapner. Or maybe Mitch. Mitch Wapner. Short for Mitchell. But he still went by Bubba. Because he just looked like a Bubba, and I bet he had a shotgun next to his bed. TV judges today only go by their first names. It's all very informal. Where's the mystery in that? Part of Bubba's appeal was that he was mysterious, and a bit scary because you didn't know his name. He was like a terror for which you have no words. And if they did tell you his name I don't remember so don't fucking tell me, because I don't want to know it was some bullshit name like Jonathan, or Timothy, or Alexander. Fuck that. He was Bubba. Bubba Wapner. So bite me, Judge "Alex".
Wait, where was I? Oh, right! Fif-fucking-teen. My 28-year-old boyfriend shrugged and said, "Well you're still my college girl", which was terribly sweet, because he actually meant it (love is apparently completely blind), but it didn't help. He doesn't understand. How could he? Yet.
Has it really been that long? It feels like yesterday I was running onto the field at the Orange Bowl for the first time, at my first college football game with thousands of people watching me. (Well, kind of. People don't exactly watch the marching band. But the OB sold beer, and drunk kids cheer for anything, so it was still pretty intense) I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was high on adrenaline and could barely breathe. Which doesn't bode well for a horn player, by the way. My legs felt rubbery as we started to run, and I told myself, "remember this moment", this moment of terrifying euphoria, because it was like nothing I'd ever felt before. And for once I actually listened to myself and I do remember that moment. Vividly. Although that was freshman year, so that technically would've been 19 years. Nine-fucking-teen oh sweet Jesus let's go back to 15, shall we? But it really does feel like maybe it was a year or 2 ago. My friends, well I just saw them not too long ago, right? Most of them are now married with children, but it was only a few years, right? Like 3, maybe. Right? Shit, I'm having another heart attack.
I remember being young and stupid and trying to fit in with everybody, afraid to just be myself because myself wasn't good enough. It was ironic, because when I finally started to become one of the group, I got comfortable and would slip a little and be myself. And that's when I actually became liked, not just accepted. College Life Lesson #492. Honestly, I learned pretty much everything I needed to know about life, in college. Although I didn't realize it until about 5 years ago. (What? I'm a slow learner) Probably because I did everything wrong. Apparently, I learn the hard way. Looking back, I have so many cringe-worthy "what the actual fuck, Kate?!" moments. Many, many, many. Like, a lot. More than a normal person would have. But, I'm not normal, and that's OK. (Another lesson I learned in college, and again, the hard way.) I also remember learning how to make friends. I learned there are other silly, goofy people like me
Where did the past 15 years go? It seems like maybe 2 years ago was my last Swamp Toga party. 5 years tops. But 15? (Forgive me for repeating that number, but I still haven't fully grasped it, and it's been a week) 15. I remember being 15, for fuck's sake. That's when my brother was born. I used to change his diapers and give him baths and hold his hand walking down the sidewalk; he just graduated college. What the fucking fuck. Didn't I just graduate college? What is happening right now? No for real. I think I'm having an aneurysm.
Nope, false alarm. Just a minor stroke. You grow up hearing adults say "time goes so fast", and "they grow up so fast", and you think it's total bullshit that old people just like to say, because for you it feels like fucking forever until you turn 18 and get the hell out of the house. But now that I'm staring down the barrel of -- Jesus, I can barely type it, it seems so ludicrously impossible--40, I hear myself saying that same bullshit, and finally realize it's not bullshit. It actually does go fast. I guess it's partly because I remember those 4 years of college better than I remember the 15 years since. Everything was new then. A new experience, a new lesson I would inevitably learn the hard way, a new depth of pain, a new height of joy. Now those things I experienced for the first time 15 years ago are old hat. Those amazing new feelings and experiences are no longer amazing and new; they are just a part of my everyday existence. I guess I take them for granted, much like the time that has passed.
But every once in a while something happens and I feel that incredible joy I discovered 15 years ago. I relive the incredible sense of pain as if it were brand new. I revive the strong determination I found a decade and a half ago, and I despair under the incredible sense of helplessness that found me. And everything is all right. Even the pain, because it takes me back 15 years, only now I can experience it with much clearer eyes and a calmer mind, and I actually embrace it. Because it's part of my youth. To be able to experience something for the first time all over again is an incredible blessing. It keeps me young. Maybe that's why I forget that it's been 15 years since I first felt that emotion, or had that experience.
My grandmother used to say -- and I always understood what she meant, but now I get it -- that she was surprised every time she looked into a mirror and saw an old woman. I'm far from an old woman, and when I glance at a mirror I barely notice the new wrinkles or the gray hair that has begun to proliferate in earnest. But when I look, really look, I see it. I see the 37 years of laughter and pain and hope and despair, and I wonder, where did the girl go? I could swear she was just here a minute ago. When did this woman show up? She kinda looks like me, but her skin isn't as bright and soft, and she has some wrinkles, and quite a bit of gray hair. You see, I'm 22. My skin is smooth, I have only a few stray grays, my knees don't hurt, and I can stay up late and when I get up don't look like I got hit by a truck carrying some kind of weaponized chemical. I have my whole life ahead of me.
I still do, actually. Except now, it's shorter. That would be a terrifying thought, except...as long as I allow myself to re-experience those things all over again for the first time, I don't mind so much. That way I'll always be 22; only a stronger, calmer, wiser,
But still. Fif-fucking-teen? Jesus.