Twenty years ago when i walked across this campus, the strap of my backpack tossed over one shoulder, i easily deluded myself into thinking it possible to be mistaken for a student. A graduate student, probably, but in my late twenties, i could still pass.
This week? Nope.
Sporting my “Elder-Hooker” collection of travel clothing, i couldn’t even pass for a professor this year. Just another invisible middle-aged woman, attending a conference on the grounds of a marvelous California campus. A campus wedged neatly between the mountains and the ocean.
This meeting is held annually at the end of June, and has been at this site every third year for decades. i’ve attended eight of these west coast conferences, going back to the early 1990’s. The recurring venue – as well as the recurring content, and people – provided an unexpected pinning point, hiding inside a routine business trip.
Although different from the Christmas pinning point, i was surprised to find myself stumbling backward in time. When not attending sessions, or being goofy with my friends, i was awash in memories. It was just a nice summer conference trip… The flashbacks caught me by surprise.
Time with old friends. Making new ones. Laughing about all the stupid stuff that happened before. Who we are. What we do. How we live. Catching up on lives lived hundreds of miles away. From the mundane to the deeply personal, a chance to get the latest news…
“Hey, he’s fourteen already? Great looking kid!”
“I’ve got to do it… I’m moving out next month.”
“It’s a constant political battle for lab space and funding! I’m looking for another gig…”
“Did you hear about Dr. Z? Did six months in jail for that shit…”
“Hey, RD dyed his hair! Who wants to ask him if the carpet matches the drapes?”
Memories of insecurities and angst. Hook-ups – near misses, line drives. The occasional grand slam. Unnerving flashback to a conversation on that bench. “He died? Really? When? What happened?”
Hours spent playing billiards in the local Irish pub. Pool parties. Beach parties. Private parties. Conning the guys at the bar to get us guitars for an improvised jam session. Scamming my way on stage with the hired band playing at the conference picnic… after swiping a cowboy hat in order to blend in…
The year i brought my children with me to the meeting. The Boy, at thirteen, brought a friend. Hitting the huge concrete park, they were in sk8rboy heaven! The Girl, at fifteen, enjoyed wandering the small college town, roaming from thrift store to thrift store, while i attended sessions.
Listening as a colleague commented on the smokin’ hot co-ed walking toward us at the conference reception, wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots. Enjoying his discomfort when i said “That’s my daughter. She’s fifteen. Don’t you have daughters?”
Feeling old and young simultaneously. Memories rolling by like a newsreel…
A pile of silicon dioxide. We tell the tales, draw the lines, leave a few footprints. It all sort of flows together….
And the tide rolls in…