Tuesday, October 24, 2017

And signs that might be omens say I'm going, I'm going I'm gone to Carolina in my mind

Have you gone to a high school or college reunion? Were you nervous?

I'm going to go ahead and say that this post is possibly me at my most vulnerable.

This past weekend, I overheard my friend Leigh saying that I am good at vulnerability. I don't know if this is the case, because it scares me to open myself up to criticism. But I do open myself up. The act of writing all of this down, recognizing the feelings, and releasing them into the universe somehow  lightens me.

So I do it.

Almost every other person I've ever met who went to Chapel Hill loved it, and waxes nostalgic. They go back for football games, root for the Tarheels, and post pictures of the Old Well. Their college years were among the best of their lives.

This is how I feel about high school.You've seen my Delhi high school reunions and my myriad of love letters to those friends.

I almost never talk about college.

In July, a friend sent me details about a Kappa Kappa Gamma reunion. I was a Kappa. Do you know this? Perhaps not. It doesn't really come up in conversation.

After we graduated from college, my boyfriend and I went back to visit once that fall. I can't remember why. Maybe a party at his fraternity house? I went once again looking at grad schools, and once after a dear friend's wedding in Raleigh.

That's it, in 26 years.

I don't talk about my college years because I don't think about them. In fact, I barely remember them. They're kind of a dark spot of time for me, with sparks of memories.

We moved to the US from India the summer before I started college. In September, my dad attempted suicide, though my mom didn't tell me until October.

This was back when we didn't talk about it, so I swore my roommate Lesley to secrecy, and I told her. I had to tell someone. I was already in crisis, so Dad didn't trigger it, but it wasn't, to say the least, helpful.

But this was also back when we all insisted we were fine. My parents had no idea why my brother was so angry. No explanation for why I cried so much.

I literally--and when I say literally, I do mean actually physically--spent hours a day sitting on the floor of my dorm room crying and eating chocolate covered peanuts. I gained 40 pounds that year, much of it by Christmas.

Lesley got really sick first semester and missed weeks of class. Years later she told me the only reason she came back was because she was so worried about me.

I knew I cried a lot, but I didn't understand that I was depressed. And nobody in my family recognized that I was depressed. Now I suppose this was because all the focus was on my dad. Who was, of course, fine.

If someone had handed me Prozac and told me to take one every day, I am absolutely certain those years would've been dramatically better.

But then, if you asked me, I'd say I was fine. This was how my family operated. We were always fine.

I did my best to blend. I kept gaining weight, so I kept having to buy new clothes. I bought Laura Ashley and bucks and rugby shirts. I cultivated a Southern accent that I later worked to get rid of. For years after, when I drank, the drawl would come out. I still slide into it very easily.

I would've gone home and never returned, but my parents were living in Virginia, so their house wasn't home. Because I spent so much time crying and not going to class, my grades were appalling. So I couldn't transfer anywhere comparable.

Anyway, I wouldn't have had the wherewithal to transfer. Most days, getting through the day was as much as I could manage.

This is not to say I didn't ever go out, and didn't have fun; I did. It's also not to say that I didn't make friends, because Lesley was one of my best friends, and one of my closest friends to this day, Ann, lived down the hall freshman year. We all laughed a lot together. Now I wonder if it was that verge of hysteria laughter. I genuinely don't know.

Anyway, I did have fun, and did have friends. I just spent a lot more time crying and pretending than actually being joyful.

Joining a sorority sophomore year, though, was terrific. Most of the friends I've made since college weren't in sororities, and raise an eyebrow when I say I was. And I say, "But it wasn't like you're thinking!" The Kappa House had the highest sorority GPA on campus. It was full of really smart, interesting women. Lots of campus leaders.

I chose Kappa after becoming friends with a couple amazing women freshman year. Fortunately, though I had a terrible GPA, and wasn't a campus leader, Kappa chose me as well.

Once I was on the sorority side of rush, I was astounded I'd made it.

My college experience improved dramatically once I joined. I wasn't quite so lost. I had a group that I belonged to, some wonderful friends, and a place to go that I felt comfortable. I went to mixers and events. I spent a lot of time at the house, and with my sorority sisters.

The summer after sophomore year, I lived with a high school friend's family in Rome. Her dad got us summer jobs at the embassy. In Italy, I finally felt like myself again. I worked it out to spend half of my junior year in Rome as well. I lost all the weight I'd gained. I loved Rome, loved my life there.

I returned to Carolina with just one year to get through, and lucked into living with dear friends in the sorority house. The first week of class I met a very cute, very southern guy who actually, shockingly,  wanted to be my boyfriend. Goal achieved.

By senior year, with the countdown to leave, I finally felt like I actually fit in. I remember, at graduation, being sad to leave.

This brings me to the Kappa reunion.

I got the information, and I was intrigued. What a great idea! How fun to see friends I haven't seen in decades! I should go!

I had some deep and very meaningful friendships, but lost touch with all my sorority sisters within a year of graduating.

But in the past several years, I've reconnected with a number of these friends over Facebook, and gotten to spend time with a few. My friend Eileen, creator of Super Sikh, among other things, came to visit when I was pregnant with Jordan. Being together after all those years fed my soul.

In fact, all of these reconnections have been wonderful. But a lot of those in-person reconnection friends aren't able to make the reunion.

So time passed, and I clicked on the invitation over and over. And every time I thought about it, I got anxious.

Two months went by. The organizers sent out a couple emails. I said I was going to go, but I didn't put money down. The deadline was approaching. One of the friends I saw in January said she and another friend had gotten a room and invited me to share.

Nick was all, "You should go. Just buy your ticket. Go."

I finally bought the ticket one night right before bedtime. I got in bed and he said, "Did you buy it?"

I said, "Yes. But I don't know if I can go."


"It makes me so nervous."

I didn't exactly know why. I had to think about it. Eventually I whispered, "Because...What if nobody actually liked me?"

I honest to god said this. Here I am, a grown woman, a mother, far, far from college years. And what popped out of my mouth, when I reached down into my feelings, was: what if nobody actually liked me?

I hate how lost and scared and trying-too-hard I was in college. I think about freshman year, and how inferior I felt to people who knew each other from high school, but didn't know where India was and weren't interested.

I didn't know about culture shock and being a third-culture kid. I just knew that I didn't want to be there and couldn't go home.

I'm embarrassed that in those years I just wanted to be skinny and pretty enough and have a boyfriend, and eventually a husband because that meant I was good enough. I didn't know that I was smart or could do great things, because nobody told me so.

I think about who I was, and how I really really didn't want to be that person, but didn't know how not to be.

I don't have a lot of memories from college, but I also avoid them because they're painful.

What it comes down to is this: I hated myself back then. So why would anyone else like me?

Sometimes Nick does the stereotypical male thing and tells me how to fix my problem, which makes me regret saying anything and also want to stab him. But other times he listens and he makes me feel heard and considered. Which is what he did in this case.

He said, "I've learned that people who go to reunions go because they want to see other people. They want to reconnect. Do you fear you'll be excluded?"

I said no, absolutely not. These were kind woman. Funny, smart, interesting, and extraordinary in such a variety of ways.

No, I don't have a fear of being excluded. I just...felt insecure.

And he said, "That's OK."

He talked about how, at both his high school and college reunions, he talked to people he hadn't really known before. About how nice it was to see everyone.

I realized that part of this is fear of returning to a place where I felt small and inferior. Where I felt very much on the outside, and thought everyone but me was on the inside.

I still feel like this in life sometimes, just not at much, and I recognize when it is happening.

I'm the same person, of course, but also so very different. And I haven't revisited those years.

As I've worked through it and named it, I'm still nervous, but mostly very excited. The list of attendees is amazing. 

Now it's only two weeks away.

I may solicit your opinions on outfits.

And there you have it.


  1. I have no doubt that your fabulous inner self shone through all of those insecurity cobwebs, no matter how much they were all *you* could see. And the people who get to spend time with you at this reunion are going to be all, "I can't believe I haven't been keeping in touch with her more!"

    1. You are such a dear, dear friend. I don't know, but I do hope so! Big huge enormous hugs!

  2. Lisa, this post moved me to tears. I'm glad you're going to the reunion and think you'll have a wonderful time. You're going to reunion as Lisa now, in 2017 - with your beautiful mind and soul, wit and humor, worldly adventures as a traveler, Mom, writer, wife and daughter that have always been you. I'm excited for you to make new memories that bind you to your UNC classmates.

    Wear the cowgirl boots :)

    1. Ooh, Heather, I am considering them! :)

      Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, I'm going as me now, not me then. I'm so glad you said that. Much love.

  3. I have been out of college since the past 9 years and never gone back. Never met anybody from there even though a couple of them stay quite close to me. Reading your post made me realize why. I didn't like myself too. I'm not sure I do much even now. Thanks. Very well written as usual. I think you are going to be just fine at the reunion. Not the type of fine you were in college. The real fine.

    1. Thank you so much for making the distinction about the before fine and now, the real find. I appreciate it.

      And I have heard this from other friends--the not liking themselves in college and not always now, either. I think it's a regular struggle. I also think you're lovely, and I hope you like yourself more of the time than not. Big hugs.

  4. Lisa, I personally thought you were totally cool in college and think you are even cooler now that we reconnected on FB a few years ago! I think we all bring some insecurity to any type of reunion. But the two important things about this reunion are that this is an incredible group of real women who don’t care about stuff like the things we are worried about. And, the thing that prompted this reunion is the loss of one of our sisters. And how happy she would have been to be here, regardless of weight, of outfit, or accomplishments. I’m so excited to see you and others and reconnect. Hurry on back to Chapel Hill!

    1. Thanks so much, Mel! You make such good points. And I cannot wait to see you SATURDAY!!!


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