I retired from teaching last May after more years in the classroom than I care to admit. No longer constrained by rules, rules, and more rules, I began friend-ing my former students on Facebook. What once was ethically frowned upon, is now my link to my past career. That being established, I have enjoyed viewing the posts the kids have put up since graduating high school. In something akin to an educational diaspora, these 18 year- old’s are encountering their first experiences away from home. Of course that includes washing one’s own laundry, filling up on starchy food, and getting out of bed for class without mom.
The pictures are charming. Girls, arm in arm, who only a month ago were strangers, now glow, linked together in this new adventure as best friends. The boys seem less inclined to pose. Instead they splay across the floor of a dorm room, stuffing pizza and chips into their smiling mouths.
Still the experiences behind those photos may be the most profound in life. Whether the setting is a dorm, or an apartment, or a cave, the ritual remains the same.
I remember best, parked on the bathroom floor in my dorm room, talking earnestly and laughing many late nights. In my new family of girls, we revealed our essence to one another, creating a link that I cannot replicate today with new acquaintances. Established when I was naively open, without those worldly defenses I have perfected over time, those friendships have endured. Fertilized only with an occasional Christmas card, or a stray email–when we get together, we pick right up where we left off.
Helen, with no opportunity for college, shared a similar bonding experience with her “new” friends touring Europe. As discussed in my book, River of January, she danced in a ballet company called, “The American Beauties,” who together performed first in Paris, and traveled as far as Algiers from 1932 to 1933. In fact, the girl and her fellow dancers patched together their own version of a Christmas celebration at a hotel in Islamic North Africa. She too, relished the late night yakking sessions, the joy of carrying out pranks, such as the night a group of them short-sheeted the bed of two other, unsuspecting dancers. The picture above is a charming example of Helen purely celebrating life.
Later, these women remained some of the best friends Helen ever had. Traveling to her home in Miami from Los Angeles or New York, the old girls sat around Helen’s little kitchen table, enjoying drinks, reminiscing and laughing. For a short moment, seated at that tiny white table, they again were the same young dancers who had reveled in an extraordinary and memorable learning experience of their own.