The scene replayed itself over and over again my freshman year: Allegra and I lay sprawled on the floor of her dorm room in South Quad, in sweatshirts and sweatpants or our infamous fleece “sacks” – ingenious inventions of apparel that few males have seemed to be capable of appreciating. This was the assumed position from which we’d regularly count down the days until we could escape the S’quad and go home for Thanksgiving; I remember that when that count first began, it stood at a staggering and dismal 11 weeks.
But now it’s been 115 weeks since the first of many splays on the floor in a room with its window facing East Madison – a window that, when I sometimes pass South Quad late at night, I still look out for to see if the light in 6433 might be on.
One-hundred-fifteen weeks changes a lot, and “going home” for Thanksgiving is now a phrase with a far different semantic gloss than used to read when I was a freshman. When this column goes out to press and the Dailys hit the stacks on Monday morning, I’ll still be here in Connecticut where there’s six inches of snow and I can see Moses (a horse) from my old bedroom window. In the interest of a sense of shame, I will not mention the (active) rooster or the pair of “Hary Coos,” Scottish Highland Cattle, next door.
One-hundred-fifteen weeks later there’s a computer and a pile of boxes in my old bedroom, but there hasn’t been a bed here for at least 26. 115 weeks later I haven’t seen some of my closest friends from high school in more than 52. One-hundred-fifteen weeks later, running into a quasi-ex-flame from 1999 doesn’t provide the social aggravation – and hence, of course, the excitement – that it did in November 2000.
The first Thanksgiving home unfairly carries too many expectations, to recapture 18 years of friendships can’t depend on one dead, stuffed bird. Two years ago I took four planes in five days, traveling for 12 hours between layovers and delays on the Wednesday before just to make it home. I swore to my mother that I was never coming home for Thanksgiving again, and a year and another tedious layover later, I was back.
But each year it’s become clearer that the greater Storrs area is not the social metropolis that, waxing nostalgic, I’ve sometimes remembered it to be. The focus of the scene is a little restaurant called Kathy John’s, open ’til 11 p.m. in the peak of the summer and to 10 p.m. all other months, where at every opportunity the rookie alumni of my high school congregate to eat ice cream and tip poorly. Two years ago, when I’d finally recovered from the orneriness that air travel never fails to bestow, sitting in a four-person booth with seven or eight other people I’d known since fourth grade was the most comfortable feeling in the world.
So last Wednesday night my friend Elena, the one person in the world who still consistently shortens my nickname, Hanne, to Hans, drove us to KJ’s where we waded in the senior-year-of-high-school memory of stomaching the “bell-ringer,” a towering sundae worth a half gallon of ice cream and a veritable tub of toppings, bananas and whipped cream. The event had ended like a scene from a movie – people cheering and whooping. We were so full as we neared the end that we finished the last melted scoops through bendy-straws – one of those memories where, with each telling, the fish gets a little bit bigger.
But this year the slippery slope of the downfall of teen-hood made itself unignorably manifest. When Elena and I arrived, the restaurant was, to be sure, filled with familiar faces. The problem was that I could barely attach a single name to face – the tables were filled with people I recognized from the halls of high school my senior year, the “freshman” who were now driving cars and picking up the checks for their girlfriends.
Later that night, the kids just a year younger than us spilled in en masse, but gone to grad school and jobs – even “careers” – were the people we’d always remembered. It had been out with the old, and our “generation” of the kids of the tri-town area had become, well, the old.
The final nail in the coffin of childhood anamnesis: my usual raspberry sundae with chocolate-raspberry ice cream came back to me as a hot fudge sundae with black raspberry ice cream.
One-hundred-fifteen weeks later, I’m ready to lie on the floor in my sack and wail my threnody again; this is the life-change the health teachers should really be warning the sixth graders about.
Johanna Hanink can be found in Stucchi’s, hoping she’s still young enough to get her usual, and afterward will be reachable at email@example.com.