"Look, kids, it's the Pentagon!"

6 August 2001

In my bones, I remember what it feels like to have summer in Nebraska. I remember what the heat is like, the humidity, the way all the colors bleach out. Fierce heat. I remember what it's like to stand out in the sudden rainstorms that come in Nebraska in the summer, when the rain pours down in sheets and you can get every inch of you soaked out in the rain. I remember what it's like to stand there with my head back laughing in the rain, and what it's like to stand in the garage with all the garage smells and what it's like to come into the air-conditioned house and towel off my hair so that I don't get too cold too fast.

I remember summer in Minnesota, too, not as deeply, but I do remember. Not as hot, more humid. Slower heat. I remember the smell of green things growing by the lake and the air off the river road at night. I remember how much better Blizzards taste when you sit on the top of a picnic table at the DQ and it's so swelteringly hot that you avoid the metal studs in the picnic table as much as you can. I remember how picking raspberries makes the weather feel ten degrees hotter, and how it's worth it.

I remember summer. Even though here we only have wet and dry, no other seasons.

But I did not remember summer in D.C. I'd been there before, twice, in the summer months. I'd forgotten how thick the air is, how humid it is, how it can be unbearably hot on days when you never see the sun. I'd forgotten how the sun comes up through the haze and looks like a CNN crisis, day six, sunrise over the Pentagon, only it's not piped direct to your living room, it's right there. I forgot all that.

I remember now.

There's a lot of stuff I remember after this weekend. I remember that Michelle and I rub off on each other in ten seconds flat and spend the rest of the weekend being each other's dark side. Or light side. Each other's photo negative. Exactly same, but totally different. I remember that Scott is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when they've given him reason not to, whether that reason was years ago or five minutes ago.

I remember that Ed, even when he has something to say, shuts his mouth entirely when he listens, and that he really listens. I remember that Jen is a fount of interesting questions. I remember that Rachel and I can spend half an hour arguing about an issue we don't really disagree on, fundamentally. And that at the end of that half hour, she can say, "But I don't want to get into a political argument." And really mean it. I remember how easy Aaron is to bedevil, and how much fun. I remember that Nellie isn't all sweetness and light -- but that the sweetness and light she has are genuine.

There's a lot of stuff I tend to forget about the old crowd. Some of it I never knew in college. I never knew Yourchuck could dance. The first wedding we went to, I was absolutely floored watching Marte-girl and Yore dance, because Yore was smooth, and I had just never associated that adjective with him at all. I never talked much to Marte-girl -- I didn't know how much she could make me laugh, back in college. In college, I never wanted to protect Erica. And in college, I almost never got to see Lars be really serious about anything. I knew, somewhere, that he was really serious about the group of us, that our crowd meant something to him. And as serious as he is about keeping all of us in his life, he's a lot more serious about Krissy. In contrast with the frankly goofy associations I have with Lars, it was even more meaningful to watch him put everything he had into his vows and mean every word of them.

So it was a good weekend. Yeah. I'll say it was.

Perfect? Oh, by no means. Keep in mind that we were driving around Washington, DC. And it seems that there are very few wrong turns in DC -- and very many suboptimal ones. Also, the carpool lanes out here do not actively trap you for eleven miles with no exit and force you to visit the Pentagon. Not so in DC. In fact, I can't count the number of times Scott had opportunity to say, "Look, kids, it's the Pentagon!"

I've often heard people claim that you don't appreciate what you have until you think you're going to lose it. Not true. Not true at all. I appreciated the crowd in college. Every last one of them, as I got to know them. I appreciated the gestalt. I remember sitting at parties being totally and completely happy, feeling safe, feeling that I would be okay as long as these people were around. I didn't have to have it reduced to a once a year gathering to notice how good it was.

There are things that are better now than they were in college, and I wouldn't go back if I could. And a weekend like this one was nothing like going back. Everybody was coordinating activities on cell phones. Everybody was aware of how much time we don't have together, of how long it had been and of what might change before next time. This was the first year we talked about kids. Chris and Daph already have two, but they haven't really been around for events like this since graduation. So the rest of us are only now starting to think in terms of plans that long-term. We have probable candidates for the first people to bring a baby to a gathering like this. (And no, it's none of your business who.) Our lives are moving on, of course, and everybody says, "Oh, come visit me! We'll do this, we'll do that!" But the great thing is, we do. In the last year, since the last wedding (Rachel and Ben's), I've seen a good half dozen people who don't live in this city. When we get to Minneapolis, we have vague intentions to see some people and firm promises from others.

Does this sound a bit too idyllic? I mean, am I gushing too much? Maybe so. But each year it seems a little more magical when we don't fall apart. Each year some of the old crap is cleared away just a little more, some old grudge seems a little bit more pointless and distant. But it's not getting replaced by indifference. The first year after they'd all graduated, Em just about broke my heart talking about how good it felt to hang out in her hotel room and just take a nap while Amber and Aaron talked. It was all more immediate then, but no more important.

We get to keep these people. We really do. That's so cool. And it makes me feel more confident when I make new friends who are deeply loved and deeply cool, that I can say to them, "Yes, you will still be important to me down the line. I will still make time for you." Of course not every friendship can last. There just aren't enough hours in the day, not enough plane tickets in the world. But for some people, you make the effort.

Tomorrow I'll show you pictures of these people. In the meantime, sleep well. I had to get up at 5:30 Eastern time to get on the plane. I live on Pacific time. You do the math.

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