A dear colleague has just this week seen her oldest daughter off to university in another city. Seeing it from her perspective, it’s been a tough time of letting go, trusting that they’ve done all they can as parents to raise a smart kid who will be just fine. And she will be, I have no doubts at all. I say that with the confidence of having been that teenager heading off alone, many years ago.
And in coincidental timing, I recently spent a long weekend with group of old (in the length of friendship sense, not the age sense, or so I’d like to think) and beloved friends who I met in my first years of university. Most of them in the first week of my first year, in fact. I told my colleague this, pointing out that these people and the other friends who couldn’t be there that weekend but who are just as important, make up the bedrock my adult self is built on.
These friends, despite the passing of two entire decades since our first messy years of student life, still look exactly the same to me. There are now kids and mortgages and cars with current WOFs and we’re drinking out of glasses with stems and not mugs with handles, but the friendships haven’t changed at all. There are the same bad jokes, the long-standing mockeries, a lot of “do you remember that time when….” and the tale doesn’t even need to be regaled in full because everyone knows exactly what you’re on about (and in this case usually ends with “and then Hucker was on the roof telling everyone to f*ck off”. That story never gets old).
There is much to be said for friendships forged in the roaring intensity of these years. We were kids trying to figure out who and where we were in the world, away from home and high on the freedom. We had absolutely no idea what the hell we were doing, but we thought we knew it all. We were brave and wild and scared and confused. Perhaps most significantly of all, we were in it together.
There were questionable fashion choices (nose piercing and op shopping for 70’s cardigans, anyone?). There were even more dubious choices in bed partners and beverages (not by me, obviously, and as an unrelated aside, hi Mom!). There was hard work and partying hard, new interests (pretty sure amongst us all we signed up for every club and class going. Signed up, note. We may or may not have actually gone), and new music discoveries.
There were draughty flats and late nights, break ups and make ups, tears and dramas and unfortunate hair colouring episodes which seemed like very good choices at the time. (Key learning for the ages: colouring your hair bright red, as in fire engine red, when one has a mane of somewhat unruly curls, even when inspired by a girl crush, will without fail leave you ending up looking more Ronald McDonald than Gwen Stefani).
I’ve got no idea how but we all made it through the academic side of things and we are now actual grownups with Proper Jobs. Clearly I was surrounded by geniuses, because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t our study habits getting those results. We made it through these years relatively unscathed, and any ‘scathing’ was surely the necessary kind. There were life-changing episodes of depression and grief, new for both those going through them and those learning to support them in this new and scary reality.
Bad nutrition and uneven sleep habits don’t seem to have had too many permanent effects. Apparently man can live on 2 Minute Noodles and beer alone.
The ‘in jokes’ remain even now. The nicknames hold, even if there is bickering about the origin of the monikers now as it was so long ago. We get together nowadays in far more civilised settings – at houses without suspicious and random holes in the walls, or at bars with paneled floorboards which aren’t hosed down at the end of the night. These catch-ups don’t happen as often as we’d like, as we’re scattered far and wide now. Between kids and jobs and businesses and the like, quick online conversations suffice until the stars align and we’re in the same place at the same time.
And those times, when they happen, are awesome.
Looking back, my move was potentially far harder on my beloved parents than it ever was for me. I could well be totally wrong and they were actually secretly thrilled to see the back of me but it must’ve been a little daunting to have to send their firstborn off in to the wilderness of the south when they’d been right there for every single tottering step up until that point of her life.
Comforting my friend at work as she goes through the hard part of the process, I had to share with her that from her daughter’s standpoint, going away to Uni might well be amongst the best decisions of her life. It was one of mine. It was never about getting away from home. It was about finding my place.
So to the kids packing their bags and heading off to ridiculously small dorm rooms and dodgy flats this February, I wish you all the very best. May you experience all there is to be had in your first year and beyond. Be brave. Say yes to adventures. Take photos. But not at the expense of living in the moment. Because many years later you will hopefully experience moments which remind you of how you became the person you are now, and you will have a flash of profound gratitude and love for those fellow bright and glorious spirits who were right there beside you. I know I do.
P.S. One of those friends I made in that first week of my first year? The Southern Man. The love of my entire
life. True story xxx