It is not until I am sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, around halfway through this nostalgic day that it all strikes me. This view of the lake is not particularly pretty, and it is a quiet moment where I am now waxing reflective and trying to kill time before the next event. But I think of my closest friend from these days at school, who is not here, and I smile as I remember a keg and bonfire by the lake, and her red cup full of apple juice. I have relived this story many times, and more or less every time I find myself with a cup of juice in my hands. But here I am recalling the years at college, and the many people I met, the rituals of pledging, and the new people I have met because of my association with this underground organization.
There have been years where you could be kicked off the campus of this elitist dual set of schools, for being a member of this group, but that is a sad and tragic turn, because there is something truly unique, and deeply connective about it. Even though I am here alone, and throughout the day I see the solitaries standing and watching, me among them, there is a sense of acceptance, at least from me, as to who I am, and an acceptance of this aspect of my life that has been long in coming.
I had stopped by to say hello to the now so much noticeably older weeping mulberry tree that housed my body on many occasions over those years, now its branches are neatly trimmed but then, it was a hiding place from the rain, and maybe at times campus security. I touch the bark of this tree and call it my old friend, a branch catches my hair, and I believe the spirit of the tree recognizes me after all these years. It reveals a face to me in its twisted branches. But I am like this tree, I am twisted and weeping, and yet I see tiny fruits ready to begin forming, and the tree is fully healthy and yet so unique as it stands here among the ginkgos and pines and hardwood trees. It has a character that exudes, a spirit that is alive and well, a strength now that endures, and though it stands alone, I see later that others of my group have photos of this tree on their pages, I am alone but I am not.
In the evening as I drink my seltzer and cranberry juice, and warm my deeply cold hands on two cups of coffee, while so many around me are well in their cups. We gather together, repeating our vow, chanting our songs, and catching up with old friends, and meeting new, I feel a sense of being separate from all of this, and yet connected to it all.
Perhaps there is a reason this group must be underground, as I look at these people, artisans, social workers, teachers, lawyers, people who work in finance, theater, schools, galleries, as substance abuse counselors, and who knows what all, it is filled with outsiders, filled with artists (by definition is this not an outsider?) filled with gays and lesbians, filled with people who try to make a difference in this world, it is good to be connected in our differences though we must hide ourselves from the approval of those in charge. Is this not what I learned in college? To embrace myself, poor, driven and hardworking.
I think of my daughter now, and all I can do is wish this on her, a chance to be a part of something that has carried on now for more than a full generation, that would enrich her life as this has mine. I ache for her, I ache for her loss, and how it has wrenched her life, and if I could I would hurt him with it, to make him feel some portion of the pain he has caused her.
It is lonely though. I realize I have always been an outsider, even in this group, but where I find acceptance is not with whom I spent all that time, but now, in reflection after so many years the acceptance is deep within myself. If I could I would thank him for the pain he caused me, because I have left so much other pain behind. My daughter may not ever get that chance and it wrenches my heart.