Osius column: You can go back again — for a while
I ask my son how the suite looked this morning after the party. Ted speaks calmly, hoarsely. “It was pretty bad,” he says. “But it’s been much worse.”
The night before, he’d come to dinner with my three friends and me, all once students at his small Vermont college, its facilities now much expanded. At 9 p.m. when we left the restaurant, Ted was going to a “pre-game” (early party) given by some girls in their suite, then to “Voterpalooza,” a block party of all the rooms in a dorm named Voter. After Voter, he said, “We’re having a party.” He and his suitemates do that a lot. Did we even have suites?
My visit East did not include a stop at my younger son’s college, in Virginia. Roy was too busy, he informed me regretfully. Still, the absent son remained strangely present.
First someone called at 1 a.m. with a few garbled words, one seeming to be his name. I asked, “Excuse me?” and she hung up. In buzzed a text.
“Do you have Kent’s room key?”
“Is this Roy?” she texted, growing testy, then vanished again.
Via a mistake to make any kid’s blood run cold, my phone number rather than my son’s had been given out on a contact-info printout.
Other nights it was these, and all I could do was forward them:
“Suh Roy. Heard you’re on my gatorades. Is this true” (sic).
And: “Yo homes do you still have my earbuds.”
I stayed in Vermont several days, seeing my older son, climbing on the college’s wall, and hiking with area friends. My presence at the wall is familiar to some, but surely confuses others. When I asked one wiry boy about a certain “problem” (route) on the most overhanging section, he suggested I go to a different panel. He said, “This wall is all V4 [a difficult grade] and harder.”
I stared at the problem, tried it a handful of times and climbed it. The kid had wandered away (darn it), but a young woman, other kids and I swapped tips on different problems, and when Ted strolled in from rugby practice and looked around at the scene, he checked out a pair of shoes and climbed, too.
I hiked in the mountains one day with him and twice with friends. Will, Rebecca, Charlie and I told war stories, laughing at every one. Upon graduating, Will, his housemates Geoff and Bill, and one or two others climbed up Mead Chapel, tallest point on the campus, and hung an “Adios” banner off the steeple. They were apprehended by campus police and actually sent back up to remove it. Once Bill and I climbed up walls and a chimney on the Student Dining Units. On top, the ebullient Bill threw his arms wide to hug me, then stared past my shoulder and shouted, “Oh, no!” Geoff’s Jeep, aka the Pig, which Bill had borrowed and in a fit of élan parked up a stairway, was illuminated by campus-police lights. Bill clambered madly down, calling out explanations to them and Geoff, who’d been summoned from a work shift. Those two friends and mountain partners are gone, the imperturbable Geoff in his 30’s backcountry skiing in Alaska and the wild, kinetic Bill just a few years after college, in Nicaragua, driving off a bombed-out bridge.
Rebecca told a story I’d forgotten about her Labrador Sage, surreptitiously quartered in college housing, who on one excursion got stuck on a ledge, requiring of us a well-staged mountain rescue with ropes and slings.
One evening Ted and his friends asked for tales of the old wild days, and I recalled the former Otter River Raft Race. It was fun, cold, wet and debauched. Shuttling back, Charlie missed a turn, drove a borrowed car into the river, and had to escape through a window. The car, upside-down, was extricated by a crane and two scuba divers.
Ted’s friends complained, “We never get to do anything cool like that anymore.”
After dinner with my crew, Ted went off into the night, destined to be up until 2 or 3 a.m. Charlie, Will, Rebecca and I didn’t envy him: we didn’t want to go out further. The cozy B and B and a book sounded good to me.
Ted graduates this spring. I ask if he will be sad to go, and he says yes. I do not miss being a student myself; that was then. But I sure will miss him being one.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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