College Reunions & Problem Buckets

Jun 07

I won’t be traveling 3,000 miles to Saratoga Springs this month to tempt nostalgia at my 20-year college reunion. To think I graduated two decades ago is as perplexing as the fact that skinny jeans and boyfriend blazers with rolled up cuffs are considered fashion-forward again.

Since I won’t be visiting my renovated alma mater, I’ll miss out on clinking martini glasses while reminiscing with former classmates about how much Coors Light out of a keg tasted like stale urine.

Instead, I’m here, in front of a Mac that doesn’t offer up a smiley face when I turn it on. And instead of the machine gun fire of a Brother Word Processor automatic typewriter, all I’ll hear when I’m finished is the sweet, subtle sound of a mouse click.

The future from then is now. I don’t believe in letting nostalgia get the better of me, so rather than falling into the abyss of past hookups, heartaches and hickies, I’ve picked a single defining moment as a point of reflection and celebration.

It changed who I was and who I came to be. It will sound simple, perhaps. It may seem like common sense. But remember, the human brain isn’t fully formed until one’s early 20’s, so cut the 19-year-old me some slack.


She had bright blue eyes and a grand sense of humor. It was probably sometime past 10 o’clock, probably on a weekend. We might have been drinking (Miller Lite out of a bottle). Or eating pizza (Dominos delivered). Or both.

In my eyes, she was part of a big group of friends that I circled like a moon to a planet. I lurked on their periphery, like a kid who has just moved to a new town. I was welcomed, but always two steps behind the conversations, jokes and gossip.

I was playing the role I had always played with my high school buddies: Therapist Friend. I was a good listener. I was a good hugger. I gave decent advice. An adult had told me I was very insightful for a teenager, so I knew this comfortable role as Problem Bucket and Strong Shoulder was right for me.

But all this strength hid two secrets: I didn’t think I was all that strong and I didn’t think any of my own fears were worth listening to. They were never as bad as my friends’ problems. After all, they really needed help. I would just be whining. I would look weak. No one would like me anymore.

So the doctor was always in. I carried my own bucket, with all of theirs stacked on top of it.

But now, after years as Therapist Friend, my Problem Bucket was heavy and my strong shoulders were sagging. And although I certainly had good friends, something was missing. My not-yet-fully-formed brain had no words for what that was, until this moment.

I don’t remember what Blue Eyes and I had been talking about while we maybe drank beer and maybe ate pizza. In my memory, she sat to my right on my bed (because there’s no other place to sit in a 9 x 12 dorm room) with her feet dangling over the edge. Maybe she was telling me something she hadn’t told many people. Maybe she was sharing a fear that I had always carried but never said out loud.

Suddenly, deep inside my under-formed brain, a synapse snapped forward, attaching itself to another and creating a new neural pathway. Something pushed me forward. A little voice poked at me. It said, “You’re safe.” It said, “Just try.”

And I timidly, fearfully but quite deliberately, revealed something that showed I wasn’t completely self-assured. I wasn’t completely without fault. I wasn’t completely without my own struggles, both internal and external.

The decision was so darn conscious; I have to pat my 19-year-old self on the back. Even if I wasn’t sure why it was important, I knew I had to do it.  I was afraid of what she would do – she might take her Problem Bucket and go home – but I knew the doctor needed to stretch out on that damn couch for once.

When she stayed and listened to what I had to say – when she didn’t run, didn’t screw up her face in disgust – when she took my Problem Bucket, peered inside and then lifted it over her shoulder – my tiny dorm room instantly expanded. My brain expanded. In a matter of moments, I discovered I didn’t have to be happy and perfect and without insecurities in order to create and keep a friendship.

Yes, in retrospect, as a 42-year-old adult, that seems like common sense. But back then, it was like jumping off a cliff and not quite knowing if you had remembered a parachute.

Those few seconds with that funny Blue Eyed Gal made roots spring out of our feet and into the ground where they’ve since intertwined. As I revealed my imperfect, sometimes scared self, she accepted me as human. I didn’t have to give up being the strong one when she needed a shoulder, but I also didn’t have to pretend that I never needed to lean on someone. I finally had words for what had been missing: trust, reciprocity, connection.

Those roots burrow deep. This friendship has lasted over 20 years. I love her. I rely upon her. I depend upon her to call me when she’s stuck in life’s mud so I can pull her out. And I know if I yell for help, her hand is one of the first that I grab. We have laughed for hours and cried for and with each other. We have pulled each other along creatively and emotionally. We’ve applauded and cheered for each other and simply shook our heads when there’s been nothing else to say.

When you’ve known someone for over two decades, really known them, including the time before your brains were fully formed, there is a delicate and precious understanding of each other’s growth and character. From bad habits broken to the blossoming of self-awareness. My understanding of myself is doubled because I’ve known her so long. She points out the things I don’t want to see or can’t and allows me to do the same for her.

In more ways than one, she gave me Hope. I raise my Problem Bucket to her and toast with a fully formed brain and heart. Happy 20th Reunion, Dollface.


10 Responses to “College Reunions & Problem Buckets”

  1. Andy S. says:

    I always have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that people I knew in HS are the same people today. A few probably are, to be sure (I won't name names), but most of us are simply not the same human. I know I cringe to think of people I haven't seen since (which technically includes you :-)) remembering me as that guy, and that's what your post today reminds me of.

  2. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Good point, Andy S. Thanks for the reminder…I need to remember that my brain wasn\’t the only one that exploded in synapse connections.

  3. Jen says:

    Well this was a lovely read! Thank you for posting! So true! Coincidentally a friend who has known me since we were 3 emailed me saying hello this morning.

    And if I may add, it's that moment too, for me at least, when you also realize, like a good friend, a romantic partner will recognize your imperfections too. You don't need to hide them from anyone truly worth knowing. Thanks again!

  4. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Thank you! And quite true; I often think our really good friendships are great practice for romantic relationships…without all the nakedness.

  5. betty says:

    Exquisite description of an enduring friendship!

  6. Kari Kohl says:

    LOVE IT!

  7. Alfi says:

    You've been out of school for 20 years! Eeeeeeeek!!!
    Excuse me while I dodder off to the gym.
    And yes, I know whom you mean.

  8. Q Spray says:

    I am way different than you I guess. I mean, I have always wanted to meet all my long lost friends and spend some time with them. It is always a good feeling when we actually unite with all of them again.

  9. Pateser says:


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