Joe Kind, A Guy
I hate to admit it, but there is something special about going for a drive.
I don’t have a car here, and I don’t want to pay for a Dartmouth Coach ticket. I lack the initiative to plan a trip via Advance Transit. A fall walk sounds pleasant in concept, but doesn’t quite fill the void.
Last fall, I made plans to go to a high school championship swim meet to support my friend’s younger sister. It was to be a full Saturday — nearly a three-hour drive one-way — but I wanted to go, despite all of my mounting work. We would leave shortly after our morning swim practice, around 11:30 a.m.
That morning, however, one of our assistant coaches announced to the team that he would be leaving the program at the end of the month to be closer to family and pursue other endeavors beyond coaching. He told us at the very beginning of practice, on the pool deck. We had no time to process the news.
I experienced my first “croggle” that morning, a term referring to goggles that fill up with tears.
The sensation is strange. In a regular swim practice, it is common for squiggles of water to brim in the corners of my goggles. My eyes can feel it, but are never irritated.
Croggles are irritating. Relief only happens when the goggles are lifted up and onto the forehead. And in long swim practices, with few breaks at the wall, such opportunities are rare.
My eyes weren’t so much crying, really. Heating up is a better way to put it. They itched, and they burned.
That practice, I swam on autopilot — seemingly without seeing anything.
I wasn’t sure if I was up for the swim meet after that morning. I wanted to go, but now I had a lot to process. I remember eating a rushed FoCo breakfast, a rare thing for me. As I was walking briskly back to my room across the Green, my friend called me. Forced to press pause, I sprawled myself out on the Green across from Rauner Library. It was a hazy and overcast morning, the usual fall chill.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” my friend asked me over the phone.
“I mean, I want to go,” my voice trailed. “But it’s not like I am in the best of states.”
A brief moment of silence filled the conversation.
“You should come,” my friend said. “The ride is long.”
It was decided.
I picked up my things and walked to the Mid Mass parking lot, half in shame and half in excitement. Our playlists were ready, even if I was not.
Before the meet started, we headed to her house for lunch. It was pretty close to what I had pictured, at the end of a windy cul-de-sac with a two-car garage. My friend’s mother had made us a delightful spread to fill us up happily for what was to come. We were given a house tour, and my friend loaned us Shenendehowa High School shirts to look the part for the meet.
It is one thing to meet a friend’s parents, and it is another thing to step into a friend’s home. Homes bring a whole new perspective into a friendship, becoming more layered as a result of the process. Seeing physical manifestations of the quirks you unconsciously know so well, and of the stories you have heard time and time again — they allow you to better understand that person and the qualities you like most about them.
The swim meet was everything I had expected it to be. My friend had built up the hype significantly over the last few days, and the hype delivered. The pool was packed with parents, grandparents, little kids and friends.
I followed my friend across the pool deck and through the stands as she made eye contact with and waved at all the familiar faces to her. Her sister had a fantastic swim meet, as did her closest friends on the team, but alas, the rival school inched away with the championship. This year’s meet is sure to be another crowd-pleaser.
We stopped for Chipotle on the way home. The real reason driving most of my get-away trips — food. I cheerfully utilized my newfound legality and splurged on what turned out to be a crappy margarita. It was so bad I didn’t want to finish it, but the purchase in itself was a satisfying one nonetheless.
We returned to campus well into the evening, around 10 or 11 p.m., whereupon I quickly went to sleep. It had been a long day. The next day would be a late one, surely.
There is something about this time of year, the late fall. Autumn colors dissolving with the leaves, skies blending into shades of blue-grey as the days shorten — the calm before the academic storm of papers and practice tests, then the real tests. No matter where I am, I want to get off campus. Even if just for a moment.