Guo: Duchenne Smiles
June, 2052. Mimosa count: 4. We raised our glasses, (at least) one sparkling alcoholic orange beverage each.
“To… Dartmouth?” I ask.
A pause. Calin answers. “To trips?”
“To Isaac?” Cori says.
“And Hannah,” someone adds.
“To 35 years?” another voice asks.
“39,” Kelley corrects.
No one objects.
“To 39 years,” we say in unison.
We clink our glasses and take a healthy sip before returning to the menu. We haven’t seen each other in years — not since the last Reunions.
Calin, Kelley, Cori and I sit in the middle of Pine, two tables away from the window that looks out over the “Dartmouth Reunions!” banner hanging in front of Collis. The class of 2017 has returned 35 years later.
February, 2016. Mimosa count: almost 3. Calin threw her classic “Big Weekend” party, complete with beers fancier than Keystone and homemade guacamole perfectly suited for Tostitos scoops. The four of us convened on her bed, preparing for candid photos.
Photo #7: Calin is leaning against the bed, her head tilted backward until it rests under Kelley’s chin. She’s smiling with her eyes closed, wearing the necklace that the three of us bought her for her debutante ball. Kelley, according to her, is “fixing her hair,” with dangling hands framing her face and only one sleeve rolled up to her elbow. My arm is awkwardly resting below my sternum, mid-laugh with pieces of my hair statically resting on Cori’s orange-red shirt. Cori, arguably, looks the most normal. Her head is tilted so just slightly more than her profile is captured, exposing her heart earring and her two necklaces.
Photo #16: Calin and Kelley are looking directly into the camera, Duchenne smiles adorning both their faces. I am looking off to the side (Why? I have no idea). Cori is leaning forward, happily shocked, eyebrows raised and mouth open in a “D.” In just a week, she’ll be able to order a mimosa with us.
January, 2016: Mimosa count: 2. Campus was covered with snow as we returned to Hanover for junior winter. We reunited in Pine: a Texan, a Floridian, a New Jerseyan and a Virginian. At this point, only Calin and I were 21.
Just a few weeks earlier, we had all flown down to Texas for Calin’s debutante ball. We wore long dresses, strolled in heels, sprayed our hair firm and drank cocktails from the open bar. We were so proud of her — beautiful in a white gown and white gloves, walking and curtsying down the center stage with her father. That was our friend — our best friend — who formally debuted into society in a ritual that, while still foreign to me, held great importance for her and her family.
September, 2013. Mimosa count: 0. I left for trips before the sun had risen in Fairfax, Virginia, wearing a light blue Adidas shirt and dark blue shorts. My red frame pack rested comfortably above my hipbones — a new buy with a convenient zipper down the middle allowing for easy access to all contents at the bottom. I put on eyeliner that morning, hoping that it would last for the next five days. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)
Dartmouth was bustling when I arrived. I was young, nervous, overly enthusiastic about meeting new people — the kind of enthusiasm that tends to alienate the introverted and exhaust even the overtly social.
Many Salty Dog Rags later, we gathered into our trip groups — H933: Community Service. There were six of us, Kelley, Cori, Calin, Brian, Gautham and me, along with our trip leaders Isaac and Hannah.
On the first official day of hiking, we summited Mt. Mist. We took a photo next to the wooden sign, “MT MIST: 2230’.” Brian, Calin, Isaac, Gautham and I are standing in the back. Hannah, Cori and Kelley are squatting in front. The sun filters in through the leaves, still green, creating calico patterns on our bodies that quite successfully hid our sweat stains.
Soon after, while walking on flat terrain, I sprained my ankle and spent the next three and a half hours hopped up on Ibuprofen. We ate lunch near a lake, spreading peanut butter and jelly on tortilla bread and adding Country Time lemonade to our water bottles.
That night, we arrived at our cabin, complete with running water and a wooden swing on the porch. We volunteered at Glencliff Home the next day, a home for the elderly and mentally ill. (Thanks to my swollen ankle, I spent the day in a wheelchair). We tie-dyed shirts, sang karaoke, played games — but, mostly, we listened to the residents’ memories of the past and their versions of the present.
By day three, my trippees and I had grown comfortable around each other. Later, we would argue that our easy comfort, unforced, resulted from choosing “Community Service” over Hiking 1 or Cabin Camping. We never determined whether our friendship stemmed from the embarrassing moments we shared with one another after picking the red Skittle, nor did we conclude that our friendship developed despite several rounds of Mafia during which the Detective failed to identify the Murderer. Perhaps it was swinging together in the mornings or stargazing at the Lodge. Perhaps it was what happened after trips — running down Mass Row during a downpour, chugging Goldfish together after a bitter phone call, baking cakes in Fahey McLane, almost completing the Lou’s Challenge not once but twice. And more. Much, much more.
Finding a family at college is no easy task. Finding one on the first day of school is nearly impossible. We have watched each other grow, enduring the stress of mistakes and the fear of failure. You have been my support system — steady, steadfast. I cannot imagine a Dartmouth without you three.
Hanya Yanagihara once wrote, “Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”
So thank you, trippees, for sharing with me your dismal — and joyous — moments, and allowing me to share mine with you.