Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kevin and Emily

The world has connectors. People who introduce people to other people, who build ever-expanding social networks. People who play matchmaker.

I’m usually not one of those people.

I appreciate my social pockets--different people for different settings and occasions, and none of the messiness of having to play the middleman and explain inside jokes and make sure everyone’s having a good time.

But sometimes, even for humble, insular souls like myself, the universe has other plans.

It was sophomore year at Geneseo, and I sat in Steuben Hall, across a walkway from my own dorm in Livingston. As Saturday nights went, this was a pretty tame one. I spent the October evening chatting, sipping from a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew in the room of two friends from freshman year, Cathy and Emily. We had the door propped open and, if memory serves, we watched Saturday Night Live.

Then I heard voices in the hallway. DJ and Kevin.

I had my dorm friends. I had my newspaper friends. The two most substantial and well-defined cohorts of my college life. The extent of the overlap between them was that sometimes my dorm friends would read the newspaper.

But that all changed.

I called out to DJ and Kevin and they found their way into Emily and Cathy’s room. Rather than saying hello and moving along they lingered through the end of SNL and later still. I recall marveling at the sight of DJ and Cathy interacting--DJ with his larger than life personality, all but incapable of holding a conversation that didn’t include talk of sex, drugs, or both. Cathy, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, but reserved, bookish, introverted. Yet the two of them chatted easily, like old friends.

The five of us ended up upstairs in Kevin’s single, with a rotating cast of his neighbors visiting briefly in the hours to follow. Before too long, Cathy returned downstairs to turn in for the night. Then DJ was on his way. Finally, I sat alone on Kevin’s old-fashioned leather love seat while Kevin and Emily sat across the way, side by side on his bed, an over-sized hardcover book splayed between them, the front cover on his right thigh, the back cover on her left. And for all of my reservations about being a connector, about having to bridge the gap between new acquaintances--I all at once realized that I was the third wheel.

And I left.

I’m not sure how you can determine when such things officially begin, but within days, Kevin and Emily were a couple, and it became altogether routine for some permutation of the five of us who hung out that night to grab dinner or coffee together, joined by other newspaper and dorm folk, further blurring the lines between my social circles. In the weeks to follow, Emily and Cathy joined the newspaper staff. I particularly recall Springfest--the annual end-of-spring-semester outdoors festival. A group of us visited booths, listened to music, played games, and had a picture taken of the five of us at a western-themed photo booth. I’m still not sure why I gravitated to that dress when it came time to make wardrobe selections. Putting that aside, the photo remains a marker of one of the best days at one of the best times of my life.

Kevin graduated that spring and in the coming fall Emily studied abroad in Spain. The dynamics of my social life were pretty different with two of my best friends absent, and given their own distance from one another, there was every reason to think the relationship might not last.

But it did.

One of the things that has most impressed me about Kevin and Emily’s story is how little drama it has entailed. Maybe they’re just good at keeping drama from the public eye, or I’m not as observant as I should be, but they handled international long distance with aplomb and when Emily came back to Geneseo that spring, Kevin returned, too, as a fairly regular weekend fixture. Senior year, Emily and I shared a two-bedroom apartment, and one of the happiest returns was the fact that I could count on seeing Kevin, too, at least a couple times each month for overnight visits. When I look back at photos from my college years, I’m always a tad wistful, a tad amused to look at all of the couples that have come and gone (not the least of which include my series girlfriends that never quite worked out). It’s comforting to know that, all these years later, Kevin and Emily have remained a matched pair.

In the years after college, I didn’t see a lot of Kevin or Emily. Particularly after I had moved to Maryland, and after Kevin and Emily had moved to Indiana, contact became all the less regular.

Then, last spring, I decided I was due for a long road trip. I charted a course from Baltimore to St. Louis for a major a cappella competition, and reasoned that I had no alternative but to stop in Indianapolis along the way.

I’d be lying if I claimed that, alongside my excitement for the reunion, I didn’t feel a twinge of the trepidation that comes with seeing folks you haven’t associated with for a period of years. Would they have changed? Would I have changed? How transferrable would our college friendship be to life seven years later?

I’m pleased to say it was one of the most effortless reunions and visits I can recall having. Good friends can work their way into conversation after they haven’t been in contact for a long time. For great friendships, the end results are the same, but none of the work is necessary. We hugged. We drank craft beer and plum wine. We referenced old inside jokes and built new ones as we wandered downtown Indianapolis and played video games on Kevin’s new 8-bit Nintendo emulator. By the end of the visit, my only regret was not planning to stay longer.

Which brings us to now--or next weekend, to be more specific. Eleven years after my worlds collided when my dorm friends met the newspaper crew, Kevin and Emily are getting married. I’m not sure which among our old friends made the guest list or were able to work the date into their calendars, but I do know that I feel positively honored to be an usher for the event.

When I look ahead to next weekend, I selfishly can’t escape the sensation that this wedding is a celebration of a beautiful life I used to know. More importantly, it’s a celebration of a love that survived it, and kept at least a piece of that life alive and thriving.

I can’t wait.

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