The Big Chill

Do people realize when something they do is a game changer? Did Madonna know that performing “Like a Virgin” on the first MTV Video Music Awards would become an iconic pop culture moment? When Apple launched the Macintosh did they realize they would change the way the world works? How about when Bob Geldof and Midge Ure formed Band Aid to raise money for Africa by singing, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Could they have predicted celebrities using their power to heal the world would one day be de rigueur?

1984 was a big year for game changers. And on a personal note, with hair as big as my dreams, I left for college. Within the first week, I met my BBFs, and through knowing them, nothing in my life has ever been the same.

This might sound dramatic, but how I ended up in the same dorm with them had a fair share of 18-year old drama anyways. Ms. Smartypants (yours truly) thought the world was her oyster, and all schools would beg to have her pearls of incomparable wisdom. Several rejections later, I was lucky enough to get into just one place: the University of Michigan. That probably had more to do with their desire for out-of-state tuition than anything else, but I took it. I knew nothing of the Midwest, and I chose Michigan not for its stellar academics, Big Ten sports, or any other normal reasons. I picked it because I liked The Big Chill, a movie most memorable for its portrayal of the death of post-collegiate dreams, the heaviness of adult responsibilities, the destructive nature of discontent, and of course, the power of lifelong friendships. This may seem to be an odd motivator for a teen, but deep down I always knew that suburban life’s quagmire was my milieu, so that sort of future wasn’t just inevitable (as it is for pretty much all of us), it was appealing. Anyways, after a brief landing in an all-girls dorm (the “Virgin Vault”), I transferred into the epicenter of debauchery and home of my soon-to-be BBFs, West Quad.

College was camp on steroids; it’s the place where you can lose your mind but find yourself. That first year was a virtual mosh-pit of hormones and reality-altering experiences served up in a haze of Purple Rain and White Russians. There were all-nighters and early morning classes, walks of shame and football games, and the most intoxicating freedom any of us had ever experienced. We held each other’s hands and had each other’s backs, and four years later, we’d cemented our bonds and sworn our sisterhood. By the time we graduated, one of us was on the road to law school and marriage, another was city bound and, unbeknownst to her, only months from finding her soulmate, and I was in the panicked throes of transitioning from the cocoon of friendship and beer that were my college years.

At the core of my freak-out was what would become of us? What would I do without my BBFs?

Once I emerged from the nihilistic fog of post-college doldrums, I realized that although nothing would ever be the same, I would always have my college BBFs because in the end, like army buddies or child actors, together we’d weathered some of the most pivotal coming-of-age storms. That we still liked each other — LOVED each other, in fact — after living on top of each other for four years in debased dorms, squalid apartments, and trashed spring break hotel rooms was a testament to our staying power, not to mention a collective lack of a sense of smell. We not only shared clothes, booze, and endless packages of raman noodles, but also interests, values, and senses of humor. When I got that, I knew that even though our life experiences might take us in opposite directions, we’d always be able to pick up right where we left off. And funny enough, that is the one post-college revelation that’s held. (Well, that and the idea there’s no such thing as a good perm.)

This past weekend, my BBFs and I got together for our semi-annual reunion. More than two decades later, I was amused to find out that my crushing panic disorder, which set in during the waning days of college, was the impetus for one of my BBFs to find her life’s calling as a school counselor. Of course she’s returned the favor many times over, introducing me to my husband (whom she dubbed “the male Trud” when she met him), opening the door to my first big-ass job, and giving birth to two daughters, either of whom would be excellent choices for a mate for my son, not to mention someone I’d trust to drive my party van to the old age home. Her sister has become my virtual college BBF — like Zelig, she crops up in all of my best memories and has taken up permanent residence in the dorm room of my heart. My other college BBF gives me free legal advice, keeps me grounded, calms me down, and cheers me up. With sage midwestern advice and the most amazingly non-judgmental demeanor, she cools my crazy and on occasions, actually trumps me. (A recent vacation that featured riding Harleys with her leather-clad Motor City clan comes to mind.)

When my college BBFs and I get together, there’s always a moment where I think anything is possible. We might have a trippy After Hours-esque night, dance ’til dawn, throw back tequila shots until we speak in Spanish and in tongues, or end up on the edge of the Grand Canyon, contemplating whether or not to go back to the world as we know it or keep on driving. In other words, these are the women I would do anything with. And in the past we’ve done quite a bit on the getting yer ya-ya’s out scale.

Today when we get together, we stroll, we chat, we watch Lifetime, we eat french fries and on occasion, when we’re feeling really nutty, we devour full-fat ice cream. Then we sip some wine or have a beer for old times’ sake. And best of all, we chill out.

When I am with my BBFs, I am at my best and most authentic, relaxed self. We know how to fight with each other, how to love each other, and most importantly that what went down eons ago is what bolsters us up even to this day.

And if you see us rifling through your closet, looking for something cute to wear and emptying your vodka into red cups we handily have in our purses, just know that while some things change, others will always remain the same.

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