Today I caught up with an old friend and her many children, visited a former professor at Miami, had lunch with one of my former students, and then went for a long walk around campus with Ruthie to see how things had changed.
While the whole day was surreal, talking to once-babies-now-kids I haven’t seen in six years and taking a walk past brand new buildings on my way to my old dorm, one moment was quite strange.
My former professor, Tom Romano, and I were enjoying coffees in a library cafe, entertaining Ruthie with stories and bits of our lunches, when a clean-cut guy approached our table and said, “Shana?”
I drew a panicky blank at my complete and total lack of recognition of this person, and as I stood to greet him, I suddenly had an inkling of who he was.
Benji? I asked myself. Surely this dress-shirted man with a clean shave couldn’t be the Benji of my college days, a long-haired hippie of a boy who roomed for years with my very closest college friend, Joey. Surely this could not be lava-lamp-loving Benji, who hung blankets from his ceiling that complemented the blue twinkle lights Joey always favored.
But as I did the old introducing-my-companion-without-introducing-you trick, he confirmed my suspicions by introducing himself as Ben.
“Ben Meissner,” I said to Tom. “Benji,” I added, looking at ‘Ben’ quizzically.
“Yeah, I had to give up on my hopes and dreams and conform,” he quipped. “I’m back here finishing my degree now in the business school.” I tried not to look as stunned as I felt by this–long-haired, marijuana-loving Benji was a business major?!
We talked for a few moments and then he left, and I sat back down, a little disoriented by this blast from the past, a guy I haven’t seen in 10 years, who reminded me so strongly of a person whose absence I most keenly feel when I visit Miami.
I explained to Tom that Benji had been my friend Joey’s roommate.
“Ah, Joey,” Tom said. He looked at me earnestly. “I remember now. I remember your face that Monday, in EDT 427, you sitting on the right side of the classroom.”
I wasn’t surprised by his recall–it is always very detailed. Tom, like me, was remembering a Monday nearly 10 years ago, a Monday on which our campus returned to classes after learning that Joey had committed suicide over the weekend. I was surprised that Tom remembered that day of class when I have absolutely no recollection of it. The only thing I remember about the weeks after Joey’s death is the fact that I couldn’t sleep with the lights off.
Hours later, I am thinking about that chance meeting with Benji, who left Miami after Joey’s death and is only now returning to finish his degree all these years later. A meeting that was perhaps more than chance, since it took place during my first visit to Miami in years, during which I just so happened to bump into Benji, of all people.
As I think about that moment now, I wish I’d talked to Benji about Joey. I haven’t had anyone to talk to about him for years, and if anyone knew Joey as well as I did, it was Benji. It would’ve been a relief to talk with someone about how much I wish Joey had gotten to come to my wedding, or meet Ruthie, or have his own wedding I would’ve attended and his own babies I would’ve surely adored.
But the moment slipped by. Time went on.
Later, I walked past the dorm Joey and I had both lived in, past the dining hall we’d visited so often, down the path across Western campus we’d traipsed together so many times. I passed the field of daffodils we played ultimate frisbee on, the science building we’d had our mad chemistry professor in, the bus stop we spent so many raining mornings waiting at. I felt 10 years younger, gone back in time to my 20-year-old self. I remembered the feeling of youthful optimism I’d always felt in my friend’s company.
I remembered Joey today, as I do many days, and I ached for his loss, still, these many years later.