This week I heard from a dear college friend for the first time in forever. Kathy Emerich and I were part of a small group of wild girls our friends called The Ravers. A cute Cornell graduate named Joe Compagni lived near our sorority house and we enjoyed showing up on his doorstep to tease him. P.S. Kathy and Joe married right after graduation and they are still married to this day! They have two children and several brilliant grandchildren. But she didn’t call to brag on her family or her long, successful marriage. She happened to bump into an old friend of mine at a car show in upstate New York, and that story brought a flood of memories.
The person she met, Alex Huppe, and I were students together in Switzerland for our colleges’ joint Study Abroad program in Neuchatel. At the end of a fabulous academic program (where I learned to appreciate good wine and cheese, among other things) he and two other guys bought motorcycles and invited me to join them for the summer being Gypsies all over Europe until school started again for us in the States.
We scraped together what little money we had and planned to play things by ear: go where we pleased and let fate take care of our journeys. We took just the essentials of what we’d need for a two month trip, which for me was a sleeping bag, a couple of changes of clothes, a windbreaker, a towel, and soap. I rode on the back of one of the motorcycles and soon grew accustomed to bugs in my teeth, sunburn, and experiencing rain hitting my face like needles when the weather was bad. We stayed in youth hostels some of the time, but often slept in farmers’ fields or even in city parks (where we were arrested and released for trespassing).
We bought cheap beer and wine rather than nourishing food, and were sometimes reduced to snatching baskets of bread off tables in sidewalk cafes. Our only bathrooms were found in gas stations, and we did without showers for the duration of the trip. Towards the end of the trip, I remember parking the bikes in a small village in Austria and watching mothers pull their children towards them for protection. We were so dirty and must have smelled horrible. I knew then what real Gypsies must feel like. Pariahs! But we had so much fun!
Our trip together ended where it began, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, where I reunited with my boyfriend Max who had had to spend the summer doing required Swiss military service. He and I said our tearful good-byes at the train station where I left him to finish my Senior year of college. He had exams to prepare for, but our plan was for me to return after graduation and live the rest of our lives together. Clearly that did not happen, but that is almost better than if we had gotten back together and had a horrible boring marriage and then split up, angry and resentful. For me he will always be young, immensely exciting, and as crazy about me as I was about him.
To an Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman expresses how I feel. Max will always be gold. He will never get fat, old, and disappointing.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.