Get on a plane headed for the only place in the world you ever felt you belonged, do some half-hearted work on your laptop while your mind thrums with anticipation and longing. Do some more half-hearted work in the airport bar while you wait for your friend's plane to arrive; experience a surge of pride when the bartender asks for your I.D. Feel like a fool when she proceeds to card the octogenarian who sits down next to you. Meet your friend in the terminal and talk the rental car guy into upgrading from a minivan to a Mustang convertible. Experience a surge of youthful abandon, riding next your beautiful friend as she drives down the interstate toward the place you were born, with the ragtop down so your hair can blow.
30 minutes later, experience an acute existential crisis as you stand at the edge of the highway, staring at the ruined bits of metal and rubber that was once the rental car, before the truck driver decided to turn into your lane and his trailer hitch nearly flung you off the 60-foot overpass. Take deep breaths. Call 911 and debate about whether or not you need an ambulance (you did hit your head pretty hard). Decline the ambulance--a hospital would take too long. Tell yourself the dizziness and nausea are related to shock, not concussion. Sit down in the grass, then stand up. Call your husband, who is in Amsterdam, and realize as the phone is ringing that it is 3 a.m. where he is. Listen to your voice cracking, fight off the panic that overtakes you when you realize that you have to go sleep in a hotel that night, far away from your family. Hang up when the truck driver approaches, insisting that your friend shared fault for the accident. Wait for the state trooper, watch as he tickets the truck driver, then wait some more for the tow truck. It's cold and raining and you haven't eaten since New Orleans, but all you are thinking about is what the overpass looked like as you approached in slow motion, how you tried to remember what you knew about positioning your body for impact--how you knew you would die anyway, but thought you needed to give it a shot, for your kids. Your kids.
Hold hands with your friend and talk about all sorts of inappropriate things as the tow-truck driver sneaks sideways glances and feigns interest in the radio song. Get a new car--a minivan!--and drive to the hotel. Head immediately for the hotel bar, your old college haunt, and buy your first pack of cigarettes in 8 years. Declare to your friend that all bad behavior over the next 4 days will be excused by the near-fatal accident. Fight against giant waves of existential panic. Go to the bathroom and cry over the sink; emerge to find a group of friends you haven't seen in years, the people you love most in the world. These are your people and you tell them what happened and they are appropriately horrified but also wonderfully hilarious, they re-affirm that all bad behavior is now permitted and perhaps even encouraged. Sit with your Tanqueray and Tonics while wave after wave of beautiful people walk through the door, laugh until your cheeks burn with the strain, marvel at the fact that we all look the same and everything still feels so right, so easy. These are your people and it is a damn good thing that you didn't blow their reunion weekend by getting yourself dead on the first night.
Spend the next 3 days reconnecting, networking, showing kid pictures, drinking way too much; stay up until 4 a.m. each night, dancing in the middle of the campus like you did 15 years ago. You've still got it; you can still hang. Walk into Hamilton Center and find your old friends immersed in a game of ping-pong, as if no time had passed at all. Hug your old advisor and realize, as relief washes over you, how worried you'd been that he was disappointed in you for not becoming an academic. Listen to the music department performances and feel like the luckiest fool on the planet to be connected with these genius people--to be one of them. Spend an entire afternoon lolling on the Bayfront, drinking beer and turning your face to the sun, so fucking grateful to whoever is responsible for luck or fate or whatever it was that not only saved your ass the other night, but guided you to New College, this unbelievably beautiful place, this Center of the Universe, all those years ago.
On your last night, sitting at the hotel bar with your old friends, discover a Haiku, written on a bar napkin, tucked away inside a giant Maori mask mounted on the wall. Watch as your friends construct a Haiku response and tuck that inside the mask for the next friends to discover. Thank the Universe again for life and fellow travelers.