And suddenly, my eyes filled with tears when I remembered my own first day on campus 50 years ago.
That first day -- September 18, 1963 -- was a tearful day, too.
I had never flown before, never traveled alone, never been to Chicago, never set foot on campus, had never known anybody who went to Northwestern. I was excited, but frightened, lonely and filled with anxiety.
I spent much of the flight to Chicago weeping on the shoulder of a kind stranger, a sweet middle-aged woman, who told me, over and over, what a wonderful experience this would be for me. I burst into tears when a welcoming group of students greeted me in baggage claim at O'Hare. I cheered up considerably in the cab between two sophomores who reassured me that everything would be fine and advised me which classes were especially worthwhile. I managed a smile when a handsome young man ran up to me at the entrance to my dorm and offered to carry my suitcase to my third floor room.
Standing in front of the closed door of my dorm room, I took a quick breath. There were two names on the door - mine and my new roommate's. Cheryl Martindill. I hadn't known, until that very moment, who my first college roommate would be. I didn't know anything about her. I hoped we'd like each other. With a whispered prayer, I opened the door.
The first person I saw was not my roommate, but a stern and angry middle-aged woman. "Are you Kathleen McCoy?" she demanded. "Are you a Catholic?"
I nodded yes to both.
"Don't put your suitcase down," she said. "You're moving. We don't want our daughter rooming with a Catholic."
My stomach dropped. I felt ill. I wanted my mother. I stared at her, speechless.
"The dorm director is on her way up to settle this mess," she said.
I nodded. "I'd like to sit down until she comes," I said. "I'm really tired."
"You can sit down, but don't get comfortable," the woman said.
I made my way to a desk with no adornments. The woman's daughter was at the other desk, her back to me, pinning pictures on her bulletin board.
I fished a copy of the Los Angeles Times out of my carry-on bag and hid behind it, crying quietly, as the dorm director arrived and curtly told this woman that Cheryl and I had been matched for a good reason and that we would be reassigned only if, after giving living together a fair shot, we decided it wasn't workable.
Cheryl's parents stormed out of the room, headed back to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I sat weeping behind the newspaper, trying to get a grip before my roommate discovered that she was matched with a crybaby. Cheryl continued to organize her belongings.
Finally, she tapped the other side of the newspaper gently. "I'm sorry about my parents," she said at last. "I don't feel that way. I'm glad we're roommates. I'm a journalism major, too, and I think it's so cool that you're from California. I never knew anyone from California."
I snuffled. "Really?"
"Yes, really," she said and then, after a moment, she said the magic words: "Want to go get a pizza?"
From then on, we were the best of friends. She said nothing about my red-rimmed eyes. We never discussed the first day for the rest of our college days, except to agree that her parents were impossible.
Twenty-five years later, I met Cheryl and her two delightful teenage children at a Scottsdale hotel where they were vacationing and had invited me to join them from L.A. As we sat by the hotel's expansive pool that first day, Cheryl suddenly asked me a question that took me back through the years: "Were you crying behind that newspaper?"
I laughed. "How did you know?"
She smiled and took my hand. "Because you sat there behind it for two hours," she said. "And you never turned a page!"
We talked a lot that day about the past: about our friendship with Lorraine and Lorie, who would be our suite mates the next year: how beautiful and sophisticated New York native Lorraine was and what a sweetheart Lorie, who hailed from Georgia, was. We talked about our college lives and agreed that there were challenges, but many more good times. We agreed that we had been blessed, particularly with our lifelong friendship.
But Cheryl, Lorraine and Lorie were not blessed with long lives. Lorraine died suddenly at 42 from an abdominal aneurysm and Lorie from an auto-immune disease before she turned 60. And Cheryl barely made it to her 60th birthday, dying of colon cancer two months later.
It seems impossible that they're gone. They live so vividly, so vibrantly, in my memories of our sweet beginnings at Northwestern. It all came back to me as I watched the video of the ebullient class 50 years behind us.
Would I want to live it over again? Not really, though spending a day being young and in the company of dear friends long departed would be an incredible joy. I wouldn't want to be young and just starting out today. My heart goes out to young people who face such high tuition costs and such a ghastly job market. I feel especially sorry for those journalism students 50 years my junior who are coming of age in the twilight of the print media era with so many uncertainties for the future.
My tears today are ones of tenderness for those first sweet college friends and for my scared but resolute younger self. The tears are for what is irrevocably lost: the seemingly endless future, the special people, the hopes and dreams that seem so innocent now. So many of our dreams did come true, though not always in the way we could have imagined when we --the Class of 1967 -- were the new students on campus. But time flies and life can be cruel and I grieve the disappointments and heartbreaks so many of my dear college friends have had and the fact that an alarming number of them died so young.
The tears come because they are still so present: I can see Lorraine so beautiful and sophisticated and wise, Lorie laughing so warmly and readily at my dorm-room antics and Cheryl so loving and tactful during my tearful first hours as her roommate, offering friendship and pizza as she pretended not to notice my tears on that special day so long ago.