Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It's all coming back to me now

Last month I visited Satish and Danta’s oldest sister at her college campus.  A freshman at OSU, Amita invited her mother and me to attend a lecture by Wes Moore, the author of a book her class was required to read.   I hadn’t set foot on an out-of-town college campus in years and the experience certainly was surreal.  As Nidhi drove around trying to find a parking place, I scanned the tree-lined streets, marveling at how much they reminded me of my days at Miami University.  The old houses and apartment buildings were eerily similar to the ones my friends used to live in and the students milling here, there, and everywhere looked exactly like the ones from my youth.  The only differentiating factor was the fact that nearly every one of them had their eyes glued to a cell phone. 
We met Amita at her dorm, and even though it was co-ed, the energy was still the same as Tappan Hall back in 1984.  Lots of boundless chatter.  Lots of people milling around.  Lots of light and sound and buzz.  Amita’s room is small and located at the intersection of two halls near the bathroom.  As I stood in her doorway, I thought of my own freshman year.  The all-nighters I pulled studying in the kitchenette.   The long trek to the showers carrying my plastic bin filled with shampoo, toothpaste, and Q-tips.  The night some of the rowdier girls thought it would be hilarious to steal my towel and robe from the outer cubical of my stall so I was forced to wear the shower curtain back to my dorm room or risk darting down the hallway in my birthday suit. 
Ah, memories.
Heading uptown for dinner, we passed a bar or two along the way and I recalled the Friday nights I spent at Graffiti’s, dancing from happy hour until well after dark, drinking Long Island Iced Teas and laughing with my friends.   Smelling the peculiar mélange of sweat, stale beer, and funk, I laughed, “Oh, yes…it’s all coming back to me now.”  Funny how that happens…a scent wafting from out of the blue can bring us back to moment in time so vivid, it seems as if it only happened yesterday.

This past weekend, as if by magic, I was transported even farther back in time when I attended a high school football game at which the fourth Sharma child, Leena, played bells with the Anthony Wayne Generals marching band.   As Nidhi had to take Satish to a basketball meeting in Bowling Green, Danta was asked if he’d like to join me.  Alas, my little pal chose to have a play-date with a friend instead, so I went to the game by myself.  A glowing crescent moon hung low in the sky which was slowly changing from blue to green to gray.  The band stood on the sidelines, getting ready for the pre-game performance.  People milled around, munching on cotton candy, sipping Dr. Pepper, and excitedly talking about the prospects of a big win.  As I looked up into the darkening sky, I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of hot chocolate, caramel corn, and the diesel fuel from the opposing team’s charter bus.   Trees bursting with colors were soon silhouetted by the setting sun. 
The kickoff started a rousing first quarter.  Watching each play, listening to the band perform songs I had heard long ago in high school brought back so many memories of being in the stands at Bowsher, cheering on the Rebels week after week.  The pep rallies.  Homecoming parades.  Wearing red and blue on Spirit Days.  How exciting it was to be a teenager when the most important part of the week was the game on Friday nights. 
By half time, Ashoke, Leena’s dad had arrived and we shivered in the stands, eagerly waiting for halftime.  Leena and the Marching Generals were incredible showmen and I’m looking forward to seeing them all on television when they march in a Thanksgiving Day parade in Pennsylvania.  This time next year, Leena will be a Senior and ten months after that, will head off to college.  When I gave her a big hug after the show, I thought about seeing her for the first time while I sat in the outer office at her Montessori school, waiting to teach a kids’ yoga class.  She was an adorable kindergartener, standing in a light-colored dress next to Nidhi who was pregnant for Satish.  Back then, I didn’t know her or any of the Sharmas, but am so thankful that five years later, I would formally meet Satish and begin the wonderful journey of being a part of their family. 
“Satish called,” I told Leena.  “They just arrived from his basketball meeting.  He said that since half time is over, they aren’t going to get tickets.”
“No problem,” she answered brightly. 
“Yeah…the best part is over,” I said, hugging her again.  “Thanks so much for inviting me!  I had the best time!”
When Ashoke and I walked toward the parking lot, there was Satish standing with Nidhi near the ticket booth.  Although he tried to hide it, his face lit up when he saw me.  I forgot the unspoken rule and reached out to give him a hug.  What a joy when Satish hugged me back.  Then, as we headed toward the parking lot he asked, “Can you come over and play?”
My heart nearly melted.  Since Danta was still at his friend's house, it would have been me and my pal, just like old times when I drove him home from our yoga class to spend an evening of fun with his family. 
“Shoot,” I said, looking at my watch.  “I have to teach tomorrow.  Can I take a rain check?”
“Sure,” he nodded. 
“Maybe a Saturday sometime,” I told him.  “Sundays are my day off.  We could even do a sleepover.”
“Yeah!” he brightened. 
I nearly cried when I saw the excitement in his eyes, for I know that these moments with him will be over all too soon.  Driving home that night I thought of all the years Satish and I have spent playing chess and Monopoly.  Goofing around with a soccer ball.  Going to Putt Putt Golf.  Shooting hoops and making snowmen and reading books out loud to each other. 
Today I spent a few hours looking back through years of pictures and videos I’ve taken of the kids and marvel at how much they’ve grown.  How much I’ve grown, too.  When I think about the time I spent in high school and college, it seems as though another Kate lived in the fleeting memories that I recall.  But the memories of the past seven years with the Sharmas are much more meaningful.  The Kate that I’ve become since knowing them is happier.  Healthier.  More at peace.   
These simple moments with them are to be treasured…and so will every single one between now and whatever the future will bring.  Maybe someday I’ll look back on this time with Satish and Danta, with Amita and Neela, with Nidhi and Ashoke, and instead of feeling nostalgic, will realize that we’ve all been expanding from these moments of grace and peace and truth into something even better.   

Putt Putt with Satish, circa 2011