There is a section of I-26 East that is my favorite stretch of highway. Right around mile marker 68, just past the rest area where my family and my dad’s sister’s family would stop and eat homemade biscuits for breakfast on the way to Myrtle Beach, the road straightens out for at least a mile, and you can see three hills. Each one is slightly higher than its predecessor, and the trees line the interstate like spectators watching a parade 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, minivans, SUVs, sedans, sports cars, and motorcycles zoom past.
I never noticed this stretch of road until I started college, and even then it took me well into my freshman, perhaps my sophomore, year — probably because those first few weeks were so traumatic for me. I knew only one person at Columbia College when I first started, and she was a year ahead of me. I was only 100 miles away, but it might has well been 1,000. Those first Sunday afternoons driving back to Columbia found me in tears — sometimes wondering if I should turn around at every exit I passed.
Second semester went more smoothly than the first, and the second year even better than the first. Eventually, I saw how that one section of I-26 seemed to roll out before me like the rug that lines a foyer — an asphalt welcome into my new reality. The view is not the same if you travel the same section from the opposite direction; it’s a one-way spectacle.
I’ve traveled that road many times over the past twenty years since graduation, and each time I feel that exhilaration of what laid ahead of me. This past weekend, my 20th college reunion, was no different. As I rounded the slight curve and passed mile marker 68, there it was, and I was traveling to see the place and people who inspired, sheltered, and educated me two decades ago.
Dinner Friday night with 14 other friends at Liberty Tap Room in Columbia’s Vista area lasted 3 1/2 hours. The poor waiter came to check on us no less than five times before we finally relented and ordered food. Before long I started having flashbacks to our dining hall conversations as my former roommate began discussing her stepdaughter and current boyfriend and sent all of us into fits of laughter. I went to bed with my belly hurting from laughing and my throat dry and scratchy from talking.
Saturday brought more of the same, and although we had the majority of the day together, we still didn’t have enough time. Some girls I knew back then and some women I know now couldn’t understand my reasoning for going to a women’s college. There’s no guys! they say. Pffft whatever. My education experience was just fine without those who pee standing up. It had never really been my plan, but I can’t describe how perfect of a fit Columbia College was for me. I am beyond grateful for the sacrifices my parents made that allowed me to attend this school.
Recently, I came across a blog post written by a young woman in another state who will graduate from college in just a couple of weeks. In the post she talked about the friends she had made and how while falling asleep one night she noticed how their voices drifting through her window made her feel she was back at home when she was young. I remembered my own experiences .
High school was never traumatic for me, but I’ve only been to one reunion. I still like those people, but before that 20-year reunion, I felt apprehensive — like I was falling back into that high school teenager who was so unsure of herself. For college reunions, however, I go every five years. We all seem to pick up right where we left off. I am at home with these women. They are my family, and I love every one of them.
One friend who now lives in Atlanta had the perfect words at dinner Friday night. “Coming across I-20 this afternoon, I just had this wave come over me like I was coming home.”
I thought about my stretch of I-26, and I knew exactly how she felt. I would have a totally different life if I had turned around on one of those Sunday afternoons; I’m thankful I never did.
(FYI: Title is the first line of Columbia College’s alma mater.)