It was the first night of college orientation, and I waited outside the planetarium for the show to begin. A girl named Beth stood in front of me, talking to a friend. She had strawberry blonde hair and a smile so wide you could see her gums. There was something about the way she smiled that radiated friendliness.
We stepped into the planetarium and sat back to watch the show. As the stars began to light up across the ceiling, I forgot that they were just tiny little bulbs. No, these were real stars, and I was looking at the real Milky Way galaxy. I was glad it was so dim in the planetarium, because the look of exhilaration on my face was downright embarrassing.
At the end of the show, the 15 of us stepped out of the planetarium and headed our separate ways. I saw Beth walking down the stairwell, and I caught up to her. As we walked, we talked about how cool the show was. She was friendly, passionate and geeked out over the show just as much as I did.
The next afternoon, I ran into Beth and her friends by chance in the street. I’ve always had a tendency to feel uninvited in situations like these, but as I walked beside her, for once it didn’t feel like I had just tagged along in a desperate attempt to find friends.
Beth and I talked about our mutual discovery of our love for astronomy. I mentioned that college was the time in our lives when we were supposed to discover new interests and jump into them with no regrets, and astronomy might’ve been that new interest for me.“I just feel like the fact that I haven’t gotten this excited about something in a long time means I have to go for it,” Beth said, and it was like she was echoing my exact feelings. I felt a kinship to her, like we were in this together.
Beth and her friends invited me to explore the Arb, the popular forest curled around the Huron River. As we chilled out at a picnic table, Beth said, “This would be a great place to smoke. I’m totally looking forward to experimenting with drugs at college.” I imagined smoking weed for the first time with her and smiled at the thought.
That was the last time I saw Beth at orientation, but meeting her gave me hope that I’d make a lot of new friends in college. More than that, though, there was something simple: I liked her. She was just a really cool and likable person, and I wanted to be her friend.
Months later, the night after I moved into my dorm, I went to a freshman event with a couple friends from high school. As we walked through the hot, crowded hallway of the Michigan Union, I spotted a familiar face passing right by me. It was Beth.
I nonchalantly reached out and tapped Beth’s shoulder. She turned and saw me, and the excitement on her face made my entire night. She immediately threw her arms around me. Jane, another super cool girl from orientation, was also there. Beth told me that I was always welcome to stop by either of their dorm rooms, and I swore to myself to do just that.
But as the first few weeks of school went by, we got wrapped up in schoolwork and didn’t hang out. One week, I finally texted Jane and asked if she and Beth wanted to get lunch. We picked a time to hang out that Saturday. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because I was too busy with a photography assignment. There was no other time that weekend that everyone was free, but I brushed it aside and said, “Oh well, we’ll get together eventually.”
One of the biggest, most frustrating mysteries in college is why some friendships dissolve. Most of the time it’s just because life gets in the way. You take friends for granted and assume there’ll always be another time to catch up, as if hanging out with the people you love is a chore that needs to get done by some undisclosed future date. No matter how much you care about someone, it’s sometimes difficult to prioritize friendship.
I consider never following up with Beth and Jane to be the biggest mistake I’ve made in college so far—that definitely shows that I’ve had a pretty great experience. I’ve made plenty of other friends, but there’s a part of me that will always wonder how different my life would be if I’d joined Beth’s friend group. Beth and I share a lot of the same friends, so there’s always a slim chance that we could talk again. Besides, she hasn’t forgotten me entirely; when we do happen to pass each other on the street and make eye contact, we each quietly say “hi” or at least smile at each other. It’s those little signs of recognition that I cling to when I think of what might’ve been.
I doubt that I mean the same to Beth as she does to me, but that’s okay. Beth convinced me that there was a whole world of people at college who were intelligent, friendly and eager to learn. In many ways, she was my introduction to the raw passion I’d witness once I arrived. She might never be the friend I hoped for, but that passion I saw has never disappeared.