Perfect strangers

Launching into Limbo

In the nine months that I spent living in Unit 1 this year, I think my parents and roommates shook hands twice. Three times, maybe. One of those shakes occurred on move-in day, leaving one, maybe two, to last the remaining time from August to May.

Mathematically, that works out to about a sixth of a handshake per month. Add in a muffled “hello” and a wave or two during my FaceTime calls home, and you have the total extent of interactions between my family and a couple of roommates I’ve now come to consider good friends.

A name and a hometown: That’s what my family has to work with, detail-wise. My roommates know even less information about my family. And the same goes for all of my other friends here in Berkeley. A year has passed, and the two parties still remain almost entirely unknown to each other.

That, to me, is weird. Startlingly so. Because at home, it has always been just the opposite.

Whether it’s a buddy I’ve known for a decade and used to chase around the house with a homemade rubber band gun or a good friend I made in high school wind ensemble, my parents know them all. And well, too. If not their life stories, then at least their names, faces, personalities.

They’ve joined my family for home-cooked meals, holiday celebrations and brief vacations. They’ve crossed paths with my parents at our joint sports games, musical performances and school events. Over the years, their parents have grown close with mine. Even some of my aunts, uncles and grandparents have become familiar with my good friends.

And then there’s my twin sister. Growing up, we often gravitated toward the same groups of kids, and that meant that much of the time we spent with our friends was also spent with each other — a strange and wonderful part of our happy twinhood. For years, we’ve perpetually shared a long list of mutual friends. To many of them, we’re a pair, a package deal.

But all that changed last August. After a lifetime of intertwined social lives, my sister and I now have no common friends between our colleges, no shared connections beyond Instagram posts and Facebook profiles.

At first, this newfound separation came rather naturally — just one of the many expected and logical adjustments of a transition to university. Freshman year would mark the only period in my life when I’d spend more time with friends than family, and moving away from home, it seemed unlikely that there would (or should) be any interaction between the two.

Plus it really didn’t seem all that “adultlike” to me, having my parents hang around. In fact, the thought of them being familiar with my friends struck me as rather juvenile. It felt reminiscent of the days when my dad chaperoned our field trips and coached our basketball teams, when my mom picked us up, dropped us off and organized all else in between.

And so I made it a point to maintain some distance between my family and my college friends, at least for a little while. Throughout the year, there were many opportunities to make introductions. I chose to avoid them. When my parents came to visit, they often suggested I invite a friend to join the three of us for dinner. I never did. Instead, I spent time trying to embrace the new life I’d stepped into here in Berkeley — an endeavor I figured best accomplished without my family there to watch.

Nine months later, freshman year has passed, and I can tell you, confidently, that I was wrong.

Since school let out in May, my two distinct lives (in Berkeley and here at home) have never felt more mutually exclusive, more overwhelmingly detached. And I think one of the reasons for that is I’ve kept the Berkeley memories — defined entirely by the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made — largely to myself. Not intentionally, of course, but simply because my family has no idea who those people are. And that makes it difficult to share with them what my friends and I have experienced together.

Next semester, I hope to change that. And really, I will. Sophomore year will be different. I’ll make sure of it. But in the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. There’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.

Mom, Dad, Tomi: I have some friends I’d like you to meet.

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]