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Oberlin Without My Best Friend

February 8, 2017

Lilah Drafts-Johnson ’18

The past two weeks have been full of reunions and greetings and catch-ups for me as my friends come back to campus - I'm seeing some of them for the first time since last May when I left for the summer. One of the questions I've been getting a lot, understandably, is: "How is your transition back to Oberlin going?"

Short answer: Pretty great, actually.
Long Answer: See below.

It's been wonderful to return to the intense academic setting that I've always loved about Oberlin. I'm taking a selection of classes that include things I've always been interested in but never had the chance to study (teaching languages), things that are new and challenging for me (economics!), things that are familiar for me (español!), and things that terrify me (dancing!!!). The track season is in full swing and I am very happy with the progress that my teammates and coaches and I have made. My new residential house has been welcoming and comfortable. However, there is one thing that feels a little off - not only am I transitioning from a semester abroad to a semester back on campus, I'm transitioning back to a campus without my sidekick and roommate, India.

I was reading through old Facebook messages the other day, and found the first conversation that India and I had before our freshman year. We had been randomly matched by ResEd, and were awkwardly introducing ourselves and talking about room plans for the year. The conversation is decidedly formal and polite, with tactically placed smiley faces and correct punctuation; after two and a half years of friendship, it's fairly comical to look at now.

Our first conversation via Facebook Messenger


Despite some discrepancies in our sleep schedules and organizational skills, we bonded over our interests in singing, soccer, and direct communication. The first roommate contract we signed had only two rules: 1. Don't be a jerk and 2. Don't be passive aggressive. By the end of our time in Dascomb 209, India and I had secured a pretty bomb friendship. She would talk me through tough decisions, celebrate my victories, and generously open her closet door whenever I felt that my clothes weren't cute enough. I made her tea when she was stressed, helped her organize materials for job applications and general life things, and always snagged her an extra t-shirt from my many athletic events. We would recap our days with tea in bed, and every now and then break out the ukulele and sing together. Our second year in college, we co-facilitated workshops for Oberlin's Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct trainings, and ate in Pyle Co-op together.

Taking a break after a long day of Bystander Intervention trainings


India and I both chose to go abroad in our junior year, but selected different places and different semesters to take leave. Two weeks after I returned home from my time in Chile, she was en route to New Zealand to begin her Winter Term project, and then continue into the spring semester there.

Walking around campus without the person who has been my biggest supporter the past few years has felt a little weird. I feel very well-adjusted to Oberlin as a second-semester junior - I have strong communities in my sports team, classmates and co-workers, and I understand how to balance my academic/work schedule while still leading a respectable social life. Still, on hard days I feel a little lost sometimes. Living with another person can be a very intense experience, and although it hasn't always been easy, we have grown and learned so much from each other over the years. India's seen me at my worst and at my best, and out of anyone in my life she is probably the one with the most holistic and accurate idea of who I am as a person. She's shaped my understanding of friendship and raised my standards for love and care. It's hard not to miss a person that like that.

That being said, we are living in a fantastic age of FaceTime phone calls and instant messaging. We still talk regularly, and our time apart has afforded both of us the opportunity to branch out and establish ourselves as individuals in new communities, new cultures, and even new languages. The metaphor I use is that of a navigator at sea. I'm halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, I've got an extensive map and plenty of food and water, but I just realized that I left my compass at home. I'll be okay without it, but things might be a little easier if it were around.

This feeling isn't unlike what I felt when I started my sophomore year. I had made a lot of friendships with people who were seniors my freshman year, and I felt their absence deeply when they graduated. Every year, the number of faces I don't recognize grows as the new first-years scurry about campus, and I think nostalgically about late night chats with my senior friends or being taught the ropes of campus as a nervous freshman. Sometimes, I see a backpack or jacket that an old friend used to wear, and I do an excited double take - ready to greet someone I think I've recognized - only to realize that it's just a freshman doppelganger.

When I came back to Oberlin this semester, I found myself thrust into a lot of responsibility. I am now a designated leader in places where I was formerly just a participant, and I'm realizing the amount of work I have to do in order to make those communities successful. Oberlin's community is constantly shifting and re-forming, and this year is no different in that I have to adapt to the changes in the campus makeup. New people will find their way into my life, and I'm excited for new friendships and experiences that are sure to come this semester. Still, I will always have gratitude for those people who shaped my first two years at Oberlin - my track captains, the classes of 2015 and 2016, and my dear roommate. So to those people: safe travels, and make sure to visit.

Photo taken at the Obie Awards my freshman year, with some of the track and field juniors & seniors who were my role models as a lil freshie

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