34: St. Aldates
Our loud group passed her on the way to the Head of the River pub, after our farewell banquet in Wadham College’s four-hundred-year-old dining hall. I was in my favorite red Ann Taylor dress. It’s sleeveless and cut in to bare all of my shoulders, and falls to mid-calf, grazing my minimal curves. I got to see that instant look of the best kind of surprise on Jack’s face when I walked out on the lawn in it.
As we walked—together in the crowd, as always—to dinner, he said, “We should get pictures together,” so there we are in my album, looking couplish, standing on the manicured lawn of the Wadham quad.
I laughed that night like I hadn’t laughed in ages—healing laughter. Stacey got a Long Island Iced Tea and they doubled the alcohol for her. The rest of us didn’t need much motivation; our hearts were limber.
I spent an hour that afternoon back at the spot by the river, laying in the sun, off to the side a bit because there was a group of college girls right where I wanted to be. I drifted in and out of sleep, afraid that I could actually sleep soundly there in the middle of the afternoon, and not wake up until the evening sky was grey and I had missed everything. When you live like this—awake and exhausted almost all the time, you can never tell when sleep will come. You sort of have to obey it whenever it wants to make an appearance, but here I was denying it again. I would pay for it later, as the unending laughter had me fighting off dry heaves, which were making regular appearances every morning now.
In England they shut down all of the pubs at 11:00 p.m. for some reason, as the result some horrible law. When they kicked us out we split up into smaller groups and wandered slowly back up through town, passing Christ Church again, curtains blowing by an open pane, past lines of people on Cornmarket waiting for the midnight release of the new Harry Potter book, up St. Giles, always the quiet heaviness of the Oxford college buildings playing the counterpoint to our lightness. I walked next to Jack, close and connected somehow in spite of the fact that we didn’t touch—him with his arms crossed, me occasionally letting my hand hang free by my side. We didn’t stop laughing—nor I trying to conceal the occasional dry heaves—until we got back to Wycliffe, and then with the sad realization that this was the end of our party.
Tomorrow we would go our separate ways. Simon would go back home to a job he wanted to leave, Paul to a busy practice, Jesse to Wales to check out a graduate program, Stacey to work with Muslim youth in northern England, Jack to Jordan for research for his masters degree, me to a quiet Benedictine monastery in Hampshire, near Jane’s home. I had no idea what to expect, but I longed for the peace of the monks.