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My Reagan Years
It's been so long since last we met...


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Susan Konig

During my four years at Georgetown University, I’d skip across campus on bright sunny days greeting practically every person I met along the way. I felt as though I knew everyone, at least to say hello. It was like living in a small, privileged town of 18- to 22-year-olds. It was an awesome experience.

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When I returned to that hilltop campus in Washington for my 20th reunion a couple of weeks ago, I stepped hesitantly into a darkened meeting hall of a building that hadn’t been there in 1984, and squinted through the candlelit gloom trying to find a familiar face.

Once I located someone whom I’d known way back when, the challenge became remembering his name lest I be forced to resort to the “name tag glance” or the “introduce everyone to my spouse and hope someone offers a name” maneuver.

It turned out to be a little of both plus a nice helping of immediate recognition of and by old friends. And, eventually, the awkward beginning of the first night morphed into a more relaxed weekend as we reconnected with old friends and shared stories of what we’d been up to for the past two decades.

The weeks leading up to reunion had been busy. I carefully planned what I’d wear to each event, down to a variety of shoes and jewelry even though no one at Georgetown ever saw me in anything other than sweats from 1980 to 1984.

I pondered how quickly I could lose the 15 pounds that had crept on with three kids, a nice comfy life in the suburbs, and a husband who is an ice cream enabler.

My spouse went on the South Beach diet and lost 8 pounds much to my dismay and envy. He didn’t even know any of these people–whom was he out to impress? I managed to lose only 2 pounds on my own personal high stress diet.

Finally, I decided that black linen, nice perfume and a box of L’Oreal hair color in mocha would have me looking like a reasonable facsimile of the person I used to be 20 years ago.

I dragged my husband around the campus offering fascinating tidbits such as, “This building wasn’t here before — that used to be a field. And there’s the old science building.”

He patiently listened and finally concluded: “So the old buildings were here when you were here, but the new buildings are new, right?”

As we crossed through Henle Village, a student-housing complex, I pointed out the very spot I was on when I heard about Reagan being shot in 1981.

That March, my freshman year, I was stopped in Henle by a friend who seemed stunned to see me.

There was some confusion because my dad shared a name with Reagan’s press secretary and this student thought he was about to tell me that my father had been shot.

I explained that my dad was a journalist in New York and my friend seemed relieved but still upset. “Reagan was just shot,” he said, “and so was his press secretary…and some other people, too.”

I ran to my dorm’s common room and watched the drama unfold on TV. I was scared because the news anchors seemed unsure what was going on. The idea that our president might die was terrifying.

I hadn’t used my very first vote the previous November to elect Reagan. I was a Democrat and believed that Reagan was a warmonger who would blow up the world.

And even though I was still was strongly (if naively) opposed to his administration, I wanted Reagan to be all right and continue to lead the country. At least I knew I didn’t want Al Haig in charge.

Back at the reunion, we met a friend at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History and walked through the presidential exhibit. I stopped in front of a photograph from Nixon’s funeral–it showed Reagan, Bush I, Carter, Ford, Clinton, and their wives sitting in a row.

I remembered what I’d heard on the radio that morning. “I hear Reagan hasn’t much time left,” I told my fellow alum.

Within a half hour we were back at the hotel watching the news reports of Reagan’s death. In a few days, we’d see the living presidents lined up again, together, impressive, somewhat nerve jangling in the new security climate that is 2004.

I am a different person than I was in college. I have a few pounds and some gray hair to show for it. It was nice to hear old friends call out, “It’s Sue Brady. Hey, Sue Brady”–but I have now carried my husband’s name longer than I had my maiden name as an adult.

I have three kids and am a registered Republican. I cried when I saw the people of Eastern Europe dancing on top of the Berlin Wall and I stopped thinking that Ronald Reagan was out to blow up the world.

The night the 40th president of the United States died, we danced to Eurythmics, Duran Duran, and the B-52s. We joked about shoulder pads and big hair in the 1980s. We looked at photos of each other’s kids, dogs, and houses. On a big video screen, we watched footage of Reagan honoring our NCAA championship basketball team at the White House–a defining moment of our senior year.

And because my Labrador puppy had eaten the new evening sandals I’d purchased for this fancy party, I ended up dancing the night away in flip-flops. Maybe not all that much had changed.

Susan Konig, a journalist, has just written a book, Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children), which will be published in Spring 2005.



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