Warning: If you came here today to read about gelato, it’s not gonna happen. I’m sorry. My 10 year college reunion stirred up all sorts of emotions. However, you can read about frozen desserts here, here, and here. This post is a story of where I came from and why I travel and how, 10 years after graduation, my time at college has affected me. It’s dark. You’ve been warned.

I was a rather intense child filled with anxiety and self-doubt, a potent emotional cocktail that led me to compulsively overachieve in high school and eventually propelled me to the mean streets of New Haven, CT, where I was ill-prepared to deal with the pressures of an Ivy League environment. It took some time to adjust to being surrounded by 200th generation Yalies, 17-year-old best selling authors, Olympic athletes, and about a thousand geniuses who currently rule the world. But eventually I found my way and stopped feeling like the dumbest person on campus after meeting members of the hockey team.

I spent four years (including one ridiculous summer) at Yale, all the time aware that I was insanely lucky to be there. Of course the classes and professors were phenomenal, but it was the friends that I made there and the experiences I had outside the classroom that have shaped my life in a very tangible way. In fact, the reason I can’t sit still and jump at every opportunity to travel is thanks to one friend in particular. His name was Jim Keppel, but sometimes I called him Tightpants Jackson because he often wore extremely tight pants.

Jim and I were friends since the first day of school. We hung out every day, ate together, traveled together, did all sorts of stupid things together (especially during that ridiculous summer, and since my mom reads this blog I won’t elaborate). He loved traveling and was so curious about the world and Europe in particular. We had lots of trips and binges in our future. But Jimbo died suddenly and unexpectedly in May 2003. We weren’t even a year out of college.

One month earlier our classmate Lyric Benson had been murdered by her crazy towny boyfriend. A year and half before that, 9-11 went down. All these events, but mainly Jim’s death, reinforced what I already knew: no one is safe. While most of my classmates chose the well trodden paths of medicine, the law and finance, there was no way I was going to do that.

I hear a lot from people, and especially this past reunion weekend, that I was so brave to move across the ocean with no one and nothing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t play it up. But in reality I am not brave. I am afraid. I don’t want to die without having done and seen everything (whatever that means). I feel like I need to do, move, produce, consume, go, travel, and seize every opportunity in honor of Jim. I have even been known to wear tight pants while doing so.

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11 Comments:


  • Thank you for a wonderful post. I’ve had similar feelings (instincts, I suppose?) for years and have been on the slow path to my dream. Recent events in my own life have reminded me that there are no guarantees, there is no security, and there is no truly good reason not to chase the life I want to have. I admire your bravery (it does seem brave to me, a woman who has wanted to live in Rome since 2002 but never felt ready to leave everything behind). But I do understand what you mean — it would take a kind of bold determination to hunker down and pursue a practical, safe career, and I am too scared I’ll regret it when I’m ninety. Life is short, and if your basic needs are met (as no doubt yours will always be, as an intelligent and resourceful person) the rest should be worth living for.


  • This is a beautiful essay about growing up – about transitioning from high school student to college student to adult. I will make sure that Nick reads it.


  • What a lovely post. Thank you. I admire your courage and that of others who took a riskier path than most. I think of Jim often and wish he were still enriching the lives of his family and friends.


  • I had a Jim in my life who, like yours, was my best friend in college, was a huge influence on me re travel, and died suddenly. I miss him every day, and a lot of choices I make in my life are to honor his memory. Thank you for sharing this.


  • I definitely agree on the fear being a motivator rather than a hindrance or block…Brava.


  • Wow. I knew we were alike but didn’t know we were exactly alike. I had almost the exact same thoughts during our 4 years there. Keppel, LoPro and Lyric will all be missed and the world is a lesser place without them. Trying to make it to Rome in September, hopefully you’ll be around and we can catch up. Miss ya.


  • @scott Was hoping to see you at the reunion. I’ve tried writing about LoPro a million times but it is so fucked up and dark I can’t publish it. Maybe down the road. I went to spain to see where he died and it was so awful. I’m afraid sometimes that me still being over here is a defense mechanism against dealing with some loss issues and that it’s just prolonging the pain. I think we need to continue this conversation over some drinks


  • The fear of being taken out young (by a stupidass drunk driver, say) has fueled a lot of my eagerness so soak up as much of life as possible. Somewhere in my head I’m still convinced I need to pack as much as possible into my life before that happens.


  • Wow, Katie, I had no idea what loss you have experienced, thank you for sharing. I am fascinated to learn about who you were and how you became who you are today. I can’t believe that you have become the person you are after such a loss. My BFF died suddenly when I first moved to Italy and I was more or less catatonic for 3 years. It really shaped who I am today. I have a hard time having close friendships now. I can only have friendships on the periphery, but I can’t won’t let myself become too attached. You are indeed brave for sharing this with your readers.


  • But sharing this story is what makes you you! It’s not always about food and travel. ;-) Thanks for sharing.

    My husband and I decided to live abroad as expats just so we could see and do as much as possible from our homebase here in Istanbul now. We’ve enjoyed living here and have several road trips planned this summer to keep on seeing as much as we can! Life as a foreigner isn’t always easy, but we are enjoying the ride.


  • Lovely post, Katie. I was chilling my brain after a difficult day in court, looking at properties in Italy that I can never afford to buy and came back to your blog, which is becoming my comfort food of sorts. Your experiences at Yale remind me of my days at Smith, especially (for me) coming in as a “first gen”–admission office jargon for those whose parents weren’t college-educated. I was fine academically, but completely unprepared for the social experience.

    P.S. Apologies if I offended you with comments on the new app. Perhaps one should not hit the send button after polishing off a bottle of wine.

    P.P.S. Just for the record: I am a public sector lawyer for my state’s child support enforcement agency. Just because I’m an attorney, I don’t want to be lumped with the captains of industry and finance.

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