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Over eggs and home fries, sludgy coffee and toast soggy with butter, we sat talking, laughing, and listening to stories about people we didn't know and places we hadn't been.

A year had gone by, and as my close high school friends and I sat this past weekend in the local greasy spoon we had frequented together for four years before, for the first time I fully saw the face of change.

In just one encounter, these people with whom I had shoveled sand on the playground, played house, attended sleepover parties, bemoaned chemistry class and walked arm and arm in cap and gown during graduation, became, inexplicably, different.

When my friends and I set off for college almost one year ago, I felt a tinge of sadness in thinking that things would never be the same. But I could have never anticipated the magnitude of change that one year of college brings.

Sure, there were the physical manifestations, a new haircut on one, a couple of added pounds on another. But this past year marked the first time we had our own distinct life experiences, our own trials and triumphs.

And, for the first time, none of us were there in person for each other to congratulate on an achievement, to roll our eyes mockingly, to lash out on the defensive, or to provide a knowing smile of encouragement.

Yes, there had been e-mails a plenty and occasional phone calls. Over winter break, photo albums were lugged from house to house, and new "best friend's" white teeth gleamed unsympathetically from the glossy pictures.

As each of us took turns, it struck me how terribly futile the whole exercise was -- let's face it, we would probably never meet these picture perfect pals, and none of us cared to see the fabulous array of attractive people that populated one another's respective campuses.

If you've seen one bunch of Abercrombie and Fitch clad boys, you've seen them all. Building blended into building, dorm room into dorm room. With a kind of glassy-eyed feigned interest we looked, pointed and questioned, attempting to be inclusive but succeeding only in alienation.

Over breakfast, as we sat in anticipation of our meal, talk once more shifted to college life. For a while, the conversation seemed destined to fall into a desperate abyss, filled with yet more attempts to sum up classes, housing, friends and romance into a neatly bundled, easily digestible assimilated package.

Almost comically, shards of stories floated about the table, and intricate trees of association were constructed in a game of "top this" motivated by secret pangs of jealousy.

Friends of friends once removed -- this one from New York City with a passion for vintage clothing, that one engaged to be married, and yet another in the military stationed in God-knows-where -- spoken about with smiles and laughter meant solely for the insider.

I do not profess immunity to these pitfalls. I, too, proudly displayed pictures of a perfectly decorated dorm room, of a lush campus and formal dances. I too fell prey to telling the disconnected stories of one whose year long absence has amounted to what seems like a lifetime of new experiences.

Perhaps my friends and I engage in this round-robin circus in desperation to recapture what I know we never will. And frankly, after overcoming the initial awkwardness, I think it is a positive development in our relationship.

I find our conversations focused on larger issues, provoked by minds enlightened with a year's higher learning and an eye opening glance at the world outside the suffocating cocoon of our provincial town.

When the final bite of eggs was eaten, and the last packet of jelly spread, I looked around the table and sensed a maturity, a worldliness that had not been there just eleven months ago. And at that moment it was ok -- in fact refreshing -- that our lives were no longer carbon copies of one another.

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