I loved everything about being at Amherst: my classes, my professors, campus life, the Pioneer Valley, the Five Colleges. But when I think about what has endured from my time at Amherst, the most valuable treasure that I took away from those four years, what immediately springs to my mind are my friends.
We call ourselves the Chapladies, our moniker taken from the little white house where we all lived senior year. Chapman House, a nondescript building dating back to 1900 and designated as a quiet residence hall, passes under the radar for most. But not for our intrepid friend and RC, Selena, who saw in Chapman tremendous potential. Ten women and one brave man moved into the creaky house on South Pleasant Street and made it our home. (We may have appropriated the two rooms in the attic to accommodate our group’s desire for singles, but don’t tell the powers that be.)
Chapman was the land of open doors and long chats, Friday afternoon art hour, sunset meals on the roof and spur-of-the-moment haircuts in the communal bathroom. Several of us had met freshman year on the second floor of Stearns. The rest of the friendships were born and solidified by way of various student organizations, including GROW (Global Rights of Women), which several Chapladies had founded. Over the course of our time at Amherst, our friendships strengthened into something more likened to family. We even sent out Christmas cards with a silly “family” photo and life updates like, “Rachel has lived in all 15 rooms in Chapman plus all four of the roofs.”
A shared interest in social justice brought us together, as did a commitment to cherishing female friendships. We found strong women mentors all around us at Amherst: in the nurse practitioner who invited us to a retreat, where we journaled and hiked the Notch in silence; in the sexual-health counselor who joined us for art hour, bringing an array of seeds and beads for earring-making; and in the visiting women’s and gender studies professor from Ecuador, who spoke about the plight of Indigenous women and the power of solidarity. Senior year, we organized a dinner called Community of Women (unfortunately abbreviated “CoW”), where we invited our favorite female professors and administrators to indulge in the baked brie and chocolate-covered strawberries that we prepared in Chapman’s tiny kitchen.
The delight we took in supporting and empowering women has sustained our group friendship ever since. Before WhatsApp group chat, we had epic email chains brimming with jokes and news. We even had a BlogSpot circa 2010! (It was called Post Chapman, and the tagline was “You can never escape the womb of love.”) We now host biannual reunions, each in a different location, so that one of our cohort can show the others around their place of residence. We’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve dancing in a San Diego club and camping in a Florida state park, Rachel’s bachelorette party in the Taos wilderness and Jess’ in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve dragged our toddlers into the Puerto Rican rainforest and hopped across the pond to France (in the midst of their worst heat wave on record, during which Rose, our climate scientist, created a heat map of the Airbnb to locate the coolest spot for the baby).
We’ve celebrated life’s most beautiful moments together—graduations, promotions, weddings and births. There was the epic all-nighter that Megan pulled sewing a quilt made from squares sent in from Chapladies near and far—a gift for Destry’s baby, or, as we fondly referred to her, “our first Chapbaby!” Who can forget when the zipper broke on my wedding dress and the two nurses in our crew deployed their suturing skills and a travel sewing kit to stitch me in, all the while keeping this bride calm and laughing? But nothing beats the time that one Chaplady walked across the stage to receive the Amherst diploma of another Chaplady who was hiking the Appalachian Trail, leading to many confused looks from professors and President Tony Marx.
At the moment, we’re spread across three continents (and one Caribbean island), but we still show up for one another—and not just for the fun parties and epic reunions. We’ve weathered deaths in the family, breakups, career transitions, miscarriage, international moves and two pandemic pregnancies. When Rosie’s father passed away, making her the first of our group to lose a parent, Chapladies flew to California in two waves to help sort out her father’s apartment. Besides shredding tax documents from the ’70s and writing impromptu affidavits, Megan and Sam also stood beside Rose and helped shovel dirt onto her father’s casket, a Jewish tradition that they were not going to let her do alone.
In the past two years, we’ve graduated from Chapladies to Chapaunties. The next generation is here, and more are on the way. When Rebecca and I learned that we were both pregnant, we received twin care packages from our Chapman family containing shea butter belly cream, anti-nausea gummy bears and Ali Wong’s memoir about childbirth and childrearing. When COVID canceled our joint baby shower, our Chapladies organized the sweetest Zoom celebration. (I spent most of it in tears, overwhelmed with gratitude and hormones.) And when Rebecca’s twins were born 11 weeks early, we sent tiny onesies to keep them warm in the NICU and food delivery gift cards to keep the parents nourished amidst the chaos. To be pregnant in 2020 was to experience great uncertainty and fear, but the support and love of the Chapladies felt grounding.
Reading back through the hilarious email chain we sent back in Chapman about getting around fire codes on paper lanterns and posters that covered up “more than 20 percent of the walls,” I yearn for that special time when we could drop by someone’s room unannounced and plan dinner without having to figure out flight details. We joke about living together again someday in a Chapmanesque paradise. Amongst our Chap-family (partners included), we have a nurse midwife, a paramedic, an ICU nurse, a union boss, several community organizers, a city planner, an organic vegetable farmer, a cannabis grower, a climate scientist, a permaculturist, a yoga instructor, an entrepreneur, a few writers, several dancers, two podcast producers, an artist, a physical therapist, two psychotherapists/social workers, a lawyer, a software engineer and a data scientist. We pretty much have our bases covered for all manner of apocalyptic disaster.
It’s not our time at Amherst that makes our friendship so special, but rather the 10 years since. Together, we’ve navigated life’s biggest transitions and challenges, the beautiful parts and the tough bits. We’ve grown closer and come out stronger on the other side—usually full of laughter and inappropriate jokes. We’ve faced hardships together, but we’ve also faced hardships within our group. It’s not always easy maintaining college friendships when we’re thousands of miles apart, and we haven’t always been successful. Like with any family, there are conflicts, and sadly there have been some that we haven’t been able to resolve.
In the spring of 2009, a month before our Amherst graduation, we planted tulips in Chapman’s front yard. Rebecca, the hatcher of this plan, described her rationale: “It will be like we’re living in Chapman forever! Our senior gift, if you will.” I don’t know if the tulips still bloom each spring. I do like to think that we marked that house somehow—left a hint of magic in the floorboards, infused the house with our laughter, a whisper of love emanating from the walls.
But the truth is, the magic of Chapman lives beyond the walls of that little white house. The way a snail carries its home on its back, we carry the spirit of Chapman in our hearts everywhere we go.
Guiol is a writer from Miami who ghostwrites memoirs and blogs about digital health.
Photo by Maria Stenzel