We Were Seven

a group of students sit on a lawn with white houses in the background

We were a seven-strong text group who kept in touch daily across continents.

Matt Connors ’95, Tim Buggs ’95, Erin O’Donnell ’94, Sara Licastro ’95, J Blackwell ’95, myself, and my husband, Alex Huberty ’95. After graduation, Alex and I settled on eastern Long Island, a few miles from the Atlantic, where it is almost as quiet as Vermont. When the group of us lived together under the stifling shadow of Mount Anthony during the summer of 1992—with an enormous group of friends, including Lina Pomeroy Tans ’92, Owen Wolf ’94, and Matt Vohr ’95—I ached for this stretch of the sea. Our Bennington “family” often comes and stays with us, particularly in summer and on Thanksgiving.

Before I went to Bennington, the idea of belonging did not seem possible. There was almost no time, except while swimming in the sea, when I felt that joyful rush of being at home. But it was at Bennington that I formed a lifelong family of friends and a career that tapped into the core of who I am. I learned from the faculty who fostered and encouraged inquiry, creativity, and self- challenge. I learned just as much from students: so many of them are brilliant and deeply inquisitive.

This kind of perpetual life-learning takes a certain amount of energy. As someone who also manages a complex illness, I am often exhausted. Pain drains and detaches me from creativity. It would be enraging if I had the energy to be enraged. This kind of existence means that, when you are feeling the least bit better, you’re unpleasant to be around because you’re bitter over losing a week of your life. Illness is the enemy of the time that is left. None of my friends knew this better than Matt Vohr.

Matt Vohr, 1994, young man smiles at camera wearing a white teeshirt
Matt Vohr, 1994

One day, resting on the sand after one of our many ocean swims, Matt said, “You seem unhappy. It makes me sad.” This was around 1999, when I was doctor- hopping, 98 lbs thin, and hopelessly un-pregnant, among other terrible symptoms. Matt and I were always close. We relied on each other to cheer each other up, needled each other in an infuriatingly familial way, and distracted each other from pain and bad habits, reminding each other that we were still loveable, still adaptable. Which works only so well if one is talking about, in my case, Stage IV Endometriosis and anxiety, and in his case, Type I Diabetes and functional alcoholism.

On January 28, 2017, the seven-strong text group woke me with 80 messages conveying the impossible. Matt was dead. In the photo posted by his sister on Facebook announcing his death in the middle of the night, he is smiling, model- handsome in his chef’s apron.

Exactly one week later, Alex gave an already-scheduled performance with J Blackwell, now a Bennington faculty member, at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. Many of our Bennington friends attended to support Alex and J, and to connect in the wake of Matt’s death. That night—unbeknown to us—came more of the impossible. Classmate Marc Spitz ’92, died in his apartment only 30 blocks away from our impromptu, informal wake for Matt. Two weeks later, some of us traveled from Marc’s memorial in New York directly to Matt’s in Rhode Island.

two students and a child sitting on a green lawn two students - a man and a woman - smile and smoke while at a party three students sitting on the lawn on a cloudy day
(L-R) Georgia Pomeroy Wyman, Lina Pomeroy Tans, Erica-Lynn Huberty, Sunfest 1995 | Anna Rockwell and Owen Wolf in 1993 | Matt Connors, Jaclyn Baer, Matt Vohr, Sunfest 1995

I have photo albums—old plastic sheets of 35 mm film prints—documenting my Bennington life. Here is Matt on the lawn at Sunfest. Next to him, the incredibly talented artist Lina Pomeroy with her then-infant daughter Georgia; her boyfriend Dudley Wyman ’92, Georgia’s father is on stage with Alex; Adam Zabarsky ’95 and Dave Brandt ’95 performing with their band, The Breadmen. Lina died of cancer seven months after Matt died, leaving Georgia and two more children and a bereft husband.

Turn the page. There is my VAPA studio mate: sweet, gentle Paul Ahrens ’94. Paul died 10 months before Matt, Marc, and Lina. In another photo is dear, clever Owen Wolf, a witty lit major who went to work in television; and there is Sonny Orsini ’93, always gregarious like a gentleman from another era, at one of his hilariously elegant Bingham soirées. Owen became a casualty of a senseless random shooting in Los Angeles in 2000. Sonny, after serving as a senator in Guam, succumbed to cancer in 2017. In my albums we are all smiling, laughing, mugging: full of life and filled only with the promise of more life. Nothing else at the time seemed possible.

There are many things that I now believe possible that I didn’t back then. Such as how these lives will still overlap and affect each other and live on, even when they are no longer living. They continue, not just in the grainy, shiny photo paper of our time on campus, but in the way we carry them with us. In the way that every time I swim, with every daunting wave I dive under, I say Matt’s name like a prayer. And with his name flows, naturally, all the rest.

a man wearing glasses and a woman smile at the camera (sepia toned photo) a man with dark hair and a red shirt and a woman with dark hair look at the camera a student at a halloween party
(L-R) Erica-Lynn and Sonny Orsini over Field Work Term in New York City | Erica-Lynn and Paul Ahrens, 1992 | Paul Ahrens, Halloween 1992

Erica-Lynn Huberty ’95 is a pioneer in the contemporary fiber arts movement. She is the author of the collection Dog Boy and Other Harrowing Tales, which was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer Prize for Short Fiction and the Benjamin Franklin Award for fiction in 2011.