Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tapestry of Our Lives

I just returned from my high school reunion—we will not be crass and say which one. In spite of my fears, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in many years.

I was afraid to go, which surprised me. I remember going with my father to his fiftieth high school reunion (still haven’t had that one, thank goodness!) of the Shades Cahaba High School Class of 1937 and as we stepped out of the car he said to no one in particular: “You know, I feel a little scared.” Here’s my father who survived four years of World War II, built a house, learned to sail, joined a flying club, went through the harrowing task of raising two girls, not to mention spending umpteen years with my mother, and I thought to myself: How could this man be frightened of a little thing like a class reunion? What a silly girl I was! As my own reunion of middle-aged classmates approached I too began to feel what my father had felt—scared. And I did what I always do when I’m worried about things like that—I hit the gym. It cheered me up and and I sure hoped it would tighten my thighs.

I feared the reunion would be one of those events where everybody looked at everybody to see how fat so-and-so had gotten, how many wrinkles he/she had, or how stylish (or lacking in) were his/her clothes. I thought I would have to confess to the numerous real and imagined failures in my life, or, worse yet, that they would just be writ large right there on my mug. I thought people would just be waiting to nudge one another and say: See, I told you she wouldn’t look that hot.

And yet, from the moment I got out of the car and spotted my first classmate I never felt that way for one minute. I instantly quit worrying what people thought about me and almost as if a different self was at the helm of the S.S. Chapman, I began concentrating on my old friends. The strangest thing happened when I looked them: as I recognized each classmate the years melted away and we were children again and all the sorrow and worry of being an adult melted away too and I was able to relate to each one as I once had—without the barriers and jealousy of adults and with the friendly curiosity of a child.

I can’t speak for everyone, but this seemed to happen to many of us. The boys—I call them that because they seemed to be that at the reunion, to me—stared at me longingly and confessed to long-forgotten crushes. Some remembered the days we walked home together from grammar school, and pointed out that other boys had been my favorites. Girls giggled together again about tricks they’d played on each other and the boys. It was a miracle of time travel and I wish Albert Einstein could have been there because he would have seen that universal time warp thing he was always pondering. Maybe Einstein was in my class and I just didn’t recognize him—he looked so young?

I wasn’t completely blinded by the light. I saw that some of the boys had filled out a little and that the girls had changed hairstyles, but it just didn’t seem relevant. “Do you remember that house that burned down in the hills that night? My Dad drove us up there and we stood outside the car and just watched it burn. I don’t think I’d ever done that before, and I know I’ve never seen anything like it since,” I said to Brian, whom I had known since junior high school. “I know that house,” he said. “I remember my Dad sold them the lumber to rebuild.” Remember when? Those were the two most popular words at the reunion.

I saw my junior high school boyfriend, and bumped his shoulder with mine. “Hello, love of my young life,” I said. He gave me a sly smile, and a very nice hug. When we were young he was tall and fair haired, and now he was even taller though his hair was white. Still very handsome, too. And even better than that, he heads a foundation in the Pacific Northwest. Helping others. I had such good taste when I was young.

People hadn’t changed very much. The smartest guy in the class became a successful lawyer and lives in Beverly Hills. Where else? Another class scholar now heads a library on the East Coast. The class cut-up is now a judge—and who better to understand the unique characters that come before his bench? The class quarterback, always a charmer, is a successful dealer in commercial real estate. Heck, I’d buy a building from him. The brainy eccentric is a Silicon Valley V.P. who wears a beard and is part of one of those California cycling clubs. In high school, he drove a Chevy Corvair, and I think that was pretty much like riding a bicycle, wasn’t it? The serious girl, who studied harder than most of us, is a school teacher. The nice guy who helped me struggle through trigonometry is an engineer in the solar energy business. The boy, who always discovered too late that a dog had eaten his homework, went to work in the family business and was finally able to muddle through.

The nicest reunion of all was reconnecting with my friend and grammar school rival Lisa. She disappeared off my radar in high school—we must have each run with a different crowd. But there she was at the reunion, a tiny, lovely, gentle person with something positive to say about everyone. When we were young, we were the two fastest runner in our grade and I remember keeping my distance from her--just a little bit for fear--what?--she would guess the secret of my speed? As if I knew what it was! I found a picture of us as ten-year-olds at a cowgirl party and we pored over it with laughter identifying the other miscreants. “There’s you,” she said, “in your signature scarf.” My signature scarf. What an observation for my quiet friend to make about me the girl who always liked dressing up. I bought a Prada bag to carry at the reunion, just to help boost my confidence. I guess Lisa could have predicted that.

One boy I’d known since childhood sat down on the second night of the reunion and told me how he’d had a heart attack at 42 and how, unmarried at that point, he feared he would die before he’d had a chance to live his life. And then he met Marie from our class--not a at a class reunion but through his work in Sacramento. She was a girl so quiet he had never known her in school. I don’t think any of us really knew her. And Eric and Marie fell in love and were married and now, he said, whatever time he had he knew he was lucky. He looked thin, but he smiled and I could see he was happy. I expect him to be there with Marie at the next reunion.

Of course I’m going.

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