What a LONG time. The last reunion I attended was the 33rd (our class doesn't do things the usual way). I don't remember much of that reunion — except that it was nice, but felt unsettling to me. I suppose if you asked, people from my class would always say I belonged, I was a cheerleader, held class office, and was in the Girls' Varsity Club. But for me, high school was like being an outsider living on the fringes. Outside because I was one way at school and then another at home. There I lived a totally different reality — a hidden reality until my brother did something that shamefully splashed our family's name all over the newspapers. Though I gave a speech at graduation ("Maybe I'm not an individual but only think I am…") and won an award for citizenship, I really didn't feel as if I was part of any life I saw my classmates living.
Going to a reunion I suppose many of us worry about the things that always worried us. For me it was my weight. I'd always struggled with weight and was certainly heavier now. While I knew some of those attending would look as they did back in the day, when I looked in the mirror I didn't see the old me — nor would they.
The reunion was full of surprises.
Yes, I and others were heavier, but for the most part people were the same. Certainly older, changed hair (beards!), more wrinkled, but still, much as they were almost half a century before. I was surprised that I spent more time talking with classmates I barely knew back then. I was surprised that most of the women were still coloring their hair (darker or lighter) but I don't remember any other female who'd let their hair go gray, as I did. Our creative writing teacher had married one of our classmates! Turns out he was only seven years older than we were! How is that possible? I was astonished that we were there from all over — California, Montana, Florida — they'd all come together despite the time and the miles. Why? What we we looking for? What were the hopes?
My motivation was to reconnect with my past. To see if I could get perspective on where I came from and who I was back then.
I had to say this "look back" was a driving force the past six months — tracking down old boyfriends to say something I hadn't said. Visiting old homes to see what they looked like now. Trying to find a missing recipe, a photograph that captured something now gone. I wanted to square my past; I wanted people to know who I really was then and not who I often pretended to be.. "Little Mary Sunshine".
Surrounded by my classmates, I started to see who they were. Like sweet S who had cared for her ailing, aging parents, found her calling, decided to go back to school and became a nurse. Or vivacious D who was traveling the states successfully running her own media business. Ju, N, L, S, H, and J, looked as if they'd just stepped out of high school. Forty-plus years later, J & S were the same couple they'd always been and there was comfort in that for me. The high school sweethearts who'd been living separate lives for decades and came together recently and married because R said, "I thought about when I was happiest in my life and it was when I was with C." Having twins myself, I was curious about the three sets of twins in our class, and sadly two sets are estranged. Everyone had stories to tell: loving J with an alcoholic parent, the divorce that left perky M a single mom raising four little ones on her own; H who surprisingly only learned after her mother passed that she was Jewish and survived the Holocaust.
For me, it was a chance to revisit what was true for me then, especially two stand-out incidents: In Mister Burson Wasn't a Nice Person I wrote of my indignance when my geometry teacher called me "stupid" but at the reunion was infuriated to learn that (in a different class) he'd called fun-loving M a "dum-dum." She told me she hadn't been able to walk out but his negative words left their impact. When she shared this parallel insult it confirmed for me what I thought about Mr. Burson back then as a sophomore — he was an awful teacher and should have been FIRED.
And a big thanks to B who remembered being in class when dear Father Ryan lost his temper with me. B validated the mortification I felt that day and the humbling pall that fell over the class at Mr. Ryan's uncharacteristic action.
Despite my trepidations I was warmed when Bl's first words to me were "Hello Denise…" and I was pleased when after the reunion C emailed , "Man, you are some dancer, you got the whole crowd going! " and despite the fact that after partying too hard when I sat down to talk to Br I fell off my chair (thank you for being so chivalrous about it), I was struck by an unmistakable fact. Out of about 250 kids, sixty of us from the Class of '70 came together to greet one another, catch up, share our memories, drink, laugh, dance, and be one again. It was pretty damn great.
Still there were things I wanted to say, questions I wanted to ask, people I missed, people I didn't get to talk to.
Guess I'll have to show up again — for the 50th.
Maybe, just maybe, I belonged more than I knew.