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June 22, 2012 / glencoyote

Reunion Magic

My 40th high school reunion is happening in the fall and the magic of Facebook allows me to glimpse the process of people finding their way back – back to a time, a place, to people, and to themselves, restoring attenuated connections, reweaving the story. And I am one of those people.

A person named Mark, who I once knew – elementary school? – who I think might have briefly been a friend, but the memory is slippery, posts a picture of a girl named Leslie. She was theatrical, a singer, and I remember trying to carry her over a mud puddle – she was wearing an outrageous wine red, suede pantsuit. Of course I fell as I lifted her, my legs shooting out in front of me as I slipped, and she ended up sitting on my chest, laughing  as I lay in the mud. What I remember most is that this circumstance, which could have ended in permanent social mortification, was handled by Leslie with such grace that she sent me on my way (after washing and drying my clothes!) feeling every bit the gallant young man I had set out to be.

My high school girlfriend (and friend forever after), Tracy, posts a picture and the kid in the middle looks like me – but I am not completely sure. I show it to my wife, “does this look like me?” I know who it is, but the angle, the expression, makes the image slightly opaque to me and I am momentarily stymied by my inability to connect with my teenage self in the photo. But than I realize that, of course, it is not me – it is a kid captured in a moment more than 40 years ago and I no longer have access to the circumstances and the state of mind that produced that expression.

Tracy asks if I will attend the reunion and I say no, although catching up with her recent life would be one of the reasons to go.

As I look at another recently posted photo of a girl named Nina, I wonder whatever became of Andy. I think most people remember a teenage friend who always seemed to be a step ahead, a little more alert, more knowing. These guardians help us lesser beings negotiate the difficult teenage years. Andy was my guardian. He introduced me to herb, John Barleycorn Must Die, and he taught me that with incipient attraction one must be decisive.

One New Year’s Eve, tired of hearing my incessant mooning over that girl Amy, he called her and professed my love to her. I have it on good intelligence, thankfully, that Amy has no recollection of that drunken phone call. More to the point, and getting back to Nina, one day Andy and I were watching the girls play field hockey. I shouted something or other, a boyish inanity, to Nina who responded with a quizzical look and a slightly embarrassed shrug. The next morning she approaches me at the water fountain and asks me a question that I don’t immediately comprehend and before I can even say, “what?” she backed away with that same awkward expression I had seen the day before. “Andy,” I say, “ it’s the craziest thing but I think Nina just asked me if yesterday I had said that I had tickets to Jimi Hendrix?” Andy’s eyes go galaxies wide and he sticks his face into mine and says, “My god, don’t you know what that means?” Anticipating the worst I say, “no.” He says, “It means that if you had them, she would go with you!” Needless to say, within the year Andy was going out with Nina.

I wonder where my debate partner Larry has ended up. I wonder if the other members of the freshman cross country team still get any glow from our undefeated season. I wonder if Mark (a later, different Mark) still reads Buber and thinks about the meaning of life. I wonder if Richard’s conversational pauses would still have me trying to anticipate his thoughts. I wonder if you can work at the U.N. and still be zany.

These memories and reflections in response to comments and pictures posted by people – most of whom I didn’t know well even back then – has occasioned an unusual optimism in me. As a high school teacher I have just attended this year’s school graduation, congratulating our seniors and wishing them well. It is amusing and sobering to hear their excited and emotional stories of their high school experience. To be present as they set off into the expanding universe of their future lives while holding the still vivid, but fragmented memories from my own high school years reminds me that entropy is also a distillery and our lives are a fine spirit to be savored to the last drop.

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