We come to hear the endings
of all the stories
in our anthology
of false starts…
When I first got the invitation to my high school reunion several months ago, I put it aside, ambivalent at best about attending. Over the years, I’d attended only two, one shortly after I returned from Canada and then ten years ago, the fortieth. But there was something unsettling about this one, the fiftieth. It required an admission of time passing, of looking in the mirror and seeing only the faint shadow of the idealistic girl who stared out at me from the pages of my high school yearbook, of growing older. I decided not to attend. Why subject myself to an evening of trying to put faces and names together, of asking, and answering, the question, “What are you doing now?” too many times to count? And yet, I wondered…what ever happened to her? My best girlfriend who disappeared after leaving for Hawaii? Or the football star voted “best looking” by our senior class? Or my old dance partner, Gordy, who, together with me, earned the title “best personality?”
…how the girl who seemed
as hard as nails
how the athletes ran
out of races;
how under the skin
our skulls rise
to the surface
like rocks in the bed
of a drying stream.
Look! We have all
(“25th High School Reunion” by Linda Pastan, from Carnival Evening 1968-1998: New and Selected Poems)
It wasn’t until two months later, when my cell phone rang as I was parking my rental car in the Stanford Cancer Center parking lot that I finally decided to go to my reunion.
“Sharon?” I didn’t recognize the voice, a woman’s with a slight Texan drawl. “It’s Sherry. I got your number from one of the committee members.”
“Sherry? Oh my god…” She was my best friend in junior high and high school, the one who went to Hawaii, the one who had disappeared sometime afterward. She was calling from Texas, where she’d been living for years.
“Are you going to the reunion? Because I am, but only if you are.”
We talked for a short time, giving each other a quick synopsis of our lives, acknowledging the similarities between us—second marriages, estranged siblings, deceased parents—and each of us, reluctant to participate in the class reunion. I’d go, I finally said, but only if she was going to be there.
As it turns out, neither of us will be among the class members gathering to reminisce with one another this coming weekend. Sherry’s husband is ill, and I’ll be entertaining my daughter and one year old granddaughter. But I’ve had flashes of sentimentality for weeks, moments when I’ve pulled the old yearbook from the shelf and studied the faces, wondering what ever happened to him or her, or, this week, as I read through the little booklet, a collection of classmates’ summaries, “what’s happened to me since 1962” which one classmate was kind enough to send me when I had to cancel my reservation for the class dinner. There have been some pleasant discoveries—shy, quiet classmates who blossomed into artists, missionaries, photographers, teachers, lawyers—and some less happy ones—men and women I knew in high school who died much too soon. I was inspired to reach out to a few of my old classmates–a call, a letter, even the chance to have lunch with Roy, who lived just a half-block from my house, and his wife while I was teaching for a week in Berkeley. We have all changed–and not changed. We might not like the evidence of age we see on our faces in the mirror , but our lives have all been interesting, sometimes challenging, but full and rich. Maybe that’s what reunions are about, a chance to say, “This is my life. This is who I’ve become.”
This week, find a photograph of yourself from your high school years. Study it, the eyes, the smile, perhaps the haircut or shirt you wore, the younger self that stares back at you. What was it like to be you then? What hopes and dreams did you have? What desires? What worries? Why not write a letter to that younger self? What would you say to her or him? How would you describe the person you’ve become from the one you were then?
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome…
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
(“Love after Love,” by Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems, 1948-1984)