11 September 2006

Getting Older

I had mixed feelings about going to my 20th High School reunion, since my High School experience was not one that I would wish on many... But, when the anouncements came, my gut overrode any doubts that my mind could create. "Hey, dummy, you don't get a chance to redo it later if you miss it this time around." So, I took the drive from Floodsville, New Orleans to High Point, North Carolina.

After much hemming and hawing (I'm not sure how to "haw," exactly, but I'm sure I was doing it), I drove myself out to the first event, a Friday night football game... I made the long walk from lot 1 at the AJ Simeon Football Stadium, stomach turning flips the whole time, wondering whether the blob of a human that I'd become would even be recognized.

The first time I looked down into the stands, I didn't recognize anyone, and I was sure that nobody had shown yet, and I was going to be stuck by myself until they arrived. Turns out, I just wasn't looking for people that had changed as much as I had.

I spent the night floating amongst the bleachers, making smalltalk with these people I hardly recognized. Each time I reintroduced myself, each time I shook a hand, and each time I met a spouse or a child, it got easier. And, though it took most of the evening, I began to really look forward to the meet and greet that was scheduled for the next night.

Arriving at High Point's String and Splinter Club on Saturday, I was beside myself with nerves. I knew there were going to be a lot of folks there that had not attended the game, so there were plenty of opportunities for disastrous reintroductions, and the same reticence from Friday was creeping in. Even though I had the RSVP list, I really didn't know who to expect, and more importantly, what to expect from them. Nevertheless, a couple of deep breaths later, in I went.

It's a strange thing when you see faces that have been absent from your life for that long. The waves of memories were irrepressible. For most of these folks, once I recognized them, there were stillframes and clips from my life that poured forth, from as far back as first grade. And, though not one of these memories was complete, they were suddenly fresh, like they'd happened just last year. All sorts of things... A joke told in the back of the band classroom. A party I went to. Even things as simple as a passing greeting in a hallway.

Now, among those newly fresh memories there was the crop of terrors that came back, too. Lots of embarassing moments. Lots of ill-spoken words. A terrifying presentation in class. A facefirst fall in the middle of the cafeteria. A date that never happened. Lots of things that I won't talk about here. For these, I expected to feel a lot of sorrow and resentment. I have always known these ghosts were there, and I was sure they would make an appearance.

But something unexpected happened. The fears came, but they didn't matter at all. They were rendered powerless because the same people I was once terrified among and embarrassed in front of were happy to see me. And, after twenty years. I was genuinely happy to see them.

We didn't have life-changing and enlightening conversation. There wasn't a late night recounting of the hundreds of stories from highschool years. And,, there were no confessions of years of undying secret love. There was just the togetherness. An acknowledgement that we had shared these years of experience, and a silent knowledge that, because of this, we really were of a common cloth.

I hadn't expected it, but there was comfort in being with these people. We had all been reduced down to what we all really are... just people getting older. But, despite fears and history, we were together again, and that reminded us that we were young once, and that we were young together.


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