I can remember at sophomore orientation (we didn’t have freshmen in those years) sitting next to my best friend, Susie, and being forced to watch this movie entitled “The Best Years of Your Life”. I turned to Susie in the darkened auditorium and whispered, “If that’s true, I should just kill myself right now.” Junior high had been pretty brutal and, as predicted, high school was not much better.
I have minimally kept track of only a handful of friends from my school years through Facebook. A few weeks ago, one of them asked if I was planning on attending our 25-year reunion.
I felt like I’d been hit in the head with a brick. Has it really been 25 years? Good heavens, I’ve gotten old. You’d think I would have figured this out already, I mean, come on. I’ve got two kids in high school myself. But hearing it like THAT: TWENTY-FIVE YEAR REUNION.
Making matters worse was the fact that I’ve been in a bit of a financial slump lately and the charge to go and mingle with my old classmates was going to be $75, and that was just for hors d’oeuvres. I spent the next 3 weeks waffling. Do I want to pony up that much money just so I can go feel inadequate around these jerks that caused me so much pain all those years ago? Are the people that I REALLY want to see going to show up? Do I really want to tell everyone that my business is struggling and I’m looking for work?
The week before the reunion was unusually brutal, so I guess I was a bit surprised on Saturday morning that I had a strange compulsion to go anyway. I mean, hey, I didn’t do too badly. I own my own house in a great neighborhood and I have lived my life on my own terms for the most part. I look WAAAAY better now than I did in school. I decided to gate-crash. On the drive down, I considered quoting John Cusack from Grosse Pointe Blank. “What do I do for a living? I kill people.” It was a thought.
I showed up about two and a half hours into the reunion. I walked in and only one thought rang in my head:
“Who the hell are these people?”
I recognized no one.
I made a pass through the crowd and a vague recollection dawned with one or two faces, and some names were slightly familiar. Suddenly a tall woman turned suddenly to face me. It was Susie.
Susie, Rebecca (who’d initially told me of the event) and Dave were all in attendance. These are 3 of the friends with whom I stay in contact through Facebook anyway. But I haven’t seen Susie and Dave face to face in years. It was great seeing them.
Others came and went from our conversation. We tried to put together the connections. A few of the guys that came had run with the crowd that tormented me most. They had no memory of me. “Cathy Olney… nope, don’t remember you.”
“Really.” I countered. “It was your friends that dubbed me ‘Homely Only’. I had glasses back then. Remember me now?” A flash of horror across the face would come with the objection, “Hey, that wasn’t ME.” And it wasn’t them, specifically. Those former creeps didn’t come. We had a good talk about it though, and it felt good to hear that some of the meanest jerks from my youth had been seasoned and softened through brutal divorces and failures at work and all of the things that are normal in life. They had come to have compassion and sometimes even remorse.
Susie, Dave and I talked for a long time and Rebecca filled us in on nearly everyone we’d known since grade school. How does she know what’s happened to EVERYONE? It became a game as we struggled to pull names from the ancient archives of our childhood, just to see if we could stump her.
It was good to see that Dave had merely ripened into an even more wonderful man than he was a boy. His dimpled, perpetual smile that I remember so well reflected a full and beautiful life with his family and a successful business. I am happy for him and it was a gift to share the conversation that evening. I wish he still lived here.
Susie is a single mom, like me. We used to live just blocks apart when we were first married and she still lives there still. Single parenting is hard, and she doesn’t have nearly the support from her ex-husband that I do from mine. I misinterpreted that when trying to connect with her years ago and assumed that she really just didn’t want to see me and was making excuses. My feelings were hurt and I let it stop me from seeing her.
She was my closest friend for the majority of my childhood. Most of my happy memories include her. I have known exactly where she has been all of these years and she has not been so far away that I couldn’t connect with her. I just let my self-righteous indignation be more important than our history.
I have changed in so many ways in the last 25 years, and I must say that I do think that they are all good changes. Almost all of them were caused by painful circumstances. Funny how that works.
When we were in school, it was easy; we were friends with those on our street, in our classes and that shared our lunch period. But then we left school. People moved, got fired, got transferred. They had kids and became absorbed in diapers and softball tournaments. New neighbors moved in with mistrust due to the crazy neighbors they just left behind.
It became harder to meet people and harder to foster relationships with those we liked. We got married and had to befriend teams rather than just individuals, complicating it further. Then there were divorces, and the picking of sides.
In 25 years, I have learned that friendships don’t just happen. They require effort and commitment, trial and error, patience, time, risk and trust and usually a laying aside of ego.
Here I have a friend that was so very dear to me, and I have allowed that relationship lie fallow for 20 years. Shame on me. And with Rebecca as well; she and I have seen each other a few times over the years, but the ball has always been in my court. She is witty and smart, and we both are really into gardening and running. Why have I not made time for her, too?
My school years were painful. Sadly, it is the bad memories that come to my mind most easily and frequently. I don’t like remembering those things and when we get together, that is our commonality. But underneath is the basic spirit that caused us to be friends in the first place. I have decided to make it a priority in my life to tend these embers and honor these women as I should.
I think it is a worthy endeavor, and I hope they think so, too.
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