Sunday, December 19, 2010

Time it was and what a time it was it was

Last night my high school had a giant reunion, a reunion for all the people who had ever attended at any point since they opened in 1975. It was a reunion, but it was also the retirement party for the principal, the incredible Roseanne Wood. I was not there. I was at work in my ill fitting blacks, walking the floor and serving the pretty people.
One of the tables I had the pleasure of serving was the family of one of our chefs (the best hired gun in town) who also went to my high school and whose brother was the valedictorian of my graduating class. The brother was there, in town for the event, and we saw each other for the first time in 14 years. When he walked through the door my heart banged against my ribcage and rattled the blood to the roots of my hair and I had to hide a minute, I felt so shy. This man, this boy, he looks exactly the same, only more handsome. Perhaps it is the beard.
We were friends back then. The kind of friends who were brought together primarily because he dated one of my best friends, and so were almost always together but never alone together. My best friends- I wish I could list their names. I would pull out their names like a rosary and tug each one as it went by, but it has been 14 years and I am so different and who are they now and would they want to be named by childhood name here on my morning scribble to everyone and no one? Even if I say the names with a prayer and a tug on each one, would they cringe? Besides, I so rarely name names here it seems far too intimate. Here is all I can say: J and M and E and H and K and C. There were other friends but those were the ones. They were the ones. Oh Nyna.
Most of us still or again live here in Tallahassee. K is in California and H is in New York (I believe) but the rest of us yes live here. J and M and E have babies and children. All of them have done amazing things. Whenever I hear of what they are doing all I can say is Damn.
This friend I saw last night, he and his beautiful wife are both ologists of fascinating subjects, furthering the good of humanity. They are Super Scientists and I am glad they are on our side. If they were to use those giant brains for evil we would all be fucked.
He told me that he was looking forward to seeing so many people from the past. I struggled to voice what I was feeling and said something about how it is different to move away and drift apart from those you were close with in high school than it is to be in one's hometown and do the same. I had been on my feet 10 hours already when we were talking and my words were not satisfying to me, though they never are when I try to speak of what is in my heart. He didn't seem to mind my struggle, he listened and he looked into my eyes.
Here is what it is:
My high school was different. We were a Magnet school, we were a public school, we were a drop out prevention school, we were 200 people strong. We were in the bad part of town. We were the druggie school. We had a bad reputation. We were not allowed to be fools. We were taught respect by being respected. We were from every neighborhood in Tallahassee. For some of us it was a last chance and some of us fought to get in. For all of us it was a choice and it was the only place, the only place for any of us.
One time when I was going through a hard time, my dad was worried about me after he dropped me off. He called the office and asked if there was anyone who could talk to me. The office ladies, in all their wisdom, called not the school counselor but the drama teacher who was beloved to me. She came and got me out of math class. We went into a tiny room that was used as a computer cubicle, shut the door, sat on the floor in the dark, and we talked. That was the kind of school it was. Still is, I hear.
They didn't expect us to work hard and do well because that was what you were supposed to do to be a Good Student. They expected that because we were all smart, we were all worthy of greatness, we were all able, and so of course we could. No excuses for lameness. Not the charges on your rap sheet, not the alcoholic parents, not the baby in your belly. You choose your future. You can you can you can.
Roseanne Wood built that house and her I can name because I know she claims me as one of her own. She claims all of us. She is proud of what we have done and who we are. Even when we are not.
I did not go to the reunion because people requested off for the holidays and I put myself into the empty spot they left behind. That and I knew, in my maudlin way, it would tear my fucking heart apart.
J and M and E and H and C and K. Back then there were times I did not know where my skin stopped and theirs began. I could reach out and fill my hands with their hair, I knew what all their toes looked like, I knew all their smells. We swam naked, we all slept in the same beds, we wore each other's clothes, we broke each other's hearts. I wasn't the best of them, and I acted badly and took their love for granted and I regret it so much. I was a kid, I was learning what it was to love. That's my excuse for lameness.
Now I see some of them sometimes and I almost cannot bear it, I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a ballroom with all of them at once, all of us so different now and yet still the same. The people we were still in us somewhere. All of that and the meeting of spouses and the talk of work and the la-di-da and my stupid heart would be beating so hard and my arms would literally ache to pull them to me. There would be nothing I could say to explain what I would have felt, and the need to do so would have been so strong that it would have hurt. To try would have been inappropriate bordering on crazy, which is how I am generally anyway. At least I see that. At least I know.
At our graduation, the top five students (of which I was one, and that boy last night another, and J and E as well) were asked to give a small speech. After having come through all four years of that amazing school and having inside us all that they taught us we felt that this was silly, that we'd accomplished nothing compared to those who had come to the school with no hope and left with a diploma, and so instead of the speech we were supposed to write we spoke the lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song, each of us taking turns reciting lines. It is even more perfect now, and I leave it here.

Time it was and what a time it was it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences.
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you.

(Bookends, S and G)