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)

16 comments:

All This Trouble... said...

Congratulations on a job well done to your former principal! And I know this feeling of yours. To leave and be gone for a time and then back in the very same place you've always been... I'd give you a hug if I could!

Ms. Moon said...

You have to let Rosanne read this. You HAVE to.
My love. Your power in high school was so fierce. Your heart was like a knife, your soul was like a furnace.
Being your mother was hard. I'll tell you that because you wanted it ALL and because I had been that way too, I knew the dangers. But I also knew the ultimate danger of trying to hold you too close.
And that school- it gave me the best peace of mind I could get. Everyone loved you there and watched out for you from Dep to Rosanne and your special teacher-loves and yes, your love-friends.
Oh May. I dreamed of you last night. Maybe while you were writing this. Who knows?
I love you. Thank-you for the inner wisdom you have which got you through those years, for that heart, that soul that propel you forward always in such beauty.

dbs said...

Your writing is so evocative and compelling. I can't wait for your next post.

downtown guy said...

I felt so weird about the Sail reunion. Like I almost wanted to go, but not really. (This is beautiful, of course.)

SJ said...

I love when you write. Don't I say that everytime? Well, I do.

We are so alike, in our maudlin ways. I am in good company my friend :)

Elizabeth said...

You are the wisest woman in ill-fitting blacks that I've ever not known.

Mwa said...

What a wise song to choose.

And what a post. Again.

May said...

All This Trouble- I will take that hug! One of the things I like about this strange form of sharing is that I get to write out my feelings, and then sometimes someone says they feel the same way and I think, "Ah, I am not so crazy after all" and it is nice. Especially if it is someone I think highly of, like you.

Mama- I know it was hard to be my mama! My goodness, it was hard to be me. High school is such a battle of wanting so desperately to be allowed to be oneself and at the same time not having any idea of what that is. I do not envy you having to go through that. Thank god I got hit by that car! I still think about those times in bed with you watching Northern Exposure. I've been wearing my scarf recently and it is wonderful.
Oh Mama! Thank you for loving me and letting me be me and loving that me! What was your dream about?

dbs- Thank you for coming by, reading, and commenting. Thank you for your sweet words.

DTG- Yeah, I almost feel like you should have gone. Did Shannon go? (Helloooo, Shannon? Did you go?) I heard that it was fun.
(thank you for saying that it was beautiful. your praise means so much.)

SJ- As I am in yours. Let's continue to justify each other's crazy mad hearts. I like it.

Elizabeth- You made me blush. Thank you.

Mwa- Thank you for your sweet comment... but more importantly, I watched Brokeback Mountain the other night for the first time and I thought about you and your marvelous reenactments throughout the entire movie. It made it so great. I had the odd urge to call you on the phone to discuss, and then I had to remind myself that even if I did have your number it was a very bad time to call you so far away.

Ms. Moon said...

I'm sorry. I cannot say I am grateful that you got hit by that car. But I can say that I am grateful for the fact that if it had to happen, it all resolved as it did. That we got to lay in bed together and watch Northern Exposure. That Emily came over and saved your life when I was trying to bathe you. That...well. You know. You're here.
Wearing that scarf. Best thing I ever knit. Ever.
My fingers were so grateful that they could reach out and touch you right there next to me that they made each stitch as perfectly as they could.

kario said...

Gorgeous writing! And such lovely comments. Clearly, you are loved.

I cringed along with you at remembrances of mistakes made in high school. I believe that we all know that pain and that confronting our own shame for past bad acts nearly always results in a shock from those we think we wronged because that isn't how they remember us.

Peace to you.

Django said...

The way we remember people seems to often be so different from how they remember us. Wouldn't it be weird to see ourselves through someone else's brain some time? What stuck with them? What wrongs did they forget or forgive?

Sometimes I'm wracked with guilt over something the subject of my feelings didn't even notice. Actually, that happens a lot, I think. I misspeak often, and realize it later, and then apologize, looking like an ass when the person I'm apologizing to has no memory of the conversation from two days earlier.

I'm not firing on all cylinders right now, but this makes sense in my head. I hope you and everyone who reads your comments can find the connecting word-tissue to fit this appropriately into the conversation.

Mel said...

I read your post late last night when my brain was tired and fuzzy, but your words and the things you said plucked so many strings in my heart, and struck so many nerves that I couldn't begin to form a coherent reply. I still can't.
I want to say so much to you. Here's random bits - you may not be an ologist, but you are certainly furthering the good of humanity, by being who you are on the planet, by living with integrity, dignity and thought, by putting those thoughts to words, helping the rest of us to make some sense of it all.
Your school sounds like a haven, a chrysalis, a gift and I am envious. But I know there are people out there like those in your school, who care, who try, who touch the lives of kids, like the lifelines who save me when I was lost, and I wish so much to find a way to thank them, to let them know that I may not have said it, or acted like it, but I know now with certainty that I owe them more than I could ever repay. Same goes for the friends I loved and lost, as I moved away, both while I was there and after I left. I was so selfish and so confused and such a mess that I took the gift of their friendship for granted, and if I could see them now, when I was done hugging and crying the only thing left to say would be thank you and I'm sorry. I'm sorry you didn't get to go to the reunion, but I understand the odd mix of regret and relief involved in facing the past. Sometimes that mixed with social mores just undoes me.
Anyway, I'm not making much sense, but I hope this makes some - every time I see a new post from you, I get a happy rush, because I know that something true, and beautiful and sad and eloquent awaits

May said...

Mama- I know what you mean. I guess I have to be grateful for it because it happened and it is part of who I am now so if I wasn't I'd be resentful of so much more than the accident itself. Does that make sense? But I agree that it is how it resolved itself that I am grateful for. I wouldn't trade those sweet times for anything.

kario- I guess it's a pretty common experience, which is good because it is so cringe-worthy at times. Thank you for taking time to read and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

Django- It made sense. I like that you apologize for things you say. I know I don't communicate well face-to-face all the time. I feel like sometimes my face is not on my team. Just the other day a co-worker asked what my look was about and I said, "I'm sorry, I have no idea what my face is doing right now." Okay, that's not exactly what you were talking about but I'm trying to say I get it. Or maybe I don't. I'm sorry I missed your calls. I will try you today.

Mel- Thank you for all that you said! You do understand, and that is what it is all about for me. I'm glad that you did have some people who touched you and helped you when you needed it, even if you did not have Sail (my high school). I'm sure that you did the same for people around you, and you may never know who wants to hold you and say thank you, and I'm sorry.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

May,
I love this:
. . . and my words were not satisfying to me, though they never are when I try to speak of what is in my heart.

I understand totally.

I love you, and you are beautiful.

SB

Petit fleur said...

"If they were to use those giant brains for evil, we'd all be fucked".

I love that.

I love you.

You are not crazy.
xo Merry Christmas!

ZenGato said...

I did go. And it was strange and wonderful to see all those people. And my heart skipped when I saw J as well, even though we were never very close and he was the wrong gender for me anyway. I had to fight my feelings of envy all night as I wish I was an ologist like J and his wife. Everyone was so beautiful and the teachers have not aged one bit (though I think the men haven't shaved or cut their hair since we left). There was a time in the evening when people got on stage to talk about Rosie and that wonderful school. I was so happy when a very handsome and very YOUNG man got up and said he was glad SAIL existed for all the gay/bi/les/trans kids. I felt so proud I thought my heart would burst. I hooped and hollered like a teenager when he said that (all out of character for me). You could hear the strong voices of a room full of queers who were grateful beyond belief that they went to that school. People got up and said all kinds of wonderful things and Rosie beamed. I didn't have enough drinks in me to get up but we all had essentially the same story anyway. I missed you there and I love you fiercely. I think those of us that went to SAIL have a bond that cannot be broken. Even when I saw someone I didn't know that graduated years before or after me I wanted to hug them. Such years of pain that were still made so beautiful thanks to that family of adults that refused to give up on us. And Ms Mary Moon, you might not have worked there but you represented everything that school meant to me and every one of us lost kids and I am sure I was not the only teen to sit in your living room and bask in the feelings of acceptance and love you radiated. The reunion was a lot to take in and I still feel odd and my brain feels full and my heart is overwhelmed.