In a class of our own
What do you say to an old friend whom you haven’t seen in 25 years? Last weekend I had to figure that out about 50 times in one afternoon. It was my Aspen High School Class of 1980 class reunion. After the forehead perspiration dried and the awkward smiles relaxed, many conversations began something like this:”Hi, Roger.””Oh my gosh! Hi (female classmate)! How are you?””Oh, where do I begin?! Well, we’re living in Atlanta now. The kids love it. Linda, our oldest, is 14. Mathew is 12 and Lori is 6. There they are over there, playing horseshoes. Linda had the mumps last year. It’s pretty rough when you get them that late. We’ve heard it can make you s-t-e-r-i-l-e. The doctor thinks she’s fine, but I guess we won’t know for sure for awhile, ha, ha. Matt, that’s what we call him, is getting braces next week. And our little Lori, well she’s all girl, that’s for sure… HEY! HEY LORI! LORI! STOP HITTING THAT LITTLE BOY! … Excuse me. Sorry, you know how it is. Anyway, where were we? Oh, I remember! Mark, my husband, he’s vice president at Southern Methodical Bank, is over there next to the keg with all of the other spouses. He uncovered a huge bogus check-cashing scheme last year. They were so impressed that we got tickets in the box for a Braves playoff game. We met at Southeastern North Carolina University. He majored in psychology, which was in the same building as the sociology department. I studied that for fun and then took a job in the marketing department with International House of Pancakes – you know IHOP – right after college and traveled a lot. Mark and I finally got married and I took a few years off to have the kids. I felt a bit unfulfilled so I decided to go back to work. I began stuffing envelopes at home but I needed to break up the monotony. I’ve always loved music, you know, and one thing led to another and, well, I invented the Ipod. IHOP to Ipod, who’da thunk it. … But enough about me, I read your column online once in awhile. Same ‘ol Roger, ha, ha, I guess you finally learned how to spell. That’s great! Is that your wife over there? Now, you have three kids, too, right? Wow, things sure have changed around here. It must be kind of depressing to watch it happening. You ever think about leaving here? Where do you live anyway? How are your brothers and sister? Tell them I said ‘Hi’…”Or, like this:”Hi, Roger.”
“Hey (male classmate). What’s up?””Oh, not much, ‘n you?”Nuthin’.” I’m certainly glad that many women naturally converse like they do, while they have never been able to teach a man to do it. If it had turned out any other way, life would be awfully boring, or completely exhausting.I mingled some more and happened upon one conversation in progress. Someone was talking about his mother periodically mailing articles from The Aspen Times. I absolutely beamed knowing that a grownup was impressed enough with my column that she would actually clip it out and mail it to her son.”…Sometimes I can’t figure out what she wants me to read,” he howled. “I swear, once I couldn’t tell if she wanted me to see an article on one side or an ad on the other for a $850,000 house … in Basalt!”Everyone laughed, recognizing the scene that has undoubtedly played out for every young adult who has left home since the invention of the printing press. Surely it couldn’t have been one of my columns they were so blithe about. Before my ego got worn down trying to counter my pride while keeping reality at a safe distance in the process, I moved to the next group, still satisfied with my lot in life.
Here I saw my fifth cousin twice removed whom I didn’t recognize. We hadn’t seen each other since graduation day and even rarely paid much attention to each other before that.”This … is your cousin Roger,” she said with familial delight to her teenage daughter standing next to her, whom I was meeting for the first time.”I remember going to my father’s 25th reunion when I was about your age,” I said, feeling a bit clumsy. “Everybody was so old,” I laughed.”Now you know how I feel,” she replied with a shrug.Oh well, at least I got to meet my sixth cousin, permanently removed, one time anyway.Finally, after getting over the discovery that either people’s appearances hadn’t changed at all or they had changed so much that I didn’t even recognize them with a name tag on, I began to relax and it felt like just another afternoon at Aspen High. Much to everyone’s relief, we didn’t talk about careers. Discussions of our biggest accomplishments pretty much ended with our families and friends. We didn’t speak of failures, just points in time where we changed courses in our lives. Time had eroded away nearly all of the rock-solid insensitivity of youth.
The glamorous jobs, opportunities and achievements just beginning at our 10th reunion had become far less interesting than our lives and who we are. And we’ve known who one another is for a very long time.We were hanging out together when we were our kids’ ages. We knew each other long before our spouses met us. We understood one another during those times when even our own parents didn’t recognize us. We grew up together. And that means something. What we were is a big part of what each of us is.Since that beautiful, exciting, frightening Sunday back in May 1980 when we left one another more or less forever, we have reinvented ourselves. We separated from the people who knew us our entire previous lives. Unencumbered by the self-conscious, confusing, embarrassing and painful experiences of our youth, we were freed to become the people we wanted to grow up to be. We are each somebody else now, a quarter century from who we were; except at those increasingly rare times when we all get together again. Then, the only thing that is really different is that we are no longer haunted by all of those little things that we used to be insecure about. Our new lives have given us perspective. It’s nice, isn’t it? As I walked with my family back to the car, I recalled a thing Steinbeck said that I think of often and which reveals a new meaning to me every time: “We wouldn’t care so much what others thought about us if we only realized how little they actually do.”As unavoidably accurate as this observation is, what does the rare converse of it mean? I could answer that only in my wandering mind. A.H.S. Class of 1980, I want you to know that I thought a lot about you last Saturday afternoon.And I always will.Roger Marolt knows that high school wasn’t all fun, it just seems like it today. He’s busy dusting erasers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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