this week i went to the past. Every time i come home, I feel more like a ghost, hanging out in the version of the town i remember, while the version that lives there now carries on as it does. I went to my high school reunion. Thirty years after we graduated, we gathered together again. Not all of us. Not even very many of us, really. Around 500 graduated from our high school that year. Some have died, some are far away, many probably didn’t hear of it, and there’s likely a bunch who didn’t want anything to do with high school ever ever again. There were maybe a hundred of us there, including the odd partner, most of whom were a year or so separated from our class, some of whom were separated by more time, or more distance. Why they came, I don’t know, but they seemed to do alright.
i guess we represented the ones who figured we had something to show off. We all, well, most of us anyhow, have jobs. Most of us have kids, partners that we’ve been with for a while, some measure of success and stability.
Still and all, as my dear friend Deborah pointed out, it takes some jam to come all that way to meet people you haven’t seen in, well, for some of us it was the whole 30 years. more than twice the time we spent in public school. But those school years, they were so important. The people we traveled with then, they shaped us. They were our friends, our enemies, our classmates and collaborators–we shaped each other in significant ways. imagine the disappointment if we came together again and found that those important people were strangers.
But we were not strangers. We didn’t always remember each others names. Or the details of the adventures we had together back then, but when we came together again those many years later, we clicked. the faces under the wrinkles and the receding hairlines were the same as they had been then. the potential layered over with experience, the optimism tempered with wisdom from tragedies borne.
As is my wont, I fell in love with my middle-aged friends from long ago. Rick kind of scared me in high school. He was a football jock, he sat with the other guys on the jock benches in the middle of the school, and chucked pennies at the girls as we walked by. he always had a quick smile and was not mean, but he was a jock and he had power, and the fact that he wasn’t mean didn’t mean that he didn’t have some pull around there. those boys were pack animals. One at a time they could’ve been nice, but get ’em on those benches, armed with pennies and a bit of male privilege to try out, and…
He said several times, he and Leonard, too, “I’ve changed so much”. I don’t know that they have. They’re more confident now. They’re not as frightened. They’re used to the power they have in the world now. And they, like the women, too, have gone through some things that kinda take the stuffing outta you. deaths, accidents, tornadoes and earthquakes of one kind and another. Subtle betrayals, surprising loyalties. so now they are more humble, less arrogant. Tempered.
I wanted to write about that night as it was happening, when it was still fresh. But it’s nearly a week later now and the feeling has faded. We’ve posted stuff on crackbook–photos and comments and “oh, it was so good to see you!” notes. But it’s not the same. It was so intense to be together again. We will always know one another, in an essential way, i think. there were people there who are now preachin’ the gospel in Northern Saskatchewan, and hanging with bikers in Alberta and being professors in Universities and farming and bookkeeping and selling insurance and driving buses and singing in choirs. Some of us have travelled the world, others have stayed right there in Red Deer.
Lisa lives in the US now, where she’s the Dean of the English department in an Eastern University. I haven’t seen her for thirty years and she’s just the same as she was then. But not. she mentioned that stuff about change in her speech, too–how Pam had written in her yearbook, “never change”–and how impossible but inevitable that directive was. Cause we are all the same. and we’re different, too. We’re more ourselves now. and more part of things bigger than we are. All of us have endured tragedies and faced fears. We have lost parents and friends, even children. We have lived through bad weather and astounding success. And we’re the same as we were. and you know, some of that what-ness of who we are was formed by the influences of our childhood friends, those people in the room.
Deborah, my dear Deborah, in some ways she’s disappointed with her life. But she came, she showed up to see if she could lay to rest some ghosts and feel the stir of youthful exuberance. and she did, i think that happened for her. See, she had, in Grade 12, tried out for the football team. “All we wanted was some pinnies and field time so we could start a girls flag football team, but they wouldn’t give us that. So I tried out for the boys team.”
she had no idea the risk she was taking, the dangers she would face. Those boys were HARD on her. The coaches, too, they didn’t intervene when the boys made her carry the heaviest of them on her shoulders up that hill behind the school. they didn’t intervene when the boys hit her harder or teased her or humiliated her during practices and games. She would have made the team if she had just had one smidgen of encouragement. She was fast and strong and had good ball sense. but the boys were afraid of losing their spot on the team to a girl, and the coaches were afraid of the reputation of the team and it was 1979-80 and Deb’s friends, we abandoned her too. We didn’t know all of what was going on, but we didn’t bother to ask, either, and find out.
when the team went to Wetaskawin to play, Deb was ordered to keep her helmet on when they lined up to shake hands with the opposing team. she took her helmet off. Consternation! “See! I told ya i hit a girl!” said one of the boys on the Wetaskawin team. She was always doing that, disobeying orders, trying out for stuff that wasn’t for girls.
during the reunion, Len said, “you know what was even gutsier than trying out for the team, was staying to be a manager. that took courage. i wouldn’t have done that.” and Deb said to me later, “i wasn’t brave. i just love football.”
Deb told me that people spread rumours about her that she wanted to be a boy, that’s why she tried out for the football team. “I didn’t want to be a boy, that’s ridiculous. I just wanted to play.”
At the reunion, the boys all posed for a team photo. And Rick wouldn’t let them take any pictures till he’d tracked down Deb and asked her to come. Dan wasn’t gonna stand with them, either, but Deb convinced him to.
Later my dear friend said, “I’ve been carrying that for so long, i’ve laid it to rest now. I didn’t realize the weight of it until it was taken from me.” something like that, she said.