Last summer I decided not to attend my 45th high school reunion. I was sure no one would remember me or care if I was there. I don’t look the same and besides, I never know what to wear when I go out.
It was the biggest mistake I’ve made in a long time, and that’s really saying something. I received several text messages and emails from friends who were disappointed that I wasn’t there. One of my friends traveled from California for the reunion and said she had been looking forward to seeing me.
I was stunned.
It turns out that a lot of other people had felt the same way – no one would remember them, they’d changed, etc. And those were the people I myself would have loved to see. Go figure.
The upside of all of this nonsense is that I have met many of them at smaller lunches since last year and at times it’s like we’re all back in the cafeteria or study hall again. Or detention. What one person remembers triggers a memory in someone else and we end up laughing ourselves sick for three or four hours.
I attended a concert a few months ago at my high school and I was sure it would trigger some real nostalgia and memories, but it was as if I was walking into WalMart. Obviously I didn’t think it would look the same, but I thought that at least walking through the halls would bring a lump to my throat. I recognized nothing.
And that is what Oprah would call an “aha!” moment. Even if the school had never changed or expanded or been painted, I wouldn’t have felt anything because the real colors and textures of school are the friends. Wouldn’t you think that at my age I would have already known that?
If Sister Ambrosia had been standing in front of me with my algebra homework, I wouldn’t have felt anything. If they were serving pizza squares and cartons of milk, it wouldn’t bring back any memories except that no one in their right minds drinks milk with pizza.
Smells can trigger memories. Music can bring back feelings. But only people can really make you connect.
I don’t have a great memory. Everyone told me that we all used to bet on the number of train cars that went by during class. I’m sure I did it, too, but I don’t remember. I don’t remember what homerooms I was in, I don’t remember much about the senior trip to New York City, and I sure don’t remember much about history class, because I flunked that, too, right behind math.
But I do remember when my friend’s father died when we were all 16. I do remember when a couple of friends had to switch schools and didn’t graduate with us. And I do remember when a long-haired, clog-wearing English teacher arrived and took the school by storm.
There is more road behind us than there is in front of us now, and I’ve decided to leave it up to others to tell me they don’t remember me or to point out how much I’ve changed in almost half a century. And I’ll continue to remind myself about the important things I took away from high school – good friends who never really went away in the first place.
I may have flunked history and struggled through math, but I have realized that in the real world, as Fran Leibowitz once wrote, there is no such thing as algebra anyway.