It is not that I grew up homeless, but I struggled to feel at home. At home with my family, at Bennett High School and at home with myself. I could not wait to leave Buffalo, which I did in 1965, first to Western Reserve University in Cleveland, then to New York University as a transfer student. I have lived in downtown Manhattan for 48 years.
Last August, I returned to Buffalo for my 50th Bennett High reunion. Next week, I will return again, this time to launch my memoir, “Finding Mr. Rightstein,” with a writing workshop at Just Buffalo, a talk at the Buffalo and Erie County Library and a reading at Talking Leaves Books. In October, I will speak at Larkin Square.
Except for the library, these places, unlike Ted’s and Anderson’s where I plan to go before, after and between events, did not exist when I was growing up. My fear of speaking did. It is just anxiety now, not crippling as it was in seventh grade at School 66, when my hands shook and my voice quivered, reading my story about a little leaf while my teacher reprimanded me to “enunciate.”
In public speaking class at Bennett, my knees knocked and my voice was barely audible as the drama teacher, who also happened to be the cheerleading coach, raised one of his painted-on eyebrows and snickered, indicating I did not look or carry myself like the pretty blondes who waved pompom sticks.
Therapy, 47 years of teaching, knowing myself better, knowing I will survive and gratitude for where I am in life have helped.
In writing my book and discussing growing up with others, I discovered that wanting to leave our families, teens and hometowns figures into most of our stories. The childhood incidents at Kleinhans Music Hall, Sisters Hospital and Niagara Falls in my early drafts obsessed me, stuck with me, pulled me back to dig more and remained in subsequent drafts. Revising, along with saying it better and getting rid of clutter, is going to a deeper place. With each rewrite, I saw my family, roots and myself more fully and with greater compassion.
In 2014, while having a reunion with myself through rewrites, the Bennett reunion committee started emailing class members the dates of coming events and asked if we knew the whereabouts of the missing people. I was relieved not to be among them, grateful to be found.
When I returned last August, Buffalo looked so pretty. “It’s not how you described it,” my husband said. “It’s solid. It has great bones.”
Yes. Buffalo’s beauty and solidity are new to me. The pompom girls and others in the sharp crowd, who saved us seats at the reunion dinner, only intimidate me a little now. People change.
Getting older, getting conscious and writing about my early life helped. My book opens at Kleinhans and ends with a flashback of my parents and me, having dinner at Niagara Falls and then in our silver blue Chevy convertible crossing the Peace Bridge, riding home. Home. I felt so close to my mother and father. I felt their love.
According to John Cheever, “Fifty percent of the people in the world are homesick all the time. You don’t really long for another country. You long for something in yourself that you don’t have, or haven’t been able to find.”
I cannot wait to be in Buffalo again. I am going and coming home.