December 30, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

I went to my grammar school’s 42nd year reunion this last October, the first one my class has had.  It was at the Cubby Bear in Lincolnshire.

I’ve kept in touch with several friends from that period in my life, but when I walked into the party room I saw none of them.  There was a room of about 60 people.  None of them looked familiar.  Dozens of strangers I had supposedly spent a sizable chunk of my life with.

Before driving there, I resolved to keep conversations on the present, and to some degree, away from profession.  I wanted to stay away from hierarchy posturing and the successes we’ve had in life.  It worked.  It worked in no small part because that seemed to be the frame of reference adapted by most people in the room.  These were people humbled by life.  They were nearing retirement age, and there were few signs of people seeking struggle.

We talked about our kids, their finishing college and the professions they were choosing.  There was some talk about the difficulty of the economy.

Posted on the wall were pictures of each student at eighth grade graduation, and at one point I closely studied them.  I needed to have my mind refreshed regarding the people with whom I was talking.  The faces, and particularly the bodies of the people in the room, were totally unfamiliar to me.  I found while in conversation that physical mannerisms and unique verbal affectations were jogging my memory.  Memories were coming back in the form of what made individuals unique.  This was the most interesting discovery of the evening.  Faces had changed.  Bodies had changed.  Voices had changed.  Mannerisms were familiar.

Of the dozen boys I had hung out with most from kindergarten to eighth grade, one was there.  Three were dead.  The rest didn’t come in for the event.

I did not talk to girls in grammar school.  I sat in the back of classrooms, never asked questions and rushed through assignments so I could go back to drawing.  My friends were the boys that lived nearby.  So, at the reunion, there were few girls I could talk with and share memories.

I was aware of only three girls those nine years at Central School.  Martha did not come.  She still emerges in my dreams.  I was in love with Martha all those nine years.  I was terrified of talking with her.  I yearned for Martha, a longing that deeply informed my personality.

Betsy I was aware of but not in love with.  I walked up and introduced myself.  She couldn’t remember me.  I tried to jog her memory by describing my second grade birthday party.  She and Martha were the only girls invited.  John, my only friend from that period at the reunion, remembered the party in detail.  Betsy remembered Martha and John with enthusiasm.  She could not place me.  She seemed confused.  Betsy and I were in the same class of about 30 kids for nine years.  I’d discovered someone with a memory as bad as mine.

Myla, the first girl I had ever asked out on a date, walked up to me.  I didn’t know she’d be there.  Myla, anomalously, looked very much the same.  We began talking.  At that point, the live band cranked up.  To hear her, I had to place my left (good) ear in front of her mouth to hear her words.  I listened to her descriptions of her son while I was looking at our feet.

I felt delighted to be in conversation with her.  It was the highlight of the evening.

Myla is the World Bank official responsible for a sizable chunk of Europe.  In high school, I had asked her to go to a movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium, and she had said yes.  We took the train from Glencoe to Highland Park.  I was 16 then and still hadn’t figured out how to talk to girls.  My former closest friend, Paul, had been in love with Myla for half of forever.  I talked about Paul.  She wasn’t sure who Paul was.  Paul was not at the reunion.  He recently died of Parkinson’s.

What is it about girls not noticing the shy guys?

Strangely, I had never been in love with Myla (Martha had that locked up), but I was not scared of her.  She was perhaps the only white girl I was not scared of.  I think I was not scared of the black girls because there was no societal expectation that intimacy was possible.  I remember at those weird dance classes where we’d practice ballroom steps I’d ask the black girls to dance, less worried that my advances would be interpreted as my wanting a relationship.  I was terrified girls would think I liked them.  (Things change.  My African-American stepson is now 37 with a daughter whose mother is white.)

The reunion was low-key, enjoyable and strange.  It was odd to see enthusiasm and innocence transformed into fatigue, mild delight and sadness.  The music grew so loud that conversation became impossible.  I left after a couple hours.  I took a wrong turn on the way home and ended up in Chicago.  Arriving home, Marcia asked me how it was.

It was good.


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