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Monday, July 28, 2003

78 Is Great

This past weekend was my 25th high school graduating class reunion (Kelso High School, Class of 1978) down in Longview. I haven't kept all that close contact with anyone whith whom I went to school, with the exception of a couple of people via sporadic email correspondence, and frankly was one of those kids who couldn't wait to get out of town at the earliest possible opportunity. I didn't move to Longview until I was 10, while most of these kids grew up together. Even though I managed to make some inroads into their long-established social circles by the time of graduation, I never really fit into the insular, provincial small town culture on which they had been nurtured. So, it wasn't exactly like I felt an overwhelming desire to relive past glories or try to play catch up, but I do admit to a sense of curiosity about what had happened to some of these people, and how had my life turned out in comparison.

I suppose the result should have been pretty much as expected. A lot of my class still lives in the Longview/Kelso area, most having never left, while a few others seem to have be inexorably drawn back to the place. I have a lot of relatives who still live in the area, including my mom, maternal grandmother, two brothers, and assorted aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., but I only get down a few times a year for visits. And during those infrequent and brief sojourns I probably haven't run into anyone from my high school class in well over a decade. So, there's that contingent, along with a relatively equal number of people who, like myself either deliberately or through happenstance scattered themselves across the map.

Considering that 25 years is sort of a milestone, it was surprising and a little disappointing how light the turnout was. We had a fairly large graduating class (about 330) for our location, and yet between the two days of the reunion, there were perhaps roughly 100 or so attendees. And of those, I would have been hard pressed to identify half of them as people I actually went to school with. With that large a group of kids, it's inevitable that some of them would never cross paths, but it was a bit of a shock to realize just how many that entailed for me personally. So, basically you end up chatting with people with whom the only thing you have in common is the fact that you went to the same school for the same three years, and that's pretty much it. Otherwise, you have no context on which to relate, short of resorting to reliving common experiences from a quarter century in the past: the football stadium burning down, the school flooding, things like that. While this may be helpful in terms of dusting the cobwebs off old, nearly forgotten memories, it felt a bit discomfiting to have to go that far back just in order to have a topic for light conversation.

Fortunately, there were a fair number of people with whom I had had closer, more sustained relationships (for the time at least), and they were the ones I most enjoyed seeing. Some amazingly still look very much like their graduation photos (which the organizers either thoughtfully or maliciously -- depending on your viewpoint -- provided for identification purposes), with only a change of hairstyle to show the passage of the intervening years. These are the people who were just lucky enough to have extremely resilient genes, and one can't help but feel a tiny bit of niggling jealousy at their good fortune in that regard. Then there are the others (like me for example) who don't look anything like our younger selves; we've lost hair and gained weight, we went from svelt to paunchy, whippet-thin to jowly, parts of our bodies that once were taut and firm now sag and droop and show obvious effects of gravity. In short, we look 25 years older, which is sort of what you'd expect.

I was particularly pleased to run into one of my best friends from high school, Arni May, part of a small cabal of artists-cum-intellectual-rabble-rousers who were about as close as our class ever came to having some sort of avant-garde movement. We were the ones who were into music and drama, punk rock (sans the piercings, mohawks and fashions) and philosophy, a band of pranksters who created our own religious cult, tried to write subversive articles for the school paper, and shocked the librarians by actually checking out Ayn Rand novels -- and then reading them. As an aesthetic movement it was shamefully naive and timid, but for a small town that was known more for turning out millworkers and loggers than pedants and artists, it was the best we could manage on our own. And I was pleased to see that, like myself he's continued to pursue his artistic interests, now running a major recording studio in Portland and doing occasional session gigs. Our shared interest in art and music was the foundation of our relationship, and it was nice to know both of us still hold those things in high regard.

As for the rest of the people who showed up, my responses ran the gamut from being mildly pleased to see them to "Uh, did we have any classes together?" I did manage to exchange a few phone numbers and emails, particularly with a couple of folks who it turns out live in Seattle and are avid sailors themselves. But for most of the rest, while it was certainly nice to see them again however briefly, I realized after a few hours of chit-chatting, that there is simply no way to reconnect with their lives, if such a thing is even ultimately desireable. Everyone has moved away from that common center of experience that is High School; some have moved further away than others, and unlike the complex interconnections of say a spiderweb, what you really have is something more akin to the radial arms of an old-fashioned wagon wheel. Trying to send out some thin connector from your spoke to theirs just seems so hard. There are too many obsticals, too much time, so many unshared experiences that get in the way. You aren't the same person you were 25 years ago, and neither are they, nor would you wish to be.

So, you share a drink, and a funny story, and maybe even a brief turn on the dancefloor late in the evening, and then it's all over and the flimsy, gossamer soap-bubble of another time bursts with the harsh light of the apres-party clean up. And maybe you try to reinflate it briefly over an early morning sojourn to an all-night diner, where you manage to keep the illusion of comradarie and undying friendship alive for another hour or so over coffee and Monte Cristo sandwiches. But eventually you have to leave, you have to just let it go and understand that like a dream, it may be pleasant while it's happening, but when you wake up too early the next morning, groggy from a weekend of too much partying and too little sleep, that the simple and unavoidable reality is that as Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again," at least not permanently, although sometimes it's nice to return for a brief visit.

And for some of us, that's probably just fine.

Posted byCOMTE on 9:28 AM

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