Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Reunions, The Obituary Of Youth

 

Photo  by me, May 2022.

Standing on the sidewalk in a small town in northwest Georgia I learned about the death of classmate. He died two years earlier and even in the age of social media I was unaware of it. I had to know how as if I already knew and hoped to be wrong. The answer came with a wince and I said that I was not surprised.

Heavy rose blooms bowed in the afternoon.

Spring beauty could not withstand relentless time.

Wounded.

Petals fell on silent pauses.

Blame words, whether too few or in the wrong combination for our failure.

I am not the most connected person to classmates from my school years. That disconnect was not a choice or decision I made, but it went that way starting my junior year of high school and I have written about why that happened. Some people have kept a connection to me going back forty years, but it is not many. I am thankful for those that maintained connection wide or narrow.

Fly like the dreams that only youth can send into the air.

After mortar boards were tossed into the air in 1991, the wind scattered the class like seeds. Some flew farther than others, but it depends on how you measure a life – is it in the distance moved away from your hometown or measured in more meaningful terms? If I could, I would ask one person how much insecurity props up that snobbery from that most big city you call home.

As I write this I count the number of classmates I have met in thirty-one years at six. I passed on the few organized and sanctioned class reunions out of a lack of desire, living in another state and having to relive all of the emotions I could not write about until I put it in two books in 2020 and 2021. The one on one reunions have been what I have managed. These meetings have been a mixture of people I did not expect to see again and some that I did. The experiences have varied in their quality and in their quantity. I valued the experiences no matter how they went. It is nice to remember a face, a name, a memory and an honor for me to be remembered at all.

One person I met with a number of times through the nineties up until 2009, but we have not managed to get together since.

Another I occasionally hung out with in the first half of the nineties, but when I moved away to Louisville, Kentucky in 1996 that ended.

I met another in 1997 at the Waffle House in Hiram, Georgia for coffee and conversation. We were never close in school, but we knew each other well enough to share a few hours.

One of my closest friends from school I met twice in 1998. We reconnected through AOL when the person found me there long before social media engulfed the web. We met at my house and it was like the previous seven years never happened. We picked up where we left off, but on better terms except that he did not accept my boyfriend. I invited him and his girlfriend to dinner and a play my boyfriend was working. The night went well and then I never heard from him again for going on twenty-four years. I was upset about it then, but not surprised after had what transpired in school.

Another I met a gay bar in Atlanta for a drink in 2012. We shared two commonalities, our sexual orientation and having grown up in Paulding County.

Then there is my most recent reunion in 2022. It was an hour in the Sunday sun of thirty-one years. It was a remarkable experience dense with information, questions and smiles. I felt eighteen again. I probably listened more than I said or at least I hope that was the case. I tried to restrain the interviewer in me that sometimes gets the better of my tongue and made an ex crazy. We talked of the past, the meat of a reunion, we talked of the present and future.

Perhaps reunions are less common in the age of social media? Maybe they are the plots of movies like The Big Chill and only happen when a member of our collective past is buried to a Rolling Stones tune or in the case of GenX something by Nirvana or Soundgarden. I prefer something older at my service, a song from the seventies and I am undecided if I prefer the original Boz Scaggs version or the Rita Coolidge – maybe both. The song contains great sentimental appeal to me and says exactly what I would want.

In the social media reunion we are fed on our phones the daily trivia of people we knew between advertisements for mattresses and orthopedic shoe inserts. We believe we are connected and that we know each other again because I scrolled past your dinner or you saw a photo I took in Houston. It could be thought, why meet in person because what will we have to catch up because I know what you ate last night in front of the television? Little of it is meaningful interaction and most of it is small digestible tidbits like soundbites of a politician's speech on the evening news. The value of that information is negligible and our friendships reduced to chicken nuggets. Social media is a poor substitute to genuine interaction between people in the physical presence like Weezer (sorry I cannot bring myself to link to that) covering a Toto song.

I am the bookmark in the book on the bottom shelf. I know my place. I am the sunflower to the sun.

I have had other people suggest we meet up and I have been willing and flattered by the offer. Nothing came of those offers and I remain hesitant to remind them as maybe they changed their mind or never meant it in the first place. I will save myself the embarrassment of asking. I grew up learning one valuable lesson over and over; do not have any expectation of another person. To some, words are smooth stones in the river that the water glides over and to someone like me, almost every word is the grooved rock that feels the current.

There are people from the past I would enjoy meeting again and a few I would not. I understand better with age that time has a speed that a young person cannot grasp beyond the next electronic dopamine hit. Some of us that tossed our mortar boards high into the evening sky have already run out of time and we never again will have the chance to have a true face to face conversation. It surprises me how many people that I shared classes, hung out in their bedroom as a teenager or gave a ride home are dead. Some of these people I knew very well, some I did not enjoy as a child and some I loved.

Life is adult busy now; some are raising children, caring for elderly parents, nursing their own health issues or in my case renovating a house, constructing a garden, working on two books and out observing life. Studying for an advanced literature test or memorizing a marching band drill seem much less pressing by comparison. Time has to be created, carved out like the initials in the bark of a tree and it can be done if you truly want.

The truth adheres to no dial.

Fear is bigger in my heart and redder on my cheeks than the biggest stop sign that the department of transportation could ever dream. A shy boy from New Hope is still a shy man wherever I live in Georgia. I think of a few people I knew between 1979 to 1991 that I would like to sit down, talk about everything under the sun past and present, have them tell me what they really thought of me, if they hated me or loved me and I would like tell them what I really felt or thought instead of disguising it in a book.

At home, I sat at my desk and I read a brief obituary. It was short on obvious answers, but what went unwritten said more. It hurt more than it should. I question what his stop signs were.

Thank you for reading.