Monday, June 23, 2008

High School Reunion

Saturday night my husband and I attended his high school reunion. Old classmates came in from all over the country—somewhere around 150 of them, plus spouses. Although I wasn't in my husband's class, I knew many of his friends, so I had a good time visiting with people we hadn't seen in a long time. Lots of reminiscing and catching up. The woman who ran the whole thing put together an updated yearbook. Each classmate's high school photo is placed next to a more recent photo. Some people are very recognizable, some not at all recognizable. Beneath the pictures is a bio with a number of wonderful stories.

My favorite story is the one about a guy and a girl who went together in high school. In their senior year she became pregnant. Her parents sent her away to some kind of home for unwed mothers. She gave birth to a daughter who was put up for adoption. All adoption papers were permanently sealed. The girl returned home. Eventually, and I suppose inevitably, the couple broke up. Each went off to college, married someone else, had children, got divorced. Several years ago, the girl decided to try to track down her old boyfriend. She found him via the internet and the two began an email correspondence. Neither knew anything about their daughter, but both had been haunted by thoughts of her. They got together, fell back in love, and married. They initiated a search for their daughter. The adoption records were unsealed, and they were put in touch with their daughter, now an adult with children of her own. The children from all three families know the whole story. How wonderful that these two had an opportunity to go back and write the happy ending that such a story doesn't often get.

Other stories did not have happy endings. Beneath 28 of the photos was the word "deceased." A number of the classmates have had serious health problems. Two are right now in the midst of cancer treatment. These were sobering moments. And I started to think about Len Roberts' wonderful poem, "We Sat, So Patient," first published in Boulevard and later anthologized in Best American Poetry 1992. I'm going to include the poem here. It's a grim poem. I offer it not to depress you, but rather to remind you, as the poem does, that our lives are precious and uncertain, a lesson even more forcefully made by Len's untimely death.

We Sat, So Patient

We sat, so patient in that third
class, learning the numbers of days,
weeks, months,
repeating the numbers as they flashed
in the air, forming
the curved 3, the angular 4, the easy 1,
adding them up, subtracting, multiplying
and dividing
as though we owned them, and we did,
counting the rain drops that wriggled down
the gray window,
counting the hearts and cars on our desks,
our crayons,
Ann Harding and Richie Freeman making 2,
10 on each side for the spelling bee,
counting silent
seconds when Sister Ann Zita said 5
of us
would not reach 20, showed the chart
where children dropped off into 0,
the blue zone of No Return
that Jimmy Legasse whispered, making us laugh.
Looking around, I thought Al Aldon, Jackie Foster,
Dorothy Blake
who already coughed blood on her gold glasses
when she spoke,
the thin girl just come over from Germany,
and Ray Martineau who had no lunch, the
white lines of lice forming mazes on his
crewcut head. And
the good Sister herself, number 6, at least
40 years older than us,
her rosary beads clicking as she walked
down the aisle like the Angel of Death,
wings spread, brushing our faces, our arms,
wafting blackness
into our eyes, our lungs, our hearts,
reminding us that God was watching and could tell
who knew 9 times 9, 144 divided by 12,
telling us it was God's will that we die,
Jimmy Gleason pulling up his white sock
on a leg he would not have 10 years later,
Barbara Ryan raising her hand with another
correct answer,
the same hand so whitish-blue as she lay
in her eight-grade coffin,
Jimmy Amyot and Donald Wilcox quietly passing
drawings of naked women
back and forth, the car they would die in
unheard in that classroom where we yelled
out 360, 225, 32, 0, 10,
waiting for the split-second flash of red,
yellow and blue cards
beneath the slow, steadily clicking clock.

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