Monday, March 15, 2010

What Happens If You Show Up to Confront Your Past, But It's Gone?

I've always known that you must not let all the opportunities pass to show appreciation to your loved ones. I never knew that you must act just as quickly to confront your demons. Turns out that both kinds of opportunities are ephemeral.

I went to my 25th high school reunion. No one I knew from high school was there. I met only adults, forty year old doppelgangers, descendants of the loved ones and demons that I remembered from high school. I went expecting to confront the past, but the past wasn't there. It was too late to confront people from the past. The only past I could confront was within me.

I met a more or less familiar group of strangers swapping news and memories. Some memories I shared, some obliquely intersected my own, many were new to me. Lord help me, I liked all of these people (at least, all the ones with whom I spoke).

A girl who, as far as I remember, never spoke to me in high school, was now a woman who greeted me like a friend and was genuinely warm and happy to see me. I truly liked her, too. A boy I remember as rude, obnoxious, annoying, and awkward was a man, and not at all rude, obnoxious, or annoying (ok, still a little awkward). Another girl who was indifferent to me in high school was a woman who laughed when I told her that no one from high school was actually present. "Good thing," she said, "I didn't like a lot of them. Even myself."

It was, perhaps, the most surreal experience of my life.

We had not held any other reunions; this one, the 25th year, was the first. If we had met every five years, maybe it would have been different. More of the same cliques. More comparisons of progress and more jealousy.

I didn't recognize half of the people, even at close range, until they told me their names. After the first such incidence, I didn't let it bother me any more. Some of them looked radically difference from how I remembered them. Others looked exactly the same, or nearly the same, with some broadening of faces and bodies.

I was surprised at how beautiful the women were. And the men so handsome and sharp. They all seemed to be more or less happy (only half of the class attended, so perhaps some of the ones that did not attend were less beautiful and less happy).

The fact that so many of them came, and the fact that so many of them are still connected to a daily Jewish life, was a pleasant surprise.

Nothing can change the fact that I suffered through my school years, and that I experienced reverberations of this suffering in the years following. I came to the reunion hoping to confront this past as a self-assured adult. But the past had died. With no one left to confront, there was, is, a certain lack of closure. But also now an acknowledgement that I can finally let it go.

When you walk into a bar mitzvah or wedding, there are generally a handful of people with whom you want to catch up. This was like speed dating: you got three minutes to connect and then you had to move on. Still, there were a few people with whom I really wanted to reconnect; a few of these few (or rather, the doppelganger descendants of them) came. And I had the privilege of spending a few precious minutes with them. It was amazing. They were not exactly the people I knew in high school, but they were the closest I was going to get. They were those people and 25 years added on.

What a night. Pictures later.
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