09 September 2002

The Reunion

The Reunion

Ed and I rose at the break of day and stumbled around the hotel room, gathering our manies and fumbling about as we bumped into one another and wiped sleep from our eyes. We took a taxi from the hotel to the airport and slumped wearily in uncomfortable vinyl chairs waiting for the boarding call. I slept heavy on the airplane on the way back to San Francisco while he dozed and read a bad airport novel – written for travelers who crave distraction without demand. Occasionally I’d wake up and look over his shoulder to read a paragraph or two, make a comment about the bad prose and resituate the pillow.

We’d been up until near 3 a.m. I’m not exactly sure why. The reunion came and went. I still don’t understand it but it’s a good thing to do once every twenty years or so I suppose. Good to remind. Good to remember. Good to go back and see what’s there.

A pre-reunion event was planned at a dive bar on Excelsior Boulevard – an informal no-host gathering. In truth it was the best part of the reunion because you could hear the person settling weight across from you and have some semblance of conversation. If it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have marked the time as worthwhile.

Entering Al’s bar I recognized no one and was overcome with a sense of foreboding. As I settled in, however, pearls of remembrance flittered by and it wasn’t long before I was hello-ing and what-have-you-been-doing people. It was empty chatter. I largely found myself bored before I even asked the questions. This was the problem – the context. People were in a mad rush to connect and move on – say their paragraph and drive to the next stop to say their paragraph again. I’ve never been inspired by stop and go schmooze. It doesn’t make it wrong. I’m not judging it. It’s simply not my thing. That’s okay.

Eventually two old high school friends arrived, bringing along a beautiful Texan girl as one of their companions. We sat, we talked, we bought each other rounds of this and that and something started to feel a little familiar – like color was entering the outlines. It was pleasant and far less contrived and the evening moved from a hair shy of unbearable into quite pleasing. This was good.

Reunion day approached and Ed and I collected our things and ambled over to the hotel with a collection of snacks for sustenance. We arrived later than we’d hoped and didn’t have time to avail ourselves of the pool or the hot tub. Instead we lounged in the room and watched a special on the attempt to salvage some wreckage from a Southern California breakwater region. Despite heroic efforts the salvage crew failed and left the fate of the disaster to nature’s devices in the end. We dressed with reluctance and eventually descended.

I was titillated, excited, to see old friends who were old friends, learn about lives and indulge in a feast of discovery and rediscovery. It didn’t really turn out this way. I actually had more substantive conversations with people I hadn’t known at all in the day and some of those who I was most anxious to see had few words and seemed readily distracted. One of the women looked at me rather passively and sighed, you just dropped off the face of the earth.

Yes. I did. Perhaps I thought we all did. But it was true. I did. It was taking more than just the weight of what we all had together to hold me to it. We were strikingly different creatures, moved and motivated by different things that weren’t apparent to us then for all our self-indulgence. But as the evening passed, at least among those women, I realized that my own self-indulgence was perhaps the mirror I was seeing. The weight had kept them together and grounded with one another. They had marriages, children and connected lives – they passed holiday cards among themselves and were genuinely involved with each other’s lives. In witnessing their ease, comfort and joy with one another I found myself looking on this with reverence and respect and a chapter of a book had written out its ending for me. I had to unclench a fist on that reality and admit that something real and enduring persevered out of it. A rather beautiful little epiphany unfolded and those women molded together to be an emblem of it. They closed a cold circle, but it’s the coolness that often lets the caste harden into shape. Not for a moment could I find myself begrudging that. To the contrary, it was a reflection of how we all chose to live out this story and it seemed impudent to resent fate in the face of beauty. I held to awe instead and let the pen fall.

I spent the evening largely with three of the boys turned to men over the years. For some reason men seem more willing to let life happen and remold even in the face of varied journeys without making it a betrayal. Maybe it’s simply more an expected and accepted gender norm. Ed inspired dancing and we waded through music and laughter. The rum and the whiskey loosened our spirits and our lives. We didn’t speak on the past, just the now. So we bounced around the evening with a casual disregard and this was good – an honest form of grace in the evening. Ed maneuvered his usual antics, stirring events to benefit the underdog and rise a little ire. He was a gem for the evening and we danced and we laughed and at some point late in the evening we fell into a short quiet sleep and it was over.

I’m left with a montage of stilted conversations – some of which it would have been interesting to carry through to some conclusion or another. Instead most will be left as things unfinished that were suppose to be in just that state of growth and decay. The evening was a little ribbon on the past – decorating something that’s perhaps more interesting when it’s left unopened as a perpetual surprise waiting to happen.