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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Reunion!

Of course, I was looking forward to the reunion.  I didn't feel nervous, but I was excited.  Many of these women, I hadn't seen since the day we graduated high school in 1981.  That was 33 years ago, a tremendous bracket of time.  Heck, it's a fully formed adult with some extra left over.  Back then, I don't even think I realized people lived that long.  And if they did, no doubt they were hassling us kids.

"Hey, you bitches," a voice yelled from an open window on Frisby Avenue.  "Get your fat asses off my car!"  I looked up and squinted to locate where exactly the voice was coming from.  All I could make out was a dark shape in an undershirt.  I couldn't tell if it was a man or a lady.
"My ass is not fat!" I hollered back as we ran down the block, laughing and tugging at one another.  We turned the corner and reconvened on some other poor unsuspecting vehicle.

Where are you going to college?
Friends were asking each other this question since right after Christmas vacation. Whenever the inquiry came my way, I was dumbfounded.  Here and there at school, I tried to find out what they were talking about.  I asked around.  I saw girls filling out applications and walking through the halls with booklets.  I had a feeling something big was happening with this continuing education stuff. But I couldn't crack the code.

"So, where are you going in September?"
"No place," I answered.
"Then, what are you gonna do after we graduate?"
"Nothing," I replied.  "Work, I guess."
"Oh, wow!  That sounds exciting."
"Yeah,"  I'm excited."
No, I wasn't.  I was confused.  And I couldn't believe somebody said I had a fat ass. Dumb shit always bothered me the most.

*******

"Mom, what am I gonna do with my life?" I presented this question as I poured sugar onto my Frosted Flakes.
"You mean, besides break my balls?"
"C'mon, be serious," I said.  "By June, we're supposed to know this stuff."

"Get me a cup.  Will ya, kid?"  Big Mare reached for the jar of Maxwell House that she kept on the kitchen counter.  The tea kettle screamed its warning that the water was officially boiled to death.  I reached into the cabinet and pulled out a white ceramic mug that read Virginia is for Lovers.
"Where'd this come from?"  We never went to Virginia.  We didn't go anywhere.
"Not that one," Mom said.  "Your father found that in the garbage.  He wants to give it to Mrs. Gallo."  The Gallos were our next door neighbors.  Their oldest daughter was Virginia.  I could see how my dad thought this coincidence was hilarious.

"So, whadda ya think?" I asked again.  I attempted to engage her in a discussion about my lack of direction so I could rail against any suggestions she might make. All the poor woman wanted was a decent night's sleep and a cup of low-grade instant coffee.
"For Chrissake, think about what?"
"My future!" I cried out, dramatically.  "Don't you even care?"
"How the hell should I know?" she replied.  "Get your ass to school and figure it out."

I grabbed my jacket and book bag.  I paused momentarily in the front hallway.
"Hey, Mom.  Do you think my ass is fat?"
"Who told you that?"  I immediately wished I hadn't said anything.  The look on my mother's face reminded me that she could have easily ripped that shadowy figure from its perch at the window and strangled it - identifying the gender, post mortem.
"Nobody.  Forget it," I said.  But a part of me felt glad that I had gotten her attention.

******

Our Senior class was relatively small, 120 girls or thereabouts.  I would guess that's a pretty manageable group, by industry standards.  But from my limited perspective, St. Raymond's Academy for Girls was the entire universe.  Those four years lasted forever.

I liked being at school.  Of course, I didn't realize it was more than just a place to go when we weren't at the house.  School was supposed to prepare us for a lifetime of decision-making.  I don't think that happened, but it's okay.  It still did something wonderful for me.  It helped me recognize what it means to love my girlfriends.

Love was at St. Raymond's, growing and developing in big and small moments. Happiness shared, optimism and support.  These are good emotions for young women to experience.  Especially when things are crazy at home.  School was a safe place to rest for a while.  And maybe learn a few cool things.  Or not.  At least, you had the option.

When I glance through old snapshots of my teenage friends and myself, we languish together in heaving clumps.  Collecting on sofas and park benches like piles of unaddressed laundry, waiting for someone to come along and wash us.  We appear drained of all physical and mental resources.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I tend to think this was the look we were going for.  Bold, confident, unflappable. But what did we know at seventeen, really?  I personally knew nothing.

I had a boyfriend and an ankle bracelet.  So obviously, I wanted to do things that involved being with my boyfriend and wearing that ankle bracelet.  When people saw me and my ankle bracelet, they automatically knew somebody loved me.  In my opinion, these were game-changing specifics.  Equipped with my male companion and jewelry, plus my unique ability to party and have fun, I was ready for anything.  Except college.  And reality.  And life.  But none of that stopped me. Adventure was out there!

Lots of chicks cried at graduation.  Mascara ran down their faces.  They clung to one another, sobbing.
"What the fuck?  They're never gonna make it," I thought to myself.
Some were brazen.  Others, nonchalant.  I tried these angles but sucked at both.  I wanted to look cool about the entire episode.  Like I didn't care.
"I'm so sick of this place," I complained to my friends.  "I can't wait to be done."
Maybe if I kept saying the words out loud, I might actually be able to understand what it was that I should be doing next.  I thought everybody was watching, and I could swear the whole world had a terrific plan.

In June of 1981, I didn't realize that we girls had become a family.  I didn't cherish this information.  I had no idea there is such lovely value in relationships that are born this way, from familiarity and general exposure.  Think of cousins you're really fond of and don't get to see as often as you'd like.

*******

On Sunday when I woke up, I couldn't wait to be with everyone.  I slipped on my new party dress and jollied into the Bronx for the Big Event.  As I walked across the school parking lot, I saw familiar faces materialize.  I heard voices I recognized immediately.  I didn't realize I had stored these details in my brain somewhere. Suddenly, the particular fine points of our history brought me enormous pleasure. I was overjoyed!

More girls arrived as we stood in the back of the church.  We were inside and outside, waiting for the previous service to wrap up.  I wanted to stare, to examine every inch of them.  But instead, we hugged and kissed, laughing and chatting like it was yesterday.  What an extraordinary occasion.

We sat together in that magnificent church.  Shoulder to shoulder, we took up several pews.  I was grateful for the time to collect my thoughts.  I needed it to regain my footing.  I was anxious and felt a bit scattered.

There in Jesus' presence, I admired the girls of my youth at length.  I glanced at their hands and hair, some colored, straightened and cut differently.  I remembered the way one young lady crossed her legs and how another sounded when she sang.  When a classmate held her head to one side just as I'd recalled, I thought I might cry.
I wondered if I was sad.  I didn't think so.
We've all done so much stuff, I thought.  Yet here we are.  Here we are!
Already, I knew that a part of me didn't want the afternoon to be over so quickly.  I felt happy and hopeful.  But I was gonna need more time.  I wanted us to be together for longer.
Don't be silly, I told myself.  It's a party.  It has to end.  It'll be all right.

At one point during the mass, I brought my feelings to God.
Check us out, Lord.  We're so grown-up!  You have truly blessed our family.
What a really cool prayer.  And what a beautiful day.

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