Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on language and re-gatherings...

For the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about my high school reunion, which occurred last weekend. First I had to spend a few weeks anticipating it, planning it, wondering what to wear. Who will be there? Will it be fun? Will it be awkward?  Will it be weird? How will I feel? Will I feel happy, sad, nervous, horrified that I ever thought it was a good idea to go back? How many people will look better than me? How many people will be totally unrecognizable? How many people will be obviously way more successful than I am? Will I feel so anxious that I unthinkingly drink myself into oblivion causing everyone to look at me pityingly and exchange whispers about how sad it is that I have not grown up at all? Will anyone else get falling-down drunk and provide me with an opportunity to prove just how mature I have become when I discreetly gloss over their humiliating behavior in the retelling of the weekend’s highlights? (Alas, the answer to that, unfortunately, is no.)

And now that the event has passed, I have spent the last several days thinking about the people I saw, about the passage of time, and relationships that formed 25+ years ago and how they endure or fizzle out or morph into something altogether new.

The reunion, quite literally, has also been cause for me to think a lot about semantics. The word “reunion” has really been bothering me. In and of itself, it is a fairly benign word and seems to appropriately convey the concept of a group of people coming back together again after a period of separation.  But it fails me when I start thinking about the verb form, which, correct me if I’m wrong, should be “to reunite.” Except that after 25 years or even after 5 years for that matter, there is no “reuniting” going on with any group of high school graduates, least of all my graduating class. We were not really very united to begin with, we just went to school together. There was very little unity even within the different cliques and groups of friends that formed over the years. We were united only in our mutual boredom with our education and our zealous pursuit of a ride to school that did not include a big, yellow bus. Thus, I find it irksome that although the “coming back together again” idea of the reunion holds true, the verb form, reuniting, is wholly inadequate to describe what exactly took place.

I keep thinking there should be a word “reune,” which would signify the act of sharing each other’s company again after a period of separation without necessarily imposing the specific requirement of unity within the group. The word should indicate a gathering of the graduates of Manual and East High Schools, an opportunity to be together, to share each other’s company and exchange stories and memories while simultaneously allowing us to be totally disparate. I spent much of my reunion weekend with a friend who I haven’t seen in 16 years, with whom I have kept in touch only sporadically, despite the fact that she was one of my closest friends 25 years ago. She now lives in a different country and she speaks a different language. We do not regularly spend time with any of the same people and we might have a hard time envisioning what each others’ lives really look like on a day-to-day basis. We are not terribly “united,” but at the same time, as soon as we sat down to talk to each other, our conversation seemed instantly familiar and comfortable in a way that most of my daily interactions do not these days. It was lovely.

I looked up the word “commune,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “to communicate intimately.” This seems much more appropriate, in my mind, to describe the experience of being together again with my fellow alums. It only seems to lack the concept of doing something again after a long period, the “re” of reunion. Let us say we re-communed with each other last weekend. Now that, to me, sounds about right.

While the word “intimately” may seem a little strong to describe our conversations last weekend, on some level, there does seem to be a strange intimacy despite the 25 year absence. I even saw several people I had known in elementary school, including three men who were in the same kindergarten class as me. We started kindergarten in 1973. I wasn’t terribly close to any of these fellows, I know only the most trivial things about them. But still, if I mentioned our kindergarten teacher to them and how old and scary and mean she was, I feel confident they would understand my meaning on a much more profound level than my husband does when I tell him the endless stories of how Mrs. Farquhar made me cry on a nearly daily basis. Perhaps that’s not intimacy, just understanding. But there is clearly a level of shared experience that most of us have with just about every other kid we went to school with for those first 18 years of our lives. It was actually really fun to recognize that and just be present with those random members of a long ago cohort. And that moment where one classmate recalled the common physical quirk of our thumbs of differing lengths, which I had sadly forgotten despite my uncanny ability to retain trivial memories of childhood incidents? That was beyond fun. That was sort of a mind-blowing experience for me. Thank you, D.F.

So yes, maybe our reunion was not as momentous as say, the Duran Duran reunion concert tour. None of us was inspired to return to our puffed up hair-dos or the extreme eye make-up styles of the late 80s, unlike the Duran Duran members. I’m pretty sure we’ve aged more gracefully than the average new wave icon. (And lest I sound like I am criticizing an old favorite, I should just come right out and admit that I still listen to the album Rio and the song Save a Prayer still gives me goosebumps. That song is deeply emotional; I love it, I am not too proud to say.) Still, it was a highly entertaining weekend.

I have many other thoughts about the weekend but just how those thoughts choose to exit my brain remains to be seen. On a parting note, I just want to say that in spite of what may have transpired between the years of 1982 and 1986, we did have a fun and funny little community in high school. It’s true that over the years since, I have wanted to disconnect from Denver as completely as possible but that was not due to anyone else’s actions but my own. It was nice to go back, it was nice to re-commune. And for those of you who I missed, I wish you only the best.


  1. Nicely written and well put. I wish that I could've been at the re-commune.

    I, too, been thinking about our time at Manual. It was an interesting time in my life as it was in all of our lives. What I've realized lately is that four years is a long time, even when you live to be 80+. And because I attended a commuter school and didn't go away to college, and lived in an apartment and never in a dorm, I never really knew any of my college mates. We went to class and worked on group projects and had the occasional beer but I never went to any of their houses or met any of their families. In fact, I only know where two people I went to college are and they are two of my Facebook friends. I have many other friends from that time in my life but I met them at work, bars (good God), and other places. I really didn't have anything in common with the people I went to college with other than we were trying to finish a degree.

    So for me, high school stands out because I did spend time with people at their houses, in their rooms, with their families. I not only felt like I was a part of their life but I felt like we were all living the same life, just different versions.

    That is why, over time, I've missed Manualites more and more. That and when my kids (all five of them) have asked MANY times over the years what my high school years were like or as I've watched three of them suffer through their high school years at different times, that four years comes flooding back...the good, the bad, and the UGLY...and for me, there was a lot of UGLY. In the end though, I always smile thinking about all of Thunderbolts and Angels.

    Our lives may all be different now but once they were all intertwined...for me, I can never unravel them all completely.

  2. Plus, Gioia, we were at the same Shawn Cassidy concert in 4th grade, which I'm sure indicates some cosmic bond. I really hope I see you at the next reunion and that you are celebrating good health! Thanks for the feedback!