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High School Reunion

My high school class is in the throes of planning its 30th reunion.  To get us excited about the upcoming festivities, the planners periodically ask us questions on Facebook.  The current question is, “Where did you work in high school?”  This question instigated any number of fond memories.  But it dredged up awful memories too. 

One of my friends was living with her father and step-mother during high school and the father died a painful death of disease.  After her father died, she was shuffled between the remarried step-mother and her previously estranged mother for the duration of her high school years.  Another friend found her mother’s dead body after she had committed suicide.  Another friend watched his father try to murder his mother with a gun (luckily he missed).  My husband spent his high school years watching his younger sister become schizophrenic and dealing with all the family turmoil that caused.  I could go on and on with such stories.  If you don’t have them yourself, I’m sure you have friends who do.  To protect my family’s privacy (and my own sanity), I won’t go into the specifics of the misfortunes that my son and I perceived as tragedies during our high school years, although I will say that none involved suicide, attempted murder or guns. 

I read these cheerful reminisces and wonder, “Am I the only one who gets this filled with dolor when I remember those days?”  Even remembering my job brings water to my eyes because the lives of the people I worked with were so sad.  Acquaintances from high school remember how they felt about taking certain tests and I think, “Good grief.  Studying and tests were a relief for me.  If I ever worried about a test, I would consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I didn’t have other matters pressing my mind harder.” 

Misfortunes are such a slippery slope, it’s hard for me to even think much about them.  I may think being afraid of a high school test is silly, but the African mother in a refugee camp in a foreign country who has just seen her children beheaded and her village burned down would have a strong case for finding my problems trivial.  So, here’s a wild paradox:  all misfortunes are trivial AND all misfortunes are serious.  If someone tells us that sugar is the most evil substance on the planet, do we really have any choice but to believe that is true for her?

The difference between high school Julia and adult Julia is that, back then, I expended a great deal of  effort convincing myself and others that my private “tragedies”  didn’t matter.  Whereas now, when I think of the misfortunes of my life, I say to myself , “Yeah.  That was (is) bad.  What are you going to do about it today?”  The irony was that in high school, I was always looking for friends who were “real” about their lives, but I wasn’t “real” about mine.  Maybe I keep going to school reunions of all sorts in hopes of being awarded a do-over.  Sometimes that happens. 

The DVD case for the movie “Juno” says that she takes a “detour” into adulthood when she goes through pregnancy in high school.  Yesterday I was irritated by the superficial nature of so many childhood memories, but today I’m having fun taking a “detour” into high school, which I didn’t do much at the time, since I was pre-occupied with studying and hiding from my real life.  Maybe, instead of a do-over, I’ll stay on that detour and remember everything about high school as ideal.  We’ll see how I feel that week.  Maybe I finally figure out how to do both.

Are you going to your next class reunion?  Why or why not?

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  1. nina
    May 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Interesting blog. Dredging up awful memories…there were some good ones and some bad ones, that’s for sure. I am grateful for the friends I had. I have no idea how I was perceived back then by others. I would love to know if you are going to the reunion or will be in town that weekend. I am planning to be in town and might go to the reunion if any of my friends convince me to go. I went to the 10th and had a decent time.
    I forgot for a moment that I worked at Market Facts in Evanston and got to ask people about the ease of insertion of their douches. Lot of surveys about Kotex too.

  2. May 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I definitely plan to be there. Hope you decide to go, since it’ll be great to see you. If not, maybe we can make other plans to meet in that weekend. If you do go, be prepared for a lot of hugs and screeching from people who never spoke to you in high school, but are now SOOOOO glad to see you. Especially now that you’re a big-time big-city lawyer.

  3. Cathy
    May 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Julia,
    Your words here are so much more probing (and accepting) than anything I could have written. Thank you … Although I still don’t completely understand why I find the 81 website comments to be somewhat alienating.

    But really, the point of going would be to see you guys …. So consider this arm twisting Nina…. If we can all make a pact, then I will go ahead and purchase a plane ticket.

    CK

  4. May 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    AND, if you guys come, you will finally get to meet my Joe!

    • May 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      I would love to see you guys. I am in on the pact. I am just trying to decide where to stay. Would like to stay at the Blackstone where I got a $100/night deal last year….

  5. cathy
    May 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    That price sounds good. I’ll book in the same place — looking quickly on Yelp it looks Margarita Inn might have a good price — 79 bucks

  6. cathy
    May 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Julia
    I am excited about meeting Joe!

  7. May 21, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I swear to God (well, I don’t really) that this is the first moment that I realized that I have a decade-anniversary coming up for my high school graduation from Evanston Twp. High School. (1971.) How did it escape my notice? I get the alumni newsletter. Well, it’s not from ETHS itself, it’s from some commercial service.

    For me, high school was mostly deliriously wonderful, because it was a daily escape from a violent and alcoholic family life. In my junior year, my sister Ellen (two years younger than me) was murdered by a drug dealer in Chicago. My friends Robert Lieberman and Bill Levine and a very few others, and my teachers, helped make life worth living in those strange years.

    The highest high points of my high school years included two years of Russian, the Combined Studies classes in my last two years, intense and wonderful classes with Owen Hein (with whom I recently exchanged letters), and a class in television production (my first “artistic” class in which I found that I had creative instincts I had no idea existed!!!). For my last two years of high school, we lived in the very northwest corner of Evanston, wedged in with Wilmette and Skokie, and had to walk a long way to school. Those long walks were bliss, even in winter. I usually left for school very early in the morning and came back home as late as possible.

    When my sister was killed, one of the librarians (Ms Willett? the name is on the very edge of my memory) gave a book of Langston Hughes’ poetry to the library in her honor. That was such a perfect choice.

    I began a daily diary at age 14. Thankfully, my diaries are all locked up across the ocean, or this comment would be much longer!

    • May 23, 2011 at 11:52 am

      Johan,

      I’d forgotten that you are from ETHS too! I agree; that school was a special place. I think it was a great oasis for a lot of kids dealing with some very serious family issues.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about why so many of us remember acute tragedies from our high school years. My eyes were opened (again) yesterday when a man in my writer’s group presented a story he wrote about having a friend die when he was 14. By the time we are 14, we are capable of understanding how complex (and cruel) the world is; but we don’t know anything about handling tragedy or how our faith can support us. I don’t know about you, but I was pretty secular in high school. So I suppose these teen tragedies shape us in a profound way. This makes me think about my nieces and nephews and how life looks for them, now that they are entering their teenage years.

      I live in Cincinnati now, which is where my husband grew up and I’m having trouble articulating to him why I am so attached to Evanston/Chicago.

      We haven’t talked about your mom teaching at Roosevelt. What a cool place! So we have our first conversation topic when I am lucky enough to see you next.

      Thrilled to hear from you Friend.

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