Over the past few months I have received half-a-dozen or so e-mails relating to my upcoming 30th high school reunion. Leaving aside the shock that I could possibly be having such a thing, and factoring in that I was a year younger than everyone in my class, so naturally I’m not as old as *they* are, I have had a little fun exploring the website where classmates have uploaded pictures from then and now. I looked over the list of missing students and marveled that the only friend I’ve kept up with, Lolly, who still lives in that town, is on it. I was unsurprised by the members of the reunion committee, a collection of cheerleaders and other women who were once the girls in the "popular" set. I consider myself to have been fully a music and drama geek, and it was a pleasant surprise to get an e-mail from the organizer saying she hoped I would be there. We did have some classes together and were always cordial, so I suppose it’s possible she’s curious to know how I turned out.
This morning I followed an e-mail link back to the reunion website, smiled that "Celebration" is the theme song (because what else could it be? "Play that Funky Music, White Boy?" "Brick House?"), and then, I noticed it.
In the sidebar, I saw the words "In Memoriam."
Please consider that I have lived far away for twenty years and even before that I was not particularly connected to the classmates with whom I spent 11th and 12th grade. I stayed in town to go to college, but I lived on campus and no longer saw even the high school classmates who were day students at The College of Knowledge. I had a summer job on Merchant’s Square, at the Candy Store, but the girls who worked with me there were Lolly and some girls a year behind us. It wasn’t until I moved across the street to work in the shoe department of a then-preppy ladies shop that I saw a high school classmate again, Sue, a sunny young woman who had gone into retail right after graduation and was excited, at 21, to have achieved the role of jewelry buyer, with the associated trips to New York.
I’ve been away from there a long time, but I remember how kind she was to me, how her eyes would flash with amusement, how excited she was to get engaged while I was finishing my Junior Year. Her wedding was the first I ever saw video-taped. It was 1981, and that was the new thing.
This morning I scrolled down the page. All the kids in that class are vaguely familiar to me. There were only 175 of us, a pretty even number of black and white kids in a newly opened high school without a lot of true integration outside the football and basketball teams. The first face on the page did not bring up particular memories, nor the second, two young men–one black, one white–the first survived by a daughter who could be as old as my oldest son, for he has been gone almost twenty years, the second survived by his parents. The third, another boy, and I say boy because the pictures are taken from our high school yearbook, seems more recognizable. He liked to party, or that’s the association I had for him. He has been dead ten years, leaving behind a wife and children.
I scrolled down once more, and there were tears as I realized I was looking at a picture of Sue, who died six weeks ago. How could Sue be dead? And so recently? Why am I so disconnected that I might never have known?
She is — she was — my age, or just a year older. What happened to her?
I found her obituary a few minutes later, cancer, not specified. She is survived by the husband I remember from the day of the videotape, and they had three children together. The young woman starting a career became a stay-at-home mom, which gave her time, the obituary told me, for her great interests: the Christian Women’s Club, her church, her children.
Oh, Sue! I don’t know when you felt drawn to a life of faith, or why. I don’t know how much it meant to you, because I’m afraid we often say things about other people’s sure presence in heaven because it is the only way to make their absence bearable. I haven’t seen you in 25 years. Did you come to my wedding? I can’t even remember. Somewhere there is a card file my mother kept of all the people invited to my wedding, and I must look for it. My stay-at-home mom had time for that kind of interest, you see.
You are just a year older than I am. Your mother’s and father’s names, listed in your obituary, brought you back to me, the way you used to laugh and call them by their first names when you talked about them, the dirty little joke you made about…well, never mind. I’ll keep that to myself. But I want to remember you that way, and really I have no choice. I remember you young and shiny and irreverent, reaching out toward adult life without knowing what that really meant. Wherever we go, you are already there, and somehow that amazes me more than usual when I think of you in that terrible drape the photographers made us wear for those awful Senior pictures. You wore a cross with it, and so did I. Farewell, my sister, now part of the communion of saints, too soon.
I guess that’s the real class reunion.