The Reunion–40th

20 Jul

I had mixed feelings about going to my fortieth reunion.  I wasn’t popular in high school and I’d actually had some bad experiences, like the time I was walking into school and  attempted to befriend a girl who had just switched into my German class.  She answered my questions as we walked together, but as soon as she reached her best friend she said something to her and they pointed and laughed at me.  I had crossed over one of those invisible boundaries and had committed the sin of talking to someone not in my group.

However in looking back, I was happy as a child going to Cayuga Heights School.  I spent all day with the people who were in my class and developed friendships with a number of the girls.  There were no cliques but there were good friends.  My friend Karen and I spent recess looking for fossils in the woods on the playground; we spent weekends listening to the new British Beatles’ albums she’d managed to procure.  When I was in fourth grade Frank Saul made me a big Valentine and chased me around the playground trying to give me a kiss.  I have to admit that I was shy and scared of the art teacher, Mrs. Thomas, who was always in a bad mood and I didn’t like the music teacher either because I hadn’t figured out how to read music.  I tried hard to memorize everything, so she wouldn’t catch me out.  However, she gave out stickers and I don’t remember getting any.  But it didn’t seem to matter.  I got through each day; most of the time I was happy and I liked my contemporaries. 

One day a week I walked to Alice Reid’s ballet class.  I loved the walk and thinking about which house I would like to live in along the way.  Mrs. Reid was at the end of the walk in her house and green basement ballet studio.  I’d never met anyone quite like her.   She was full of energy and had the hourglass figure that I hoped to have one day.  Her eye makeup was quite heavy but it suited her–the purple eyeliner gave her eyes a certain zip.  She was always in a good mood.  In addition, she was like my mother in that no one would ever be able to outshine her, but it was the force of her personality rather than any need to hold the stage that made her unique.

As I moved into puberty, I became more and more awkward.  Assisting that poor self-image, was the fact that my hair was heavy and short.  It fluffed out at the most unimportune times–during special occasions and times when I saw a guy I wanted to attract.  I also wore cat’s eye glasses.  On the bus the top swimmer in the county made fun of my crossed eyes and called me “White Eyes.”  At the beginning of junior high I went to Comstock Girl Scout Camp and one of my former Cayuga Heights’ friends mocked  my appearance.  Mary and her friend put a bug in my hair that I had trouble getting out and teased me constantly.  When my mother mentioned recently that Mary’s friend had lost her looks, I felt a certain grim satisfaction.  One of my favorite memories of them was the time they decided to dye their white bras.  Instead of going downtown and buying colored bras at Holley’s, they took their bras and dipped them in house paint they found in the basement.  You have to make an effort to be that dumb.

Although my life is starting to sound like that of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie, things were actually beginning to improve somewhat.  I acquired contacts and for some reason my eyes stopped crossing.  I grew my hair out long and started wearing more fashionable dresses and jeans.  I was unpopular, but I was good-looking and unpopular.  In my 7th grade biology class, I found an old acquaintance named Jeanne who had been at Cayuga Heights and Northeast.  Jeanne, and another friend from South Hill, Helen, and I, developed our own world of passed notes in home room and elsewhere.  To show our solidarity, Helen bought us orange plastic rings and bracelets of a type that were popular at the time.  In the same spirit, Jeanne and I bought a green fishing tackle box and filled it with our treasures, including the songs that we wanted sung at our funerals.  Jeanne was tense and earnest about doing her best work.  I, on the other hand, was starting to slip a bit, except in Mr. Vrabel’s German class, where I was fully engaged.  All three of us had other friends at school, but, in effect, we were outsiders.  I took a certain pride in that fact.

The one bad element of my life was the anorexia that was beginning to consume me.  Every day I ran 50 times around the circle in front of our house, did calisthenics, and rode my bike to Cornell Plantations.  At school I ran from one class to another, nearly knocking people down in the process.  What finally stopped the running was a visit to the principal’s office where I was made to understand that “[he] didn’t really wanted to deal with the President of the P.T.A. [my mother] and “would I please just stop running.”  The only good thing about the anorexia was that I received my only 10 on the President’s Physical Fitness Test.  I also gave a speech in Mr. Smail’s class on why we should abolish fat people, my main obsession at the time.

Perhaps it seems strange to focus on grammar school and junior high after attending a high school reunion.  People were generally friendly at the reunion and friends like Claudia were present.  I introduced myself to people I honestly don’t think I’d ever known and I saw other people doing the same thing.  I found myself wondering why we couldn’t have been more mature when we were actually in high school.  Unfortunately, I was probably too shy.  The people I’d known at Cayuga Heights often didn’t acknowledge me in the halls,  with the exception of Beth McConnell, who was perhaps more independent-minded than her peers.  One of my favorite people when I was younger was a girl named Nancy and we’d simply ended up out of each other’s orbit.

I do admit to zinging one of the former cheerleaders at the reunion, who had once made fun of me when I was demonstrating something on the parallel bars.  To her I said: “So you were a cheerleader.” She said, “Yes” and then she said, “I hated being referred to as a cheerleader.”  I knew that but I hadn’t enjoyed being made fun of much either.  Now I would stand up to such a bully, but I was too quiet and restrained to put up much of a fuss back then.

My biggest regret in high school was not working harder in class.  I didn’t appreciate how much it would hurt me when I went to college and didn’t have a full range of choices.  I should have done much better than the top fifth.  The fact that I was in honors classes helped me make it to the top fifth.  It was only when I got to my thirties that I started putting the academic pieces back together and moving on to graduate school.  But I don’t think my social problems were all my fault.  The architect who lives next  door to my mother at Kendal lost his foot hopping a freight train when he was eighteen.    This past year his doctors discovered an infection in his leg.  They think it has been there since he was eighteen.  They explained to him that sometimes an infection will be encapsulated by the body.  The person who has the infection has no knowledge that it is present.  Although I am glad that I went to the reunion, I have to admit that some of the old vitriol is still present.  The passage of time had covered it up, but it remains.

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