Armchair Peregrinations


December 10, 1998

Next year will mark 30 years since my high school graduation at the tailend of the sixties and the conclusion of a decade that shaped all of us of that generation for better or worse. I can't even conceive of it being that long ago. High school was not a social experience for me. It was mostly all academic business. Hard work. Preparation for college. I had no really close friends, and the whole experience would amount to only fine traces of memory here and there were it not for the year spent working on the yearbook, an experience that created a sense of excitement in an otherwise long, dull round of classes and daily routines. This was a turning point for many of us who hadn't had too many accomplishments other than academic successes, which were expected of us. The yearbook gave us a cause, a mission, as it stoked our puny egos and gave us, shall we say, a bit of "school pride" during our senior year.

It was unthinkable that I would attend my 10 and 20-year reunions. Those were times of such turmoil in my life that I couldn't have imagined going to a gathering of former classmates in the state of mind I was in then. I had experienced some terrible personal and professional failures, and just the thought of hearing others intone about their families, careers, and children was not conceivable, not any kind of option for me.

But about this upcoming 30-year reunion, if there is one, I'll say this. I think we've mellowed as we approach 50. We may be struggling to cope with a chaotic world, but we've been through some trials by fire and we are perhaps confident enough at this stage to confront our pasts, which for many of us have deep roots in those formative years of high school. Why, having had only a small circle of studious and nerdy acquaintances, would I be interested in any reunion at all? I don't have the answer to this. I don't even know if anyone from my class would remember much about me, except that I was the one who ended up doing the groups projects in sociology class. I suppose the yearbook staff would have quite a time reminiscing. Much of what I remember about that senior year is associated with yearbook activities. It was my first venture into the publishing world. It sparked my interest in journalism, which was to become one of my later career paths.

High school is only memorable to me, however, so long as the city I grew up in at that time is alive in my memory. It's fading for me as a place I want to visit again for old times sake. Those years in New Orleans, the city of my birth, are still rather unfathomable to me now. I don't know what to make of that person I was then. I block out a lot of memories from my youth, and high school is a part of that youth. I can't disassociate the bad experiences of my teen years from the nice, misty feel-good memories that tend to predominate when we gaze back in time. An introvert, I was painfully studious, a worrier, a conflict-ridden and confused adolescent. I would say psychic chasms existed between myself and other students, even my acquaintances.

I guess you'd have to have been a joiner, a real social achiever, a carefree teenager to have today great memories of high school along with a lasting desire to meet up with old friends from those days. There's a core group in every high school who fit that description.

I look at the reunion phenomenon more from the standpoint of a distant observer, an older, life-wearied adult who is always going to wonder why things turned out as they did, but who is achiving an acceptance of himself and doesn't desire to be like anyone else, only wishing to continue the struggle to contain his own baser nature and free himself from the past.

I have one really clear memory from high school. After lunch most days, I'd make my way to the thrid floor for afternoon classes, up a flight of stairs near the cafeteria, above which was a skylight in the roof. I'd look up and see the clear, blue sky above and long for freedom and release from the confines of my hard desk and tedious classes. I imagine now that if I had seen a bird fly across that patch of blue, I'd have yearned all the more to be out of school. Now, that skylight is all around me and no longer framed in a small square in an old building. I have to choose daily what to do with my freedom. In high school, my limitations were not yet fully realized, but I hadn't tasted true freedom, and I felt trapped. Now, 30 years later, I guess I don't need to reconnect with my classmates from a time now gone. I need to look back and understand the past, but that past is living now only in the words I am constructing here from memory.


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