When reunions loom, women prep
When my 25th-reunion book came, though I’d sent in my entry rather crankily, I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading it.My former classmates didn’t brag. They talked about real ups and downs: the husband who left them with two toddlers; the death of an infant, the depressive episodes; a recovery from carbon-monoxide poisoning. They wrote about losing spouses, parents, and siblings, including a brother in an avalanche.People were also light-hearted.Buck summarized his occupation as small-time entrepreneur: “Entrepreneurship is a passion; the small-time part is accidental.”Emily, who’d undergone a background check for a new government job, wrote: “I can’t imagine what Alison Osius told them – but I’m still waiting for the security clearance!”They talked about jobs, travel, children, divorces; joked about hair loss, or pants getting tighter.My friend Laura, also both from Carbondale and my class at Middlebury College, Vermont, and I reacted similarly. We couldn’t stop talking about the book (“How about the guy who got bitten by a shark?”), and we immediately planned diets.Discussing dress, the soft-spoken Laura said levelly: “It’s OK, I don’t have to impress anyone. I’m only: dyeing my hair, going on a diet, getting a manicure …”I myself had appointments with the dentist and dermatologist.As the date approached, I suddenly felt abject dread. Three nights ahead, Barbara, a filmmaker I hadn’t seen in 10 years, called, and I was psyched again. The day before my flight, I received an e-mail from another close friend, Rin, a physician, saying she was too overwhelmed and exhausted to go. I despaired anew. (And I wasn’t even facing the terror – or anticipation – of seeing an old boyfriend.)I went, of course. Reunions touch our youth, revisit a time of intense learning, experience and emotional development.Arriving, I found that, randomly, I’d been given the room next door to Emily, ensuring companionship. Over the long weekend, we mainly hung around the reunion center, feeling, as Emily put it, guilty every time we left, because our time here was so fleeting.People looked good, but when I at one point said vacuously that they looked the same, someone put in, “Yeah, if they have their name tags on.” My friends and I rather thought that the women looked better than the men, but then realized that the people who looked the worst – ballooned, or scary-thin – were women.I only went to one organized event, convocation, because I love the parade of classes, from fifth-year returnees to those, honored with standing ovations, coming to their 70th and 75th reunions.Officials then detailed donations by every class, with current and improvement percentages. It was 85 degrees outside, and a sauna within, and just as I prayed that the president would truncate his closing remarks, he uttered the deathly words “strategic plan.” I looked around and thought that some of these people were about a hundred years old, and someone might keel, and it might even be I.Before I left, a local friend asked what we’d all actually do. “Will there be dancing?” she asked. “God, I hope not,” I said. Well, I danced until 2 a.m., a group of us on the floor.Flying home, I worried: Had I talked to people enough, really listened? And I found that you can’t regret short or absent conversations, but just be glad for those that happened, even if three minutes long.I’d spent an hour with Teresa, newly returned from Taiwan, a close friend l had not seen since graduation.I noticed that people had often said they were grateful: for health, parents, education.At home, an e-mail from Rin pressed for details. “I came this close to buying a $1,200 ticket last-minute, and John even said he wouldn’t divorce me if I did.”She added, “I can’t believe I went to the trouble of losing weight and whitening my teeth, and didn’t go.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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