“Days when we lost it laughing,
One thing was kind of clear,
Whatever it was you’re looking for,
You wouldn’t start from here.”
I couldn’t wait to leave high school. It wasn’t unpleasant; it just lasted about two years too long. Come graduation, I bolted. I avoided the university that most of my classmates attended, and, within two years, I left my home city, coming back only to visit family. But last year, I started wondering whether I’d missed anything. When my class reunion arrived in October 2006, I decided on whim to go.
That’s one mistake I won’t be making again.
Like high school itself, the reunion wasn’t unpleasant. Contrary to my brother’s predictions, the event wasn’t full of people boasting of accomplishments and children — just people out for a good time. I was greeted warmly by several women who had been in my class all through school, many of them miraculously unaltered since their teen years — at least to my eye — and by men whose younger selves had been close enough to me that they still make guest appearances in the occasional dream.
I revelled in the petty vanity of observing that I was in better shape than most, and the satisfaction of realizing that people who had once secretly intimidated me were now simply tiresome. The adult version of a girl I’d often chattered at in elementary school turned out to have had a similar career path to me, and we spent about half the evening talking, and later split a cab fare. All in all, it turned out to be the most pleasant evening out I’d had in months. For a while, I even managed to believe that I had effortlessly brought my past and present together.
My mistake was thinking that the warmth expressed throughout the evening was anything other than nostalgia mixed with alcohol.
After the reunion, I tried to keep in touch with a dozen people with whom I’d spent time at the reunion. I emailed some of them directly, and others through websites like Classmates and LinkedIn.
Not one of those efforts resulted in a lasting correspondence, let alone a renewal of friendship.
One or two never responded to me. My best friend when we were growing up was uncomfortable with email and gave up the correspondence after a single exchange. A former friend I’d protected against bullies lasted two emails. Several lasted a little longer. One bestirred herself enough to suggest who might have reunion photos, but ignored a LinkedIn invitation. One said she would accept an invitation from her home address, but never did. Still others accepted invitations to LinkedIn, but without comment. Once everybody was sober and back in their daily routines, keeping in touch with somebody who was no longer part of their lives was unimportant to them. Some of them may have planned more of a response, but chose to be too busy.
(I say “chose,” because, when people say they’re too busy, what they mean is that they don’t want to shift from their habits. People who say they are too busy to read, for example, inevitably spend free time they could use to read parked in front of the TV.)
For several months, I did scrape together a correspondence with the woman who’d befriended me at the reunion, but the exchange was ruined by differences in expectations. She thought an email a week made me high maintenance, while I, after a decade among geeks, who consider email slow compared to IRC, thought that rate exceedingly casual. For my part, I was wary about what her exaggerated praise of my writing concealed. She seemed to nurse an idealized image of me that I was too full of human faults ever to match.
For her part — well, I’ll never know, now. Did she worry whether my scattergun friendliness masked deeper feelings? I’m an old-married, so I overlooked such possibilities at the time. All I know is that, faced with problems at work, she chose to be busy. Her emails became full of icy thank-yous, and the correspondence faltered. Finally, in a flash of temper — possibly caught in a lie — she formally closed the connection.
Compared to the trauma I’ve experienced and witnessed, these failures hardly register. I have no shortage of other correspondents, after all. Still, after the last failure, I deleted the emails I’d received and purged my address books. I cancelled my Classmates registration and severed some LinkedIn connections. I started working out daily at the gym. I noticed that the cherry blossoms were adding the first dash of springtime color to the city. In short, I moved on. But the experiences leave my world a colder place, and I regret the wasted time.
Most of all, I regret my quixotic efforts to look back. I should have known that I lost touch with my acquaintances for a reason. The accident of going to the same schools was simply not enough for friendship. Nobody’s to blame for that fact, but it didn’t go away because I ignored it, either.
In the end, for all my good will, my former classmates and I were like planets in eclipse. From a narrow perspective, our shadows might fall on each other, but, fixed in our orbits, we could never actually touch.
That’s why I won’t be going to another reunion. I may change my mind ten years from now, but why should I? I’ve been there, done that, and long ago worn out the T-shirt.