The School Reunion
Two weeks ago I went to my 30-year school reunion. I nearly didn’t go, convinced that none of my old friends would attend, and how on earth could I attend without my usual cohort by my sides. It seems the social playground history still loomed large in my psyche.
School reunions have been difficult for me in the past, when my best friend died the year after school finished. People either wanted to ask me about it and her, or talk about what happened and I wasn’t ready. I could barely make sense of it with her sister and family, let alone discuss it with a relative stranger for the last few decades with a glass of Jacob’s Creek plonk in my hand.
But this year I went. I attended with my old school friends, many of who are still my closest friends. The successful award winning actor, who turned into his usual loud, silly self, quick to use the nicknames from school again, all awe for his career and fame gone from his school friends when he started to giggle hysterically at stories from our former class again.
The lawyer who is fighting for rights of the vulnerable in high courts who laughed raucously and hugged everyone so tightly reminding me much I loved his hugs and kindness. The singer who has faced her own personal trauma who is still as cynical but more compassionate than ever. The golden boy who nearly lost everything, but replaced pride with vulnerability and is all the better man for it. The shy flower who is now a makeup artist, the most stylish girl at school who became the stylish interior designer.
So many people doing extraordinary things with their lives and yet, we talked not of the success we have achieved but of surviving.
We cried as we heard stories of grief, and laughed at our own failures as much as we were celebrated for the achievements.
School isn’t a happy place for everyone, and yet, some people who I knew were miserable at school came to the event, finally ready to talk about what happened to them, how they healed and what they knew now. They were enveloped in love and understanding. Time is a gift for understanding the trauma of others.
I hugged the girl whose beloved Mum is slowly retracting back into herself with dementia. We laughed and cried when she said her mother, who can barely remember her name, still escapes daily from the nursing home to get her nails done at ‘Carol’s Salon’ down the road. Life can be funny and awful simultaneously.
While during the past reunions we have stayed in our groups from school, this year we merged. The waves of nostalgia washed over us as we talked about how we got to thirty years mostly intact.
People spoke to me of their depression and recovery, some still in the middle of the quagmire but wanting to share their stories with me, as I am vocal about my own struggle to tame the black dog.
Instead of reeling off our CV, instead we reeled off our children’s names and ages. We talked off sore knees and colonoscopies, hysterectomies, and mammograms and wondered aloud if the canapés would give us indigestion.
But mostly we spoke of love. The love we have now, the love we lost and the love in the room.
At the end of the night, smashed in a pub after the school had kicked us out, an old friend asked me if I ever saw my best friend from school. I was stunned and then myself and another friend started to laugh. ‘Not really, since she’s dead.’ I managed to splutter out.
‘Oh God,’ said the girl, looking mortified, ‘Did I know that? Have I drunk too much? Help!’
We laughed until we cried. ‘She would have loved that you asked that,’ I managed to say, ‘She always did have gallows humour.’
‘It’s true,’ said my other friend, who had earlier brushed aside her medical career and instead she wanted to tell me about her caravanning trips with her family.
Our friend would have loved to be spoken of as though she was still here with us. And so we did. We talked about them all - Fiona, Michelle, Tania and Kyra. Vale, ladies. We are better for knowing you and we sure tied one on the other night and you were with us throughout, like you have been in our hearts over the past 30 years.