In all skills and abilities there is timing…. There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. ~The Book of Five Rings
Part I- Reunion (Book of Earth)
Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things. As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground … These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things.
My phone pinged reminding me it was time to check in for my upcoming flight. Only problem was MY flight wasn’t leaving till Friday morning. That’s 48 hours away, not 24 I thought.
I’d booked it wrong. I was leaving a day earlier than planned. In a moment of panic I feared I’d shifted the whole trip and would be flying home Saturday before the reunion even took place.
My closest of close, BFH, worried for me. I don’t make these kinds of mistakes. She didn’t think I was ready for a reunion. Her suggestion: “Go to the airport and change your ticket to a tropical location”. I finished…..”and never leave”.
I took off with so much bravado. Sure of my acting skills. My ability to story tell if need be. One that allows me endless ease at small talk, a superpower to deftly repeat: no not married, no kids, work in finance…..Who was I kidding?- only myself. This is a skill I’ve never possessed.
“You haven’t changed at all? You look exactly the same. How are your Parents doing?” My inability to navigate the mines became quickly overwhelming. The hardest realization-how completely I’d overestimated myself. For someone who prides themselves on knowing who they are. I was flailing.
I grabbed a name tag wondering if I should write B-borg instead of Thomas. Knowing it didn’t matter if I’d written The Mad Hatter or Alice, as I felt.
A month prior while traveling to NYC I’d purchased John Green’s Papertowns, but never got around to reading it. So on the flight East, after Jurassic World, I began watching it. As we descended into Philly I had to turn it off before the mystery of Margot Roth Spiegelman was answered. On my flight home I took up where I’d left off. And there it was, my reflection:
“But you were Margot Roth Spiegleman! You had everything.”
“That’s the problem. That’s what I’m talking about. People have always looked at me and seen what they want to see. And yes I know I cultivated it a little, the myth of Margot Roth Spiegelman. But it’s just a fantasy.”
When I set off on this trip I had a few pilgrimages. And like with at the 10th reunion, I expected to have a few pleasant surprises. Both were satisfied.
In High School I’d a teacher who I credit with my survival; a man who truly saw my introverted and complicated inner emotional nature, the fragility living under the strength. When things were tough I could go to his classroom door. Even if he was in the middle of teaching I’d simply knock and he’d nod, pointing me towards his office. I’d hunker down for quiet time.
Once the bell freed him he’d come join me and listen to whatever was inundating me in that moment. I’d decompress. Occasionally if needed, I stayed behind. Otherwise I’d head to my next class, but always with a note excusing my quiet healing.
In the crowded space of the reunion I disappeared into our reconnection. Into eyes that saw my struggle. That knew how few truly saw this girl for who she really was. How difficult it was to navigate a strong sense of self so early on when most people stumbled. How desperately I wanted to be known. How easily I could bleed.
Don and I hugged. He could see the overwhelm, the panic rising. I’m not sure I can do this cresting. There just inside the archway I entered his office. We talked of the difficulty to make a quantum leap from “you haven’t changed at all. You look exactly the same” to my reality. The one stuck in the unknown. The one petrified that the next scan will confirm. The man that knew the words from Papertown were meant for me. Who already understood “What a treacherous thing it is to believe a person is more than a person. Margot was not a miracle, not an adventure, not some fine precious thing. She was a girl.”
A thousand times over the last 25 years I’ve return to that yellow sofa in my mind. A memory so palpable it heals. And this night I returned for real.
My next pilgrimage stood just ahead. Emily may actually be the real reason I said yes to the reunion at all. I know I talked of saying No in the year of Yes being a bad thing. And to Emily I confessed I might not get another reunion certainly crossed my mind. But Emily’s own fight-her cancer, her hysterectomy, and her struggle had been a beacon of connection in this world when I felt lost. A voice and space and far away friend that made me feel less alone in a world where you’re one person one day and completely changed the next.
Immediately we retreated to the bar, both in desperate need of fortitude for the room ahead. And perhaps for the moment that would pass between us. I can’t even say if we got a sip before falling into each other’s arms and tears. Words and gratitude flowed so deep they lived in shared heartbeats and rhythmic tearful laughter. In seeing another so completely and being truly looked at in return. In knowing the space of unknowing is often unbearable- this space of swimming with boxing gloves on while tightrope walking from scan A to scan B. Emily told me how brave I was for coming. She stood before me, real, and really knowing…
I believe it was at this point I came undone, a complete unraveling. I grabbed my phone. I’d yet to even navigate the room. Gripped by terror, unable to breath, tears caught in my throat I made my way outside. I wanted to scream. I needed to feel the cold air on my face. To sit my ass on the cool concrete step, like a bathroom floor, and keep from bee lining back to the hotel. There were others I wanted to see. Just not yet.
I sat, wine glass by my side, in the smoking section, phone in my lap, texting my girls for help. Anja & Heather, my two high school friends who I still connect with regularly in the real world, the two I desperately wished were my wing women at that moment.
Even the smoke on the questionable spot in my lung grounded me further into my reality, reorienting me. I needed a lifeline, words to fortify my folly. Enable me to reenter the gauntlet and navigate the conversations with those I’d come to reconnect. And so I sat, messages flying. It started off with the pep talk- “What’s going on in my life? Let’s see….I kicked cancer’s ass, had multiple major surgeries and am fighting my way back. I’m a goddamn rock star bitch, What the fuck is going on in your life?”
But I knew I couldn’t pull that off, still too scared following my last scan to feel anything but uncertain. And the onslaughts of questions were pulling that forward- hence my retreat outside.
They continued. “You’re in the year of YES. So take the good and walk away from the bad.” I assured I was trying albeit unsuccessfully.
“OK, start making shit up. Create a narrative, the ultimate improv game. After all it would be hard to explain why your billionaire boyfriend is off rescuing penguins from near extinction. Or why Bradley Cooper now stalks you on Facebook. Or how you personally pilot your private jet to Steamboat several times a year to hang out with your rockstar besties.
Tell everyone about your fashion line. All the great reviews you’ve been getting from the Paris show, but how in wanting to remain anonymous you donated all the money to charity.
You could start a rumor that we’re in the throes of a long-awaited and terribly torrid lesbian love affair. Or how we’ve already begun building our threesome love nest in Steamboat and Anja is already preggers with Bradley Cooper’s baby who we plan to raise together.”
At this point I completely devolved. This was just what I needed to reengage and my fellow cohorts outside joined in our mayhem. It was like live-texting the reunion, the ultimate dial-a-friend. Emojis flying!!
Finally someone came to grab me. Don was leaving and wanted to say goodbye. So I headed inside with the power of re-entry, ready to seek out a few others I intended to hug. There were stories of time’s progression to hear and the faces of old friends to see; a family to reconnect with.