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 IV- Reveal (Book of Wind)
An important part of understanding your own way is to understand the way of your opponent as precisely as possible.
I arose early and made my way to the lobby. Figure I’d uber into town for some coffee. Kicked-back waiting in the corner chair, I spied Morgan strolling through. He offered me a ride into town.
This was in essence my extra day; one I had not planned out prior to traveling. And I intended to flow with whatever this Yes-Year brought my way.
We hit Joes café, 48 years untouched by time. Saddled up to the bar and caught up one-on-one, my favorite way to truly connect. Morgan is another past friend I am grateful to know in the outside world, having visited him in L.A.; not solely within the microcosm of this reunion time warp. I am privileged to know a man, one I believe he allows few to see. Not just the “Hollywood version” that showed up at the reunion.
But a man that loves to teach, and toils terribly over scripts. That, earlier in the day, had cried outside his childhood home. He waxed about living life in a small town teaching screenwriting to University students. Who ultimately was so caught up in the past he’d became his own self-fulfilling prophecy at the reunion. He is a man that loves deeply.
After our plates were wiped clean we drove over to Eastern University and took a stroll, sat beneath his favorite tree; childhood thinking spot. I listened to the leaves crumble beneath my feet, the musty fall smell filling my nostrils.
This harkened back to another perfect day. One spent together at this park back in 8th grade. We’d ditched class, typing I think. For hours we sat on the stone wall of the water wheel and talked, existentially no doubt, about life and love. I so badly wished to be kissed that day. It never did come to pass.
I like to joke I am his first leading lady. We played opposite one another in multiple musicals throughout high school. Other than a kiss on the cheek in our 8th grade play, our lips have never grazed. And honestly, now that he has Hollywood connections, he really should set me up on a date with Bradley Cooper. It only seems fair.
I’ve never been able to nap during the day even when desperately needed. So with the big night ahead, I did the next best thing- sought out a mani-pedi. I sunk into the salon chair and stared across at the high school out across the field where I’d managed the hockey team. Behind which lay the football field where I’d served as the equipment manager for the boy’s football team after my knee blew out.
There were stories galore. So many moments flooded back. I wondered what my life would have looked like had I taken my father’s bribe for the car of my choice and attended Penn State instead of heading to Colorado. I was terribly independent (read stubborn) back then. Still am.
The rush of memories, could-haves, should-haves, were interrupted by the arrival of two young women, one a Radnor student, the other from Episcopal. We talked about high school. What teachers were still there after all these years? How kids these days apparently don’t date.
I thought about all the romances our class had. The ones I had. There was so much hope ahead for these two young women. They made me want for the future- a future that in moments as of late seems fleeting-a hope I try to maintain, that after today there will be another and another ……
Once back at the hotel I got dressed. Put my game face on. Cold feet quickly set in. So, I texted my gurls. They instructed me to head to the bar post haste. I did as I was told.
They assured there would be folks down there to meet. It would ease me into the evening. This would be their first save of the night, a lifeline to pull me from below.
Alfie, Jeff and their lady loves were first on scene. All of whom I’d spent time with the night prior. Now it must be said these are but a few of the wives I’d like to get to know better. Because honestly these ladies Rock. The wives, chosen, were reflections of them as men.
My Aunt once told me to make sure you find a partner that brings out the best version of you. Who doesn’t seek to change, but draws from within all that you are. Who coaxes out that version of self that shines brightest. Clearly Lou & Erica were not the only two to accomplish this.
And Alfie (who I’ve actually know since elementary school)…his wife Ruthie is a prime example. I still owe her answers. Our conversation regarding the nature and evolution of my two divorces needs completion. Cut short on the way to their van in lieu of the reunion, when it was discovered she had no objection to Alfie smoking cigars in the car, let alone the house. The guys were enthralled. Seriously it was obvious this gal was awesome. I’ve always been one of the guys but I’m not even that cool.
And lest we forget the fact that she moved with her husband and 4 young daughters to Uganda to basically build a village and live entirely off the land from scratch all the while under attack. Yep I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was kinda crushing.
And then Liz, or “My Baby Mama”, as Jeff liked to call her, would later that evening prove a source of vindication for me. A discussion arose about boys in high school and dating. See, contrary to popular belief, boys didn’t ask me out. Most of the time a friendship simply evolved.
A classmate shared in confidence that I was his Can’t Buy me love girl. I asked why he’d never asked me on a date. “You dated the quarterback” he replied. Once I got over feeling like a cliché, I said “you know the quarterback is just a boy too”.
“I know that NOW” his response.
The boys were afraid of me I stated emphatically. Liz turned to Jeff and asked point blank “So you didn’t ask Dana out in HS because you were afraid of her?” A tension gripped the entire circle.
“Yep”, his reply, to my relief, a perfect illustration, sealing the deal and stamping my truth as fact. Basically saving my ass.
So it went throughout the night. Once my pilgrimages were completed, and my time outside enabled my return inward, I felt fortified. After I hugged Don once more, goodbye, I’d been capable of winding my way further inside, to reengage in the reunion.
I had, like Jeff shared outside, underestimated my anxiety. I yearned to be home on the couch sharing a little Girl Scout cookie, thankfully legal in our state. Wishing for the chattiness I get when the pain in my body is gone. Or frankly back at the bar like the night prior, in a more intimate setting, one seemingly more manageable. And had I known then Dan was coveting a bottle of scotch, I’d have sought him out for a much needed double-neat.
I continued to make my way around the reunion, looking for those I wanted to greet earlier before emotion got its grip on me. I settled to the task of repeating my answers “no not married, divorced twice, no kids, work in finance.”
“Were you always this tall?”
“Yep” I’ve been called sir more times than I’d like to admit.
“Finance?!!! I can’t picture that at all.” Neither could I. My math grades were less than ideal and I’m still slightly dyslexic with numbers. Not good when dealing with a person’s net worth.
“I always thought you’d do something creative”. Hell, Who didn’t!
I didn’t have energy to explain I’d taught fashion design for years, traveled to India to manufacture clothes, have a blog and try to sell my art on the side. How I’d always be a slave to my right brain but paychecks are good too, particularly when you have mounting medical debt.
At the beginning of the evening, before my mad exodus outside, I’d spied my Brad across the room. I’ve always been oddly possessive of his friendship. Secretly I’m possessive of all my friends. I just share well. Brad confessed he’d come to the last reunion in a large part to see me, but I was not there.
Brad had been Poseidon on senior dress-up day as we strutted around in mermaid tails. We talked about the crossovers between our families, homes shared, and the years between us unfolding. For me Brad would always feel like safety, comfort, love. And now, what a man, husband, and father should be.
Days before junior prom my boyfriend and I broke up. As I was now single and dateless, Brad stepped in as my date. I am eternally grateful to him for that night. Brad was, and will always be, one of the best men I know.
Now this particular ex would go on to earn an Ivy League education, get married, have three kids and become a successful organic farmer. A picture I could never have foreseen. Later that night at the bar I’d actually get to see images of a man, still ever so handsome, a far cry from the one who mock-lovingly put gum in my hair while passing me in the hall.
Before I left for this trip there’d been banter as women often do. My home girls wanted me to make sure I took lingerie, a large box of condoms, wishing for me a wild love affair like I’d had in Australia.
“Quit it! My class mates are married and you know I don’t roll like that”. “Besides” I implored “that’s not what reunions are for”.
“Perhaps then you’ll meet a stranger on the plane ride home……” They were relentless. But I’d be, as it turned out, in no shape for this kind of mischief.
In hindsight I realize all around that reunion hall were someone’s Margot Roth Spiegelmans, a few who’d been my own. One of whom Jeff had spied earlier at the hotel bar. “That’s him” he said. We watched as he ordered two beers and headed back upstairs.
“No…… He was blonder” I said. This man was aged beautifully, his hair darker, a full beard across his face, dressed impeccably. You’ve got a type. I could hear DT² in my head. Yeah, Trouble I smirked to myself.
During school I’d the most terrible crush on him. Not to put too fine a point on it; I loooooved his nose. And I assure you this is not his best feature, but for me it was, the dimple on the tip slaying me.
Across the reunion hall stood the guy from the bar. Jeff had been right. It was him. How I’d missed his nose… baffling.
We hugged. “You smell great” he said. I couldn’t help but smile as my little sister’s obsession with my scent popped in my head. I mean, she is “Superstar” obsessed, practically trying to inhale me every time we hug. She even has my niece getting in on the action. Frankly, it makes me nuts, kinda creeps me out. But his saying it incited an altogether different reaction.
My mind flashed to my recent trip to the Bahamas. To the gorgeous Swede who dove into the recruiter’s armpit with wild abandon. There is much to be said for pheromones and for humor.
He shared that our father’s had known one another in college. A fact neither knew during high school. One that, once home, would lead to a conversation with my Dad; pondering the road not taken, dreams lost, choices made, regrets, and a life lived in the finite span of one human revolution, bringing me a deeper understanding of my father.
We talked of the business he’d started. I’m sure I shared my cancer, but maybe not. The night had started to blur. And I was growing weary.
One of my closest friends during senior year, who was also my roommate freshman year at college, stood ahead. We had not seen one another since she left to attend another school back east and our time as roommates ended. Sadly, I was not the best roommate and allowed my boyfriend at the time to disrupt our friendship. We drifted apart. Still, we smiled openly and hugged deep, vowed to keep in touch.
Naturally Evie asked after that boyfriend, the one I had at the time, the one which turned out to be my biggest miscalculation, an utter douchebag, sadly a real low point in my self-esteem. In that moment, high school collided with college and pulled a demon from within. The shadows cast by the past can be terrifying. Tonight, they were for me.
Time seemed to fold in on itself; a “This is your Life” episode. For me, this one had been a whopper. One I try to forget. With him I learned the depth of my masochism, in how deep a trench I could lay. “We all make mistakes” she replied. But this one literally needed to kick me in the head for me to finally understand.
There was an obvious expanse of time between us all that night. Our lives changed. We’d lost classmates, parents, siblings, friends and children. Earlier in the week it was decided this should to be honored.
A donation jar was set up to give money to the Epilepsy foundation for a classmate’s daughter that passed from a seizure. She was only 13. A conversation started which sparked my own grief; the loss of a dear friend’s 11-year old daughter Libby, with who I was inordinately connected. Her seizure on Christmas day nearly a decade and a half prior, had crumbled me to my core.
Spencer volunteered to take the stage to lead us in a moment of silence. By this point Emily and I had found ourselves back at the side of the bar, still fortifying. For us, knowing many who’d fought cancer, our list of lost was perhaps longer than most in that room. The silence hung in the space honoring the dead.
Once the chatter began again we looked to one another; a toast, and acknowledgement of knowing what it feels to have stood on the precipice of our own, to face your mortality. What it feels like to truly contemplate the end of your life and know intimately its very real possibility. To hope it doesn’t come to pass because there is so much more living you have to do.