Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The "good old days"

 In a somewhat amusing development, I've volunteered to spearhead my 50th high school reunion. It isn't actually a development, since I took it upon myself, but amusing in that I was not an active participant in (official) high school life. My sole extracurricular activity was a daily trek to a particular corner of the cafeteria to buy a joint for 50 cents, spending the rest of my lunch money on a Coke and bag of chips to split with my cousin. 

I grew up in the city I live in, and have friends I've known since grade school, but this reunion business has me thinking about the "good old days" that weren't particularly. I had zero self-esteem, but did have a best friend who I'd meet in the girl's bathroom for a cigarette before class, and was on the periphery of a larger group, the ones that met across the street for their morning smoke and hung out in a nearby park where we'd share whatever cheap bottle of wine we'd stolen, spinning on the merry-go-round in order to feel high faster. More/faster/longer was the goal. Eventually, I met the guy I later married, brother of a classmate, already out of school and not in favor of my getting high every day. But there I was, in the park most days.

When I try to think of memorable times in high school, what comes to mind is the time an older, big guy named Luther told me I blew a charge like a dude, which I took as an extreme compliment. (for the record, a "charge" is when you put the lit end of a joint in your mouth and blow smoke into another person's nose/mouth). Other memories include walking through Center Hall, certain that everyone knew I was stoned, and where I was standing (stoned) when someone told us Jimi Hendrix had died. I remember smoking a joint with my cousin and her boyfriend before a dance, with them then pretending  they couldn't see me, and another dance where my beautiful friend told me she had a crush on the same boy I did (so long to my chances).

I do remember memorizing bits from A Midsummer Night's Dream for an English class ("Ay me! For aught that I could ever read, could ever hear by tale or history, the course of true love never did run smooth," a great truth to my 16 year old ears). I remember a cool woman instructor who drove a vintage Thunderbird and started my feeble awakening to women's rights, and the very hip teacher (i.e. somewhat intimidating) who encouraged us to sit on the floor of his classroom (this being the early 70's). I remember smoking a cigarette at the donut shop, as an older girl surreptitiously indicated to a friend, that, no, I wasn't being invited to join a particular social club. Later, I said, "I didn't want to anyway," but of course I did. I at least wanted to be wanted. And I remember the sidewalk weaving - or was it me - on the last day of senior year, after chugging Jim Beam I'd stolen from mom's bottle. 

So, yeah, high school memories are mostly of being stoned or drinking to near oblivion on weekends, while still managing to earn my way to the Honor Roll. Why do I want to take the helm on the reunion?? Mostly because I have a vision of how it could be - an inclusive event in the park we grew up in, with a wide range of attendees from our 500+ classmates.  At 50 years, I'm more interested in seeing the guys I got high with than wearing uncomfortable shoes for an overpriced fancy dress banquet. I'd like to see the woman I briefly shared a boyfriend with, 15 year old cad that he was. I look forward to giving a program nod to the folks I now see in the rooms of recovery, and reminiscing about those who've passed on. Do I have control issues? Ha ha - a bit, and, I'm motivated by nostalgia for connections from the way-back time machine. As awkward as high school was, some of those days of discovery (during a social revolution, with a great soundtrack) were fun.

I thank AA for teaching me how to show up, how to make a plan and follow through, and how to work with a group (still not my favorite thing - somebody just make a decision!). I've hosted potlucks and helped facilitate conferences. I've gained my voice, and know what it is I want to say most days. AA/Alanon grew me up, teaching me social skills I simply didn't have as a teen. (I've shared this before, but I often chuckle at an older cousin, who asked, when I was 3 years sober, "When did Jeanine get a personality." Ouch, but true).

I attended my 10th reunion while still drinking (heavily). At the next one, I wondered what to say when people asked, "What have you been up to?"  "Uh, well, I nearly killed myself with drugs and booze, but I'm sober now!" For a while, getting sober was the greatest accomplishment of my life, just about the only one. Actually, it still is the most important event, but over time I've been able to build a life around that truth, with university, a career, good friends and a sweet marriage. But that list of achievements isn't really what I'm interested in from old classmates. Sure, folks will talk about their kids or how many grandkids they have, what they're doing in retirement, whether their folks are still alive, but I'm more interested in how they've navigated these last 50 years. Where did they hit a road block, and how did they come back? Is there a spark of the 14, 15 or 16 year old in their eyes? Do they even know I had a crush on them, or looked up to them, or learned something from their actions? In other words, who are you, really? Not the two-paragraph bio, but in your heart? Did you find true love? Are there dreams you still hope to achieve? What happened to our plan to change the world?

I remember when my mom attended her 50th reunion, and how old she seemed. 50 years??? I couldn't even imagine.  At 17 I couldn't have pictured this moment. Coming in to sobriety at 31, I wouldn't have been able to forsee all that has fit into the years. Who knows what's next? I used to want to know, to have a guarantee, but these days I'm better able to greet the day with curiosity. What is it I need to learn today? What is it I should pay attention to today? 

How have whatever goals you had for yourself in high school been achieved, or revised? What might you say to your 16 year old self to let them know it would all work itself out? What skills and tools have you picked up in the rooms that help you navigate the world today?

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