In this moment, I am sitting in my classroom. I have decided to come up early from lunch so I can catch up on e-mail before my next class. A student, an 8th grader, sits with his friend and their electric guitars on a bench directly outside of my classroom. For the first ten minutes I am at my desk, he plays Guns’n’Roses songs, or fragments of them, and tries bits and pieces of other songs.
Suddenly, do nada, he breaks into the first few notes of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and just as quickly, I am transported back in time to my own 8th grade life, thirteen years ago. I can picture Andy Bernhardt or Brinton strumming these notes as we are all seated in a circle on the floor of a bedroom, or a barn, or a clubhouse, or a living room, or anywhere our 8th grade bodies congregated to listen to music and talk.
I am reminded of parties at Cori’s house, or at Laurie’s, or Shannon’s, those middle school dance parties where we girls blushed at the mere mention of a boy’s name. I am reminded of “going out,” really just glorified talking-on-the-phone, which, as the years passed, would become double dates, then exclusive Friday night dinner and movie dates, then secretive sleep-overs while parents were away. I am reminded of summer parties with kegs of beer and bottles of Popov and Firewater, obtained by older siblings in college. I am reminded of driving everywhere and nowhere with Drew, in the snow, only to end up parked in the high school parking lot, where we would talk for hours, in the middle of a storm, as the snowflakes collected on our windshield. I am reminded of the week before graduation, the events, the collection of addresses, the promises to stay in touch. I am reminded of graduation itself, though only briefly, and of the summer that followed.
I know many of the people I went to high school with are married now. Some have children. Some left the country. Some fought for the country. Some died. I am reminded of these people because not only did I hear that music today, I have been hearing from people I went to school with–some I haven’t spoken to since graduation day, or before.
Our ten-year high school reunion will be next summer, and I am compiling a list of e-mail addresses, which means I am getting in contact with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. It is such a mind-boggling thing: to talk to people out of the blue, and yet, when I hear from another new person, I am excited to find out how his or her life has come together.
When last I spoke to some of these people, we were eighteen. And now, as I read their e-mail, I notice that their writing sounds older. I notice that they write “husband,” or “kids,” and that they are talking about their own. I notice that they have titles beneath their names, that they work for Agencies and Companies and Organizations. I notice that they have responsibilities and probably 401Ks.
Since when did the captain of the MMU high school soccer team get a 401K? Since when did vice-president of the student council go on a honeymoon? And Wallstreet? Since when did anyone from Jericho, Vermont go there?
How is it possible for so much time to have passed, and for me to still feel the way I feel? I don’t feel any older than eighteen; and I don’t imagine anyone else to feel differently, either. But when I hear words like “wife,” “investment banker,” “mortgage,” and “about to have a second child,” I suddenly wonder if these people look as mature as I think those words sound.
I also examine myself: I just left my country because I wanted to travel. I gave up a steady position in the States where I lived pretty well and was close to my family. I don’t have a husband, I don’t have kids, I can barely take care of the plant I just bought and hung on the wall of my patio. I don’t own anything that is remotely worth anything, and probably my finest possession is my computer, that is now wickedly outdated. I fear decorating my apartment here because I know I will leave it soon, I know “soon” is a relative measure of time, and I have absolutely no concept of where I will be after my contract in Brazil is over.
The other day, I read in a collection of travel essays called A House Somewhere, one about a man who spent his life traveling around the globe, and who at age 55, bought a farmhouse in Western Massachusetts where he finally settled down. He wrote that the whole of his life had been centered around not putting roots down anywhere and that he imagined others thought his life to be without much meaning because of the lack of roots. He said it wasn’t easy living that life, always picking up and taking off somewhere, but that when he found that farmhouse in Massachusetts, he realized he was there to stay. I wonder, as always, when I will ever feel that way, and I want so much to ask these sudden “grown-ups” how they got to that point themselves.
It is exciting for me to hear about these people I knew ten years ago and more; fun to know what they are up to, how they got to where they are now. I wonder if I were to meet them now, not ever having known them before, would we be friends? And I wonder if, next summer when I see them again, will we still? Whatever the case, I like the responsibility of finding people again, even if the only contact we had before was a pass in the hallway on our way to separate classes. There is something deeply fulfilling in the reaching out to people across the years and across the superficial boundaries of old high school social circles.