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It’s good for an artist to try things. It’s good for an artist to be ridiculous.
Sheila Heti in How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life (p. 18)

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« Life Will Break You | Main | Finally Together »

The Class of ‘65

This week I received a CD with the photos from my (40th) high school class reunion, held last July in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I don’t know exactly what took so long to produce and distribute the disk (they were all straight, un-manipulated digital files), but, at long last, I have the pictures. I went about copying everything to my hard drive, and, with some degree of anxiety, proceeded to take a look.

Here’s just a little bit of the story…

I had believed the journey to Rice Lake for the reunion was going to be a typical one: fly from Portland to Minneapolis (through Denver), rent a car, drive to Rice Lake (about two hours from the airport). It takes most of a day, but it’s always been a pretty manageable trip. Well, this time it was a little different. When I got to the airport here in Portland (early in the morning), the United Airlines kiosk would not allow me to check in. I found out that my flight was, at the very least, going to be significantly delayed, perhaps cancelled. The ticket agent looked for flights for me, and she was immediately able to find ones from Denver to Chicago to Minneapolis much later in the day, leaving only (only?) the leg from here to Denver in question. Well, without going into all the details: I waited and waited, and finally was able to make it to Denver after about a two-hour delay here in Portland. I missed my original connection in Denver, though, and had to wait (nine hours in the Denver airport) for a flight that evening. I had been scheduled to arrive at MSP late afternoon, but instead I arrived at midnight. I waited in line until about 1:00 a.m. before I had my rental car. By then I was thoroughly exhausted, though I started driving anyway. As I was weaving my way out of the airport, I realized that I surely was taking my life in my hands driving in this condition, but pressed on for another half-hour or so until I found a Super 8 that had a vacancy. I checked in around 2:00 a.m., as I recall.

Of course, I was so fatigued and stressed I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned until about 9:00 a.m., then slowly gathered myself up to be able to make the rest of the drive. I took the “long way” through Eau Claire, and made it to Rice Lake a little after noon. This calculated out to a full 30 hours from the time I left my house. I had missed the first night of the reunion (Friday), and the second evening’s festivities were scheduled to start in about six hours. I tried to take a nap at my brother’s house, but to no avail. I showered, dressed, dropped by my parents’ house to say hi, and arrived at Lehman’s Supper Club on time.

This was, I think, the fourth class reunion I was about to attend, though the first time I was actually showing up all by myself. I had, on the other occasions, always arranged to be with Bruce and/or Pete, two friends from the class who I’m still in contact with. Pete had remained at home in Arizona, and Bruce, although he was planning to go to the reunion with me, had called me that afternoon from his home in Minneapolis to say that he was sick and wasn’t going to be able to make it.

So, here I was: arriving at the reunion site alone. I had spent more than a full day getting to Rice Lake, on very little sleep. And, as I exited my rental car, I was wondering what the heck I was really doing this for! (This question had always been one that came to me as I arrived at every reunion.) Very likely, the folks in attendance, absent Pete and Bruce, were going to be ones that I had little interest in (and wouldn’t even recognize…thank god for nametags). But, here I was, trying to talk myself into going inside.

It was a long evening, as I hung out a lot longer than I thought was going to happen. And, to make this a manageable length essay, there are just a couple abbreviated stories I’ll relate about the evening…the first pertaining to my anxiety about the event photos.

I spent part of the evening talking to Gary and Diane: two from our class who had married each other. Diane was the class president when we were seniors; Gary was a person I had once worked with at a local grocery store during high-school years. (Oh, yeah, I once had a date with Diane. That happened, I believe, at some point when the two were taking a break from each other during their high-school romance. I recall being pretty infatuated.) Our conversation on this particular reunion night was very “real.” In my fatigued state, I imagine my defenses were at a low level, and when they asked how I was, I told them. I talked about my job uncertainty and stress, and about a years-long relationship that had ended just that spring. I tried to explain to them about my experiences with rejection and heartbreak. I imagine they were outright flabbergasted that I was so forthcoming about the state of my life. This was not, after all, the typical reunion small-talk that was going on all around us. After I had shared a good portion of my story, Gary observed: “no wonder you’ve shown up here tonight looking like you’ve been hit by a truck.”

I think my reaction was a stunned silence: perhaps even tacit agreement given my run-down state. At any rate, that remark is one of my two most memorable events of the night. Actually, it’s one that I could have done without, too. Please, Gary: Hit by a truck? Really? I looked that bad? (I left the building and called it a night shortly after that comment.)

Yeah, and if it really were true, did you have to say it? Geez…I’ve agonized over this for months now. (Very likely because, as I joke around and talk about my experiences at class reunions, I invariably mention that I walk in, look around, and ask myself the question: who the heck are all these old people?)

So, of course, it was Gary’s observation that came to mind as I was starting to browse through the photos taken that evening. I knew I was in at least a couple of them…was I going to see that it really was true? Had I really shown up looking like that?

The other story is a happier memory for me. Earlier in the evening, just about the time we were sitting down to dinner, a woman I had last seen at graduation spotted me from across the room and came over to talk. We chatted for a few minutes at the table, then I got up and walked us over to the other side of the room, away from the dinner activity, affording a modicum of privacy. Jeanie (we called her Carol in high school) was absolutely as delightful — and smart and beautiful — as I had remembered. She was our class valedictorian, and she and I sat next to one another during our graduation ceremony forty years ago; I had not seen her since. We talked about our lives, trying to cram eighty years of collective living into a few minutes. An impossible task. But, I thought our connection during that few minutes was totally delicious. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. (Jeanie: thanks!)  

Here’s a photo of the two of us. [You decide: “hit by a truck?”]

 

 

 Jim Arnold & Jeanie DeRousseau
Rice Lake, Wisconsin
July 2, 2005
Photo by Rick Vesper 

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