Sometimes you do something spontaneous—something that defies homeostatic caution. I do, anyway. I was overdue for some remembrance. Seeing Christine—I was 99% sure that’s who it was—in the bagel shop, I caught her glance, felt a hit of something and made a decision. After she finishes her phone call, I’ll say hello, I resolved. It had been thirty years since I’d seen her. Twenty years, at least, since I’d seen anyone from high school. Christine and I had been passing acquaintances at best, I thought. She wouldn’t remember me. But that didn’t matter. For reasons I’m about to explain, that didn’t matter.
“Graeme”, she called out, before I could say her name. To say I was caught off guard was an understatement. This, despite the fact that I’d seen her first and had already prepared an approach. She remembered me. I was astonished. By my recollection, I’d been a non-entity in HS: as invisible as any adolescent had ever imagined himself to be, I firmly believed. Christine had been class president. I’m not kidding. She was beyond ‘cool’ or popular. She was gracious, kind—what my father would have called “a class act”—as well as smart, and disciplined. She was even brave. She didn’t just go to school with ‘cool’ kids. She dealt with them.
I decided to share most of this in an e-mail a week later. In the interim I stewed over the prospect of “keeping in touch”, as she had suggested during that light, if genuine ten-minute chat in the bagel shop. Those ten minutes had been long enough for me to confess one or two things: that I hadn’t attended a single reunion since HS (which she probably knew already); that I hadn’t sustained contact with a single member of our class of 86’; that I scarcely recognized half the names she’d name-dropped to me as we spoke. I felt sheepish, embarrassed. I was partially re-enacting an awkward moment from decades past, even as a faint determination stirred in me.
In my e-mail, I shared more about my later and current life: about being a psychotherapist, and more specifically, about my (largely) past work with adolescents, which has long influenced reflections upon that fraught period of my life. I’ve thought about adolescence, talked about it, off and on, with countless people, over the last thirty years. But I’d never talked about it with anyone who’d actually gone through it with me as a peer. To embroider the memory, I evoked the period, recalling what musical icons I liked and didn’t (it was the 80s, past The Who’s halcyon, so there were more in the ‘didn’t’ category), what social or political events once shaped my conscience; what teachers and cliques then inspired or alienated me.
Christine responded promptly, moved by my honest and open-hearted follow-up, and was eager to relate and talk more. Indeed, she was at pains to dispel some of my fossilized projections: the impression that she or some others like her were more mature than I, as I had declared in my e-mail. She admitted that she’d also found some my peers difficult and obnoxious, despite their popularity. She recalled the problem of organizing events, peer activities, having to endure trivial complaints, the self-absorbed superficiality of some. She’d enjoyed my funny observations about the period, the social ambience of HS, and imagined that my sensibility served me in my work.
We followed up with a second meeting, a coffee-talk in the shadow of the old school neighborhood. Anecdotes flowed from those earlier impressions, spinning from one tidbit of recall to the next. I brought an old yearbook along, which further aided memory and stimulated thought. A page filled with handwritten text from a mutual female acquaintance reminded me that while I was once terse and inarticulate (writing single-sentence, banal farewells), the girls were prolific and personable. At this point, Christine further challenged my self-deprecation, saying that I was quiet in HS, but also calm, friendly, and far from obnoxious. Besides, I hardly seemed terse or inarticulate now, she said—regardless of how I once saw myself.
Ultimately, it felt bittersweet, this serendipitous meeting. As Christine and I separated, I almost but didn’t quite regret all the missed reunions and lapsed connections. After all, adolescence remains fixed in my mind as a time when I was not at my best, regardless of what others thought. As a result, I have preferred laying it to rest, and letting go the witnesses. And yet, Christine’s own reflections were compelling, and what once seemed benign or unfulfilling now seems to offer oblique, cathartic promise. She recalled peers who were like me, it seems. She specifically recalled one young man who reported (in retrospect) flitting between groups as a teen, befriending none with any real depth, spending time and energy upon concealment, while concealing that same concealment. That sounded familiar. Christine summarized: at that age, few are at their best, and because many (perhaps most) protect the self from exposure above all else, the young don’t learn to see one another. That’s a problem, she modestly, and without judgment, implied. I may yet change my mind on a few things: I may yet decide to not cheat history; to not deny the witnesses, and thus look upon myself and others from the past with an adult’s perspective.