Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It Was the Oddest High School Reunion

By Susan Esther Barnes

It happened days ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It was the memorial celebration for Mark West, held at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre, where Mark participated in so many plays, and where he taught at the summer drama camp for kids for a decade or more. It was where I was the House Manager for a few years in the 80’s, and where the man who is now my husband ran the lighting booth.

Many of the people attending the memorial were people my husband and I had known in high school, although, for the most part, they were his friends more than mine. One of the first people who greeted me was Erika.

I remember Erika distinctly, partly because we played Dungeons and Dragons in the same group of people, but mostly because, in high school, I was jealous of her. She was younger than me, and blonder, and prettier, and many, many more boys wanted to date her than me.

I was quite surprised when the first thing Erika said to me was, “You look great. I wish I looked as good as you do.” When I was in high school, I would have killed to hear her say something like that. I would have told you it would never happen. And if you insisted that it would, I would have thought it would be cause for celebration. It wasn’t.

Despite the jealousy, I never disliked Erika. I could totally see what the boys saw in her. Not only was she pretty, she was a fun person. There was something inherently likeable in her that I can’t quite define. Who wouldn’t want to date her?

I don’t know what she looks like in her own eyes, but all of us have aged. None of us look like we did back then. Most of us have changed in other ways, too. But one thing she still has, and which is obvious right from the start, is her likeability. I am at a place in my life when I consider that to be much more important than whether we’ve picked up a few wrinkles or who has more grey hair.

I am no longer jealous of Erika. I am not jealous of Gretchen, or Rosalind, or any of the other people who were and/or are cuter than me, or have better legs, or blonder hair. I’m not jealous because I respect me for who I am, and I respect them for who they are. We are all attractive and powerful women in our own way.

The memorial itself was supposed to be a celebration, and it mostly consisted of stories about Mark. We heard about how he rushed to help when he thought a couple of kids were bullying another, how he challenged and inspired kids at drama camp, and how he treated his nieces and nephews to Slurpees and Top Dogs.

We saw clips from some of the plays he performed in, photos of him as he grew up, and a couple of clips of him that were used in a “Stand Up to Cancer” telethon in 2008.

We laughed a lot, we cried, and we cheered.

Afterward, we went to the Mallard Club, a place where Mark used to go to drink and to play dice and pool. It was the same place where, at his brother’s birthday party a number of years ago, we first learned Mark had cancer.

We told more stories about Mark, we toasted him countless times, and in between we caught up on each other’s lives.

It was the oddest high school reunion ever, and I think Mark would have approved.

1 comment:

  1. What saddens me even more about these events is that people get together only after tragedies to mourn and remember and dont' make enough of an effort to see old friends for plain fun.