Avoiding the Reunion

There’s no way around it. I was not good with money, so in retirement I am not exactly where I wanted or hoped to be. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with my life. I’ve had a lot of fun, adventure and a pretty good career. Both life and career were different than anything I imagined. I became a writer — which I did plan and wanted — then fell into technical writing because, against all logic and reason, I am good at it. For a kid who could barely pass basic high school math courses, elementary physics, or any other hard science, winding up in the high-tech arena was a surprise. That I liked it was even more of a surprise.

96-Me Young in Maine

It turns out that I could learn anything, including math and science, if it was explained in such a way that I could see its purpose. What I couldn’t do was manipulate numbers or concepts in a vacuum, which is pretty much how math and science were taught back in my day. I suspect they aren’t taught much better now as I watch my granddaughter struggling with the same stuff with which I struggled 50 years ago.

The thing is, that my high school’s 50th reunion has come around. No, I am not going. It’s too expensive in view of the fact that I don’t remember anyone from high school. I recognize some of the names, but we weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out. We have no shared memories except those shared by everyone who went to Jamaica High School during those years. I wasn’t friendless. I had some good friends, but we haven’t kept in touch and none of them are attending this reunion. There’s no reason for me to go.

Jamaica High School is huge. Was huge and over-crowded too. My graduating class was slightly more than 1200, in which I was something around 280 or so. The entire school (10th through 12th grades) was just shy of 4,000 students shoe-horned into a building meant to handle 1300. We were packed solid.

For all that, it was a better school than most and more forward-thinking than most schools of the period. Possibly more forward-thinking than many schools right now. Academically, girls and boys were treated equally. No girl was told not to aim for medical school or an engineering career because it was for boys. If we had the will and ability, there was support.

I was not a super achiever nor overly ambitious. I was an educational minimalist, an under-achiever par excellence. I did exactly enough to get by unless I was particularly interested in a subject or it was one of those so easy for me I could have aced it in my sleep. I never bothered to study for English or history (Social Studies, back then). Math and science were my nemeses and I was glad if I could merely pass. Languages were also difficult for me. I don’t have an ear for languages, something that I proved conclusively by living in Israel for 9 years and never mastering Hebrew.

I graduated with a B+ average, got an early acceptance (11th grade) to Hofstra University (then Hofstra College). I had no passion for higher education,  but I just knew if I didn’t go to college, I couldn’t go to Heaven. Can’t get through those pearly gates without showing your diploma. Besides, I was barely 16 when I graduated high school, so what else was I going to do? I had managed to score a couple of scholarships based on competitive tests, which made the choice easier. I always tested well, probably because I didn’t much care. I just assumed I’d do okay and for the most part, I did.

I wanted to be a writer. Or a musician. Or an artist. As soon as I learned to read, I started writing. I’d been playing the piano and studying music from age four. And I had a good eye, could draw and paint pretty well, an itch that has been well scratched by photography.  In the end, writing was the thing I did best and came naturally to me, so that’s what I did. Tech writing was a sideways drift, but turned out to be a good fit. I’ve had a long, if somewhat peripatetic career that apparently isn’t quite over yet.

Jamaica High School

I thought I’d done pretty well until this reunion thing came up.

In the movies, people go back to their high school reunions. They were nerds and social outcasts in high school, but now are successful, attractive and get to feel superior to their former classmates. There are so many movies with this plot that one might think this is a typical reunion experience. Not me. Mind you, I’m not going to be there, but I have not escaped unscathed. The organizer of the event has sent us all a questionnaire, a “what have you been doing for the last 50 years?” thing. So I filled it out. Why not? I’ve had an interesting life and a long career. I got to be a player in the birthing of technology that now rules the world.

Then I started getting other people’s filled-in questionnaires. With each email, my ego has gotten thumped.

This is not, for obvious reasons, a reunion of the entire graduating class of 1963. These people are a subset of the class, the group into which I fell by virtue of winning a Westinghouse Scholarship (proving I actually knew more science than I realized) and having a high IQ. I was counted as a brainiac, but I wasn’t really one of them. I had brains. Theoretically I still do though there are days when I wonder. What I lacked — something apparently everyone else had — was ambition and drive. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I never aspired to be a professor. I wanted to be me, whatever that was, and one of my goals was to find me. I wanted adventure. I was going to write novels, do exciting, creative stuff. I was more into living than studying.

As far as I can tell, the small percentage of my “group” that are not medical doctors, have doctorates in chemistry, physics and so on. No more than a handful of humanity or arts degrees in the crowd. No one has less than a masters, except me. And as far as I can tell, everyone went to Princeton, Johns Hopkins,  Albert Einstein, Harvard. If not Ivy League, than at least prestigious. Everyone but me seems to be having a comfortable retirement, if they aren’t a professor or still practicing medicine. The one or two people who went into the arts have multiple best sellers or are managing editors of major publications. It’s demoralizing. The one other woman who went to Israel married a diamond cutter and is apparently wealthy beyond my imaginings … and even she’s got a masters.

Every time another filled-in questionnaire arrives in email, I swear I will not further torture myself by reading it, but a certain morbid curiosity forces me to open it despite myself. Oh, I forgot to mention that everyone has beautiful and extremely successful children.

I am glad I’m not going to the reunion. I don’t think my ego can take much more of a drubbing. If I needed humbling, I’ve gotten it. What is success anyhow? Do you gauge it by financial well-being? By awards won? Personal satisfaction? Experience? Friends? Fame?  I think this will be the last reunion, so I’m safe from having to again calculate the value of a life richly enjoyed, but somewhat lacking in material wealth … otherwise known as money. I think I’ll go take some pretty pictures now.

Categories: Arts, Education, Humor, Life, Personal, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. My 50th was a disappointment to me. However, I learned some things from it, and felt good about that.


  2. I went to my 20th, in 1980, and thoroughly pissed off my wife. No, she didn’t go as we had just moved to Phoenix where culture was still out in the desert somewhere. It’s begun moseying in recently, but nowhere near the level of cultural events in NY where I hailed from. It was the best one to attend as most folks hadn’t gone through drastic physical changes, and most of the women I knew had somehow become more beautiful. Small doses of maturity do that to you. Some thought I was more handsome.., go figure? I had a great time especially when our star football player and all around great athlete showed up fat, gray and drunk after only 20 years.., and I wanted to be like him back then? Whoo boy! dodged another bullet.

    Many years later the 50th showed it’s ugly head and I just couldn’t do it.., especially after they sent me the list of deceased classmates. One of my old girlfriends was on that list
    Not to mention a couple of friends I would have like to have seen and spoken with. I think 50th HS reunions should be outlawed.


    • For many reasons! The group has dubbed this the “Last Reunion Before Assisted Living” and aint’ that the truth. I think I’m also suffering from the inherent perils of having attended a very large urban school. Too big for intimacy, or at least for me it was … and without memories or people I actually cared about, it seemed exactly what the doctor didn’t order. And as a topper, I’m going back to work next week, or so it seems assuming we get the contract details ironed out. Maybe that could fund our little westward ho excursionn to the you and Monument Valley while we still can actually stagger around on our own power 🙂


  3. Oh reunion. My graduating class was around 100, a small Northern California town. We were in the foothills so we escaped the valley town attitude, thank goodness.
    So much bull in small towns. I went back for a 15 year reunion and it was like a time warp. Nothing worse than people who are big fish in small ponds.
    I got along well and seemed to be welcomed back. A few tried to keep in touch after for a few years. I stayed silent. I was fascinated and repulsed at the same time. Small towns, people that stay there for generations are a breed of their own. Never again.


    • I live in a small town now … but I am glad I didn’t grow up here. Too inbred. Everyone knows everything about everyone else. And there’s absolutely nothing for the kids to do after they are past the age of swing sets. It’s a fine place to be retired, but if I’d spent my life here, I’d feel like I’d been imprisoned my whole life. I have had an interesting life. It has been intermittently very difficult, but when it’s good, it’s really great. If we weren’t so damned poor, it would just be easier and we could relax a little bit. But yes, getting to be with the guy I love is a gift. A very very big gift!


  4. I’m not certain however from what you have written in the past, you fought to be with, sacrificed for and finally were rewarded with the opportunity to live with the love of your life. Additionally, he loves you as much. You are the richest and luckiest woman I know.

    I’ve had the opportunity to close the homes of both my parents. It’s amazing how little things mean at the end. I began then to dump my belongings so my children did not have the same chore to do.

    I spend so little, yet it feels as if I spend to much. I need so little. I’d trade every dollar not spent, to share a life lived in love.
    You are a very wealthy woman.


  5. I was one of those quiet, painfully shy, “outsiders” (future sociopath??) in HS. I attended my 15th HS reunion. Honestly (In retrospect, I am not entirely proud of myself), I wanted to “show off” my professional success. Marilyn and I attended my 44th or 45th reunion and were underwhelmed. Didn’t make it to my 50th but connected with many of my former classmates by email. THAT was fun! A few still stay in touch. There’s talk of a 55th which would be next year. The ranks are greatly diminished by time so — quien sabe? It’s interesting to see Marilyn’s interest GROW as she reads the email life stories from her former classmates as her 50th HS reunion approaches. Those stories blatantly crow about professional success. Experience has taught me to think twice about how such professional success resonates with happiness in private lives. I think my Bride has had a very, very successful life in ways that her former classmates could only envy!!


    • You went to a high school where you actually can put some faces with names. Maybe it was just the difference in size, or maybe I was even more reclusive than you were, but those people I’ve been hearing about mean literally nothing at all to me. I don’t know them. At all. I had no relationship with them, not social intercourse, no conversations, no shared memories … so other than wondering how we produced so damned many doctors …


  6. I graduated from high school in 1967, 25th in a class of about 800. I was in the last of the all boys graduation classes as the Catholic church had integrated the girls from Notre Dame Academy one year after me. I was a wiz at math scoring in the top 2% in the nation on our ACT college aptitude tests. I earned myself a 4 year scholarship because of my high grade point average.

    I was a wall flower, a nerd. I had never dated a girl & had no intention of ever even trying. I was hopelessly shy and as far as I was concerned girls were nothing but trouble. Because of all this I’ve never been to any class reunion. I’m over the 45 year mark now and any correspondance about reunions always comes from women. Men don’t do reunions of their own volition. – 🙂


    • Oddly, it is all guys organizing mine. I’m still not going! If there were a single person that I had some relationship with in the past who was going to be there, maybe I’d have considered it (they are dubbing this the “last reunion before assisted care,” but of the people who say they are coming, I don’t know a single one. So why would I bother? I doubt there will be a 60th. We’re old not, but we’ll be really old then!


  7. I get the most gratification from personal satisfaction.



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