FIRST PERSON

High school, 50 years on

Is it time to relive the angst of my adolescence?

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To attend the reunion or not to attend — that is indeed the question. Like so many important questions in life, this one does not have a simple answer.

I spent the first 18 years of my life with the same group of girls and boys from my Stanton Heights neighborhood. We traveled together to the old and then the new Sunnyside Elementary School, Morningside Junior High and Peabody High School. As children, we played kickball and hide ’n’ seek, and, as teenagers, we stood at Stanton and Negley to hitch a ride home to Stanton Heights after school.

We spent 18 years together. Yet, after our commencement ceremony in 1965 at the old Civic Arena, I went my separate way. I have not seen any of those people for 50 years. I can remedy that situation by attending next year’s 50th high school reunion, but to do so is not an easy choice for me.

In many ways, I still picture my classmates as “Dorian Grays” — people who have defied the aging process despite the passing of the years.

I still imagine the girls as having perfect bouffant pageboys, the result of sleeping in uncomfortable pink rollers, or long flips kept in place by cans of hair spray. I still envision the boys as young men trying to look macho in their collared shirts and dress pants as they swaggered through the halls.

I am not sure I want to see what time has done to them because, by confronting the reality of their aging, I will have to look more closely in the mirror to accept my own. Having spent my entire adult life with students, I often think more like a 17-year-old than a woman inching towards 70; going to the reunion may end that magical thinking for me.

Attending the reunion may also reawaken within me all those insecurities that I carried throughout high school.

Will my former classmates still embrace their adolescent cliques and make me feel invisible by rushing past me to greet someone else? Will they futilely seek memories of our time together and realize that they cannot think of a single experience we shared? Will they remember me as shy or as aloof, as smart or as an overachiever, as a young girl who desperately wanted to belong or as a person who erected an intangible but nevertheless formidable barrier that no one could penetrate? I do not know that I have the courage, the emotional fortitude, to revisit my adolescent vulnerabilities.

Should I go to the reunion, I will need this coming year to prepare. Although I am not a vain person, I do contemplate Botox treatments to reduce the spider webs emanating from my eyes and mouth. I will need a new hairstyle and a stylish new outfit. A manicure and pedicure and professionally applied make-up — this reunion might take more time, effort and money than my wedding preparations. Hopefully, it would be as fun as the wedding and leave me with sweet, not bitter, memories.

I want to look good for people I have not seen in 50 years, but will a “clean up, paint up, fix up” campaign to improve my exterior really camouflage my interior? Will I be able to walk into the reunion with pride in the person I have become — a compassionate caregiver for Dad, a supportive mother for my kids, a dedicated teacher for my students — or will I again adopt the protective “turtle trudge” — a way of high school walking in which I hunched my shoulders and lowered my head into my neck so that I could hide from stares and glares?

Despite the negatives of re-uniting with the past, I am driven to the reunion by an intense curiosity about Linda and Laura, Judy and Jill, Tall Paul and all the other people with whom I interacted. I wonder if any other Future Teacher of America followed my path by becoming a teacher, or if any members of this highly academic and motivated class failed to find his or her niche in life. I wonder if the popular girls moved on to “happily-ever-after” lives with their husbands and children, or whether they, too, turned to divorce as a way to start over.

I also look forward to again hearing Chubby Checker belt out “The Twist.” In the safety of my bedroom, where no critical eyes could mock my left-footed attempts to rotate and gyrate, I would practice the dance in front of the mirror that hung on the door. I would welcome the opportunity to become lost in Ritchie Valens’ “Donna,” a song I loved because I always changed the title name to “Ronna” and imagined that Valens was missing me.

I am aware that the 50th reunion could be our last get-together as a class. The aging process, with its inevitable medical issues, will slow us down and make such meetings more difficult. This reunion, then, could be the final time for me to come to terms with who I once was so that I might better understand who I am now.

The reunion has the potential to be either a heinous experience or a wonderful one. Yet, I think I would rather risk a return to adolescent angst than live a life of what-ifs. It is time to grow up and move forward.

Ronna L. Edelstein is a teacher and writer living in Oakland (rledel@aol.com).


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