The Road Home

September 21, 2008

Dawn has passed without sleep, and I’m headed back to Portland, crammed into a jetliner thigh-to-thigh with strangers. But I’m elsewhere, drifting through another world, a planet of the previous three days and nights in Central Florida.

With me in this world are dearest friends, friends I’d lost for an unspeakable number of years. The occasion, at least on the surface, is my forty-year high school reunion, which conjures up a stereotypical image of social gatherings not conducive to meaningful conversations.

Perhaps because of our age, when nostalgia for the past often takes hold, a few of us decided to make more of the occasion. We arrived a day early. A small group cooked out and talked for hours, reminiscing of course but also teasing each other as if four decades had not passed. We spoke of achievements and loss, marveling at circumstances we could have never envisioned.

I rode to the beach with a friend, like we used to do. We filled in each other on huge gaps in our lives. We body-surfed as in the old days, played bocce ball on the sand, and imagined our favorite girls in the class emerging from the water, lithe bodies glistening, and calling out to us. The next day we and other friends spent the afternoon on a lake dock beneath cypress trees, drinking beer and ribbing each other. My grown son tagged along. He saw that his dad was indeed once a kid.

After the big reunion event Saturday night came the unexpected highlight. A talk-fest until nearly dawn. In too few hours I learned more about some friends than I’d ever known, people I’ll always care deeply about. Fears and anxieties surfaced and were dispelled. Affections, hidden for all these decades, were expressed. Complexity and character emerged.

How many of them, like me, thought: What if we could go back through all the years and talk like this then?

At one point secret high school crushes were revealed. Crushes on me. I didn’t adequately express how the news made me feel, though maybe the joy hiding behind my mumbled thanks passed between us later in departing hugs. Thinking about it now I see myself back at school, suddenly a head taller than the other guys, a grin on my face. What always seemed like folly was there within reach. A joyful tragedy.

Our small group pledged to meet again soon. We’ll see if that was the wine talking. In the meantime, I’ll keep languishing in this other world of all-too-brief September days and nights. In the sultry breeze I’m home again.