Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Little 40-Year Reunion at Tierney's

As the wide-eyed childhood of the 60's folded into the adolescence of the 70's, a group of brilliant and charismatic 12 year-olds turned 13.  We entered high school the next year, which, bad enough threw kids from all of Montclair's junior highs together, also split into a regular High School and a Team School, where highly motivated kids could re-construct their own educational experience to some degree.  So our group was diluted, life flowed along, and we went our separate ways to college or just moved away without acknowledgement or ceremony for many of us.

But for a moment in our lives - for a year or two - a summer or two - we had each other in a way that I now know many people never get to experience in their lifetime.  And as I write these words I feel certain that everyone will not recall it the same, or feel the same sense of awe that I felt and still feel at our luck in having each other.  But this was my experience, and I want to share it fully.

If we were 10 years older we may have tried to start a commune, but that would never have worked.  Too many egos, too many leaders... so this was really a utopian group experience - just enough organization to feed our urge to be a part of something great, but not enough to threaten anyone's independence or make them feel forced to do whatever was not their idea of fun.  There were little dramas, but they only added to our sense that we were a living organism—breathing, expanding and  contracting with each spasm of desire, need, longing, resistance, rejection, confrontation... and to my knowledge always resolving as long as we had time to go climb a tree or lie around watching clouds and thinking about things in Brookdale Park... or Edgemont Park... with whomever made you feel safest.  I'm sure I'll say more about those times, but my focus today is on this time... a little reunion forty years later.

We found each other again on Facebook.  Some had kept in touch and they helped others find others... the networking effect of the world wide web's wonderful gift to us.  Women I had searched for for years by typing their names in Google and coming up with nothing were suddenly right there in another friend's list.  If you type a name in Facebook's search field you get about 3,000 hits unless it's a very unique name like Galen Warden - but there are hundreds of Galens!  You need to know someone who knows someone. Period. And we are all over the country, and in other countries, and now we're finding each other.  I've blogged about the tears of joy I've experienced in the past weeks and months as I've discovered women I so deeply loved, whose disappearance from my adult life had left a hole more profound than I had realized.

So many of us have found each other, and more will surface. But a handful of us were physically near enough to spontaneously meet at Tierney's, a centrally located bar, because Laura, who now lives in L.A., came out to visit her folks this week.  Last night Kim, Laura, Jon, Dean, and I hugged and chatted away, spilling highlights of our past 40 years and gushing about the phenomenon of sitting at a table with 52 year olds - while looking at the faces of 13 year olds - because that's who I saw there.  Not grown-ups who've weathered a hundred storms and conquered a thousand challenges, but bright-faced adolescents, exactly as I knew them 35 or 40 years before.  Jon with this pointy eyebrows and intense, devilish grin, whose hair stood straight up in a cavalier fusion of curly brown afro and frizzy bed-head has lost most of his hair now.  His eyebrows are thin, his face softened... But that stark, angular boy is still there for me.  

And Kim, nervously bobbing her head as she gestures her enthusiasm and invokes your engagement with an almost fierce honesty, is still right there... right there.  She dives deep, as always, and challenges me to be myself in spite of everything, unafraid. And I love her as much today for that as always. I think more.  She has weathered painful storms, as I have, but has not lost that sharp self-awareness and awareness of me.  Defining friendship is an elusive task, but seeing Kim and feeling her jump into me the way I jump right back into her as if we never missed a beat, gives me hope that I should be able to find articulate words around the phenomenon of friendship better now than ever.  And I'm going to work on that.

Laura beamed for me, as she always did. Optimism that I channeled with her 40 years ago remains intact in both of us.  We were artists and both of us now write - just finding ways to express tangibly so others can be informed, share an experience, or feel included.  I long to read what she's written and she promises to send something, but all of that present stuff, that sort of spurted out in a mad grab for catching a lifetime in a few hours, paled compared to the amazing experience of staring into 13-year-old faces in a crowded noisy bar last night. 

My 29-year-old son was a witness, though he could not feel what we felt.  He came by since he lives there now, and my old friends got to see something I had done with my life in person.  Like show and tell.  Rough around the edges but charming, indignant of false ceremony, but genuinely warm and always smooth and hip, my firstborn chatted away with them exactly the way I chat away with my dad's friends at his 1953 Princeton reunions.  My brilliant friends, I'm sure, will raise kids who get masters degrees like them, but I celebrated my son, and my unconventional life.  Rather than being embarrassed that I was not as well educated as them, I was proud of my life because my struggles have made me exactly who I am, a person I know they will enjoy connecting with the more they learn about me today. 

As a group, we were not conventional.  We were about freedom of expression, individuality, and creative, outside-of-the box attitudes before there was a catch phrase for that.  But as time went by the boys cut their hair, we went to college, and we lost the trappings of the label "freaks." I remember having a melancholy sadness that we were turning into everyone else as high school ended.  But the quintessential "us" of eighth grade did remain.  We are still here.  Exactly us.  We grew up and became responsible, had our ups and downs but eventually made our parents proud and became our own versions of success.  But these are not successful people who judge books by their cover, or size up value by credentials.  They're much smarter than that.  My unconventional road, unconventional son, can make me prouder with these accomplished adults than with anyone else I know.

I always thought something was wrong when I did not see at least two or three of my junior high friends in news headlines, or on bestseller lists, or  in oscar-winning movie credits... there was too much brilliance and fierce creativity to not become some great contributor to society at large.  So what happened?  I found a little of that out last night as I sat with a researcher from Schering-Plough who works on curing diseases, the director of exhibitions for the Museum of Natural History, a social worker, and a writer.  I found out that these people change the world every day but I just don't see that in lights.  Just as I helped individual struggling kids get free online tutoring when I wrote successful proposals for, Kim helps grateful individuals live their final days with dignity in her hospice work.  I know if that were me I would want no one else but Kim on my side. And Jon may be managing the multi-layered, nuanced process of curing cancer.  I plan to take a field trip next week to Dean's museum so he can show me what he's done.  and I plan to fly to L.A. so Laura and I can spend hours discovering what we've written and created in our lives.

There are worlds here.  Worlds I have the rights to explore.  Lives connected to mine more profoundly than most since that time.  And I want them back fully.  I want to celebrate today's love exactly as I celebrated that love 40 years ago. 
The endorphins are good for my health.

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