P o n d e r i n g s
This past summer I had opportunity to attend my high school reunion.
I had mixed feelings. unsure of what to expect. So much had changed in my own life. On the morning of the big event, I just stared in the mirror, confused about what to do. What troubled me most was in not knowing quite what to expect. Would anyone still remember me? Did anyone know or care that I had discovered the truth about my autism?
Still, I felt obligated to myself to resolve some long-standing mental conflicts. I felt compelled to go for my own mental health. I simply had to find closure on that period of my life, and I had to find a tangible way to make my past seem real again. so that I could then say "goodbye" to the world I knew.
Just as compelling was my need to make contact with the people I used to know. Each former acquaintance was now a question mark wanting an answer, a mystery demanding a resolution. My still somewhat rigid mind still does not like mysteries of any sort.
After such a long time, my mind had difficulty accepting the realness of anything in my world back then. Maybe I wouldn't get any answers to my questions even if I went; I wouldn't know unless I did at least try.
During the day, I could try to keep my myself too busy to allow myself to think about these issues. But the nights were different. Each night they would haunt me, causing my sadness to deepen and my depression to worsen. I knew I would, no doubt, suffer from sensory overload from having to mingle with crowds, and hurt all over my body for a week afterwards, but I knew too that this was a small price to pay for the potential benefits to be gained. I drew in a deep breath and decided to be courageous and brave and all that.
That afternoon, as I drove there, I thought about all these things. What had they done with life? Where had they gone? Hopefully, soon these questions would be resolved.
On entering town, I noticed some things had changed. I spotted a new library off to the left. Further on, I saw several new convenience stores. The rolling smoke from the old paper mill loomed in the distance.
As I turned into the back parking lot of the youth center where the first event was to be held, my wife Trudy turned toward me in puzzlement. "Are you sure this is it?"
Actually I wasn't sure myself. but as we walked around the corner to the front, I spotted the billboard, and grinned widely. "I think maybe that sign indicating "Class of '73" is a real good clue."
She looked at me, grinning lopsidedly. "Very funny!"
With wildly mixed emotions, but still excited at the opportunity to be there, I walked in. Some twenty people were already there, including three ladies at the registration table. The uncomfortable feeling of sensory pressure assaulted me immediately and I stopped in my tracks. The building, with its metal walls, was evidently old even when I was a child. "Come on, Daniel, this is what you're here for," I said softly to myself.
I sighed and went up to the table. "Hello, I'm -"
The first lady glanced up at me. "Why, hello Danny Ray! Just put your tag on, then let me show you our memorial board."
I stood and silently stared at the board, and my breath froze. The rest of the room just seemed to not exist. As my eyes went from picture to picture, I recognized many of them, and a chill went through my body. I could remember interesting times I had shared with each of them, back when life seemed to go on forever and things were taken for granted. Yes, this was why I had come - to find closure. Any mixed emotions I had intensified exponentially. I was saddened that they had had such brevity of life, and yet relieved to have found such closure as far as these individuals were concerned. I wanted to say something to each of them, something of a personal eulogy, but the words wouldn't come. I was speechless, so I stood there and continued to stare at the facial expressions in each photo, and wondering what that person had been thinking at the time the shot was taken. Maybe they were thinking of being with friends and having good times.
Suddenly, a high-pitched voice shook me out of my reverie. "Why, Danny Ray, I's hadn't seen you in a 'coons age."
I turned around. The voice sounded familiar, even if the face wasn't. He was tall and balding, his eyes a bit glazed.
He raised his the can of beer he was holding, and went on. "Why of course you remember me! We had class together!"
Actually, I didn't remember him, though the name tag sounded vaguely familiar. I regretted not having thought to bring along my yearbook. I wished him a good time, then promptly went to mull and loiter around outside until time to eat.
Later, I got in line for a grilled burger and looked around at whoever else was in line ahead of me. There were some awkward moments - what does one say to someone that one has not seen in years? Indeed, I hardly recognized anyone I saw. The class president got in line next to me and smiled and shook my hand. "h Danny Ray, I'm so glad you could make it."
A favorite saying came to mind that my aunt used to tell me about reunions, which I then shared with him. "I hear that at the 10 year reunion say, you say, 'Hey, I know you!' At the 20 year, 'Hey, you look familiar!' Then at the 30 year reunion, 'Who did you say you were again?'"
He just laughed. The grilled burgers were quite good. An hour later, I walked out the door, content I had done the right thing by coming.
The next morning, excited, I dressed - looking forward to whatever came next. As I drove up to the recently rebuilt junior high school, I noticed a few classmates outside "supervising" the fish fry.
I saw one of my former schoolmates coming out of the building, wearing some fancy sunglasses. "Say, you look cool!" I called out.
He frowned at me. "Actually, I'm not cool - I'm burning up in all this humidity and I miss the climate up north." He huffed and went on.
I paused, staring at nothing in particular. My friend had long gone. My, how things change, I thought. Growing up, we never gave the humidity much thought. Then we move away, then come back and it's like a culture shock.
I went on inside and saw only a lonely, empty corridor. As I walked into the cafeteria, I soon discovered it was not built for acoustics. The onslaught was even worse than that the evening before. Even with what few people were there, the noise level still filled the large room, with vibrations countinously bouncing off the walls. The neural pressure of the noise was already evident. I stopped, unsure whether I really wanted to proceed or not. Yet, as I looked around, the people in the various groups seemed totally unaware of the noise as they conversed with each other. Some things, I thought, I'll probably never understand. I Sighed and put in ear plugs, which I could tell was not going to be enough.
As I reached the main table and started trying to put on my name tag, with only limited success, a lady reached over and said, "Here, let me help you. Say, you see that girl there; she's my daughter. I think she wants to talk with you."
Now curious as to what this was all about, I went over and introduced myself. She looked up and smiled. "I want to thank you for that speech you gave. You see, I am a special ed teacher, but none of my training really prepared me for understanding my children, and it wasn't until that day that I heard you speak, that I really understood how to help them. And I want to thank you for that."
I spent the afternoon following the luncheon, at my sister's house, resting on her comfortable couch.
That evening, the last event of the reunion was a dinner at a local banquet hall. The music, all from '70s, was appropriate, I thought. The noise level wasn't bad, I suppose due to the acoustic materials in the room. At any rate, the evening went well. I was able to get reacquainted with a number of people I would have liked to have known better before. Of course, I got a number of email addresses, and wondered how technology had changed in the years since I had graduated.
A nicely dressed man came up to me. His name tag indicated he was a medical doctor, I noticed. "I am so glad you came. I have been wanting to tell you all these years how I admired and respected you. You stood up for what you believed in, and you were right about so many things. I wanted to thank you and wish you a good evening."
As I stood there wondering what that was all about, he walked away to grab something to eat.
As my wife and I left, following the group picture, I felt happy and content, my needs for closure and realness gratified. It was quiet ride home as I thought about the proverb about being careful of what one wishes for.
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* "A Reason for Hope: Insights into Autism" by Daniel R. Hawthorne, copyrighted 2007. "Child of the Forest" by Daniel R. Hawthorne, copyrighted 2004.