This past weekend was my 45-year high school reunion—the Nordhoff Class of 1967. I kick myself for missing the Friday night icebreaker at the Jester, but I was tired and all my adolescent neurosis and insecurity over not having the right thing to wear got the best of me. Besides, I told myself as I fell asleep, imagining my classmates laughing, drinking, partying, and having a good time without me, if I were dead, I wouldn’t be there either.
Saturday, after teaching, I made it to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood lunch at Suzanne’s. This was a tradition started by my friend Marcia Litoff. Sadly, Marcia was murdered about two years ago by her husband. I thought it was very touching, and respectful of her life, that two of her neighbors came to the reunion to represent her. For those of you not familiar with this tragedy, almost nine months passed from the time he killed her to the day the police were called to check on her. Her neighbor friends told us about the various plausible stories the husband told them to explain her absence. One of them recalled how she had felt sorry for him as he explained about their marital problems, and had given him a sympathetic hug.
Marcia would have wanted us to continue on with the fun and camaraderie of these annual luncheons, so in her honor we carried on. I was so myopic, shy, and introverted in my teen years that it still astounds me that I can now sit down with all these chatty, popular, cheerleader/homecoming princess/school mascot types and find things to yak about.
That evening I went to Boccali’s early, especially to catch up with classmates who had traveled long distances to be here. I sipped a glass of delicious organic red wine, soaked up the early evening ambiance and the amazing total unbelievableness that all these aging people gathering around were my old Ojai tribe.
Our lives pass in a flash . . . and you can imagine all the flashbacks. I mingled with older men that I first met in 1957, in second grade at San Antonio School. They now have their fathers’ faces. But I remember their sweaty boyhood faces, their crew cuts, their brown bags or Walt Disney lunch boxes—and whether their sandwiches were made with white or brown bread.
I admit that the first few decades they held these reunions I didn’t even think of going. The whole idea of reuniting with folks I felt I had, for the most part, nothing in common with filled me with dread. But now all those high school cliques have long disappeared and we are all in the same mortal boat. We talked about classmates who have died and the ones who couldn’t make it due to serious health struggles. We avoided politics and religion, and found common ground in the human condition.
For a while I sat at a table with all women, and soon the subject turned to husbands and dating. I had spotted several nice-looking men with friendly personalities. One of them came over to our table with a bouquet of flowers—for his wife. “I need to score some points,” he said as he leaned into our group.
Later I overheard one woman candidly confess that she was husband hunting. Her last husband had died a few years ago, and “I’ve been looking for a new one ever since,” she said. “It’s embarrassing, really,” she joked, “but I’m always looking!” She confided that she goes to online dating sites, and shared a few of her romantic adventures: “I knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but we were having fun . . . he was just looking for dinner dates with ‘happy endings’. . . six months later he went back to his old girlfriend.”
When I heard that, my ears perked up. I looked her in the eye and said, “You have to read my new book! I’ve been looking for you! You are my target audience!” I told her I was a writer and that I had the perfect present for her. I went to my car and got her a copy of Fishing on Facebook. When she saw the subtitle, A Writing Yoga Memoir, her face lit up, and she laughed and told me she was taking a memoir writing class. “This will encourage me!” she said.
I discovered that the gal sitting next to me had also had a baby in the year following graduation. As soon as I heard that, we were instant bosom buddies on a roll, comparing notes on sex, drugs, single motherhood, and how all those hours in the classroom (in spite of scandals like the teacher who got one of our classmates pregnant) did nothing to prepare us for the shock of Real Life.
We laughed about how we were honor students who ended up cleaning people’s houses. I told her how I had worked as a night janitor at the Thacher School. Turns out she was a housekeeper for Francis Ford Coppola, and didn’t recognize Michael Caine when he came to the door. (She went back to school after that job and got a late-life degree.)
Sipping a second glass of wine and eating the yummy Boccali’s garden veggies, pasta, pizza, and strawberry shortcake, we agreed that the most important thing to realize is this: no matter how we look on the outside—whether rich and famous or a homeless failure by society’s standards—deep inside, in our core, we are all the same.