I’m still trying to make sense of the last three days. Houston is Houston, a bustling sauna of energy and indolence, culture and blankness, dear friends and never-to-be friends. I made sure that I got enough rest and didn’t drink any alcohol. Still, by Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted. It was interesting to see the reactions of people as I explained my last year. I look so healthy! How could I be so sick? There was another group, people who shared their health issues with me, one by one, stolen moments from the frantic, joyful catch-up of our lives. Their admissions were brutally frank. I could empathize in a way most people can’t. Those of us who suffer from a serious illness are part of a club. A club we didn’t volunteer or ask for.
The heat in Houston is oppressive. I marvel that I lived here, much less thrived here. The stickiness creeps under your arms and ribcage, between your legs and down your neck. I hate it. It seems to make my symptoms worse. The crackle and hum that shoots down my legs and arms increased while I was here. I was bone tired a lot of the time. My eyes went wonky and my brain turned mushy. I think the excitement of seeing old friends offset this somewhat, but I have a feeling I’ll be paying for this weekend for a few days. It this what my destiny is? Nursing myself along, monitoring my energy outgo to the big payback of Lyme? If so, that will require some mental adjustments. I have rarely questioned the vast reserves of energy I have at my disposal. Whether it is in my nature, or maybe ADHD, I have always been a high energy person.
The reunion brought back a rush of memories, some good, some bad. How is it that seeing someone who made you feel small in high school can bring back that feeling in an instant, leaving you shaken and vulnerable? I told myself I would talk to everyone, that I would reach out and try to connect with people I didn’t know all that well way back when. That did happen with some old classmates. Some of us did the “Hey, good to see you…what’s your name again?” shuffle, and then there were the ones whose eyes skittered over me. My eyes did the same, my face assuming the same flat expression I wear on a subway ride in Manhattan. There was a sense of relief that I wouldn’t have to try and talk to people who are fundamentally different from me. I imagine they felt the same. The sensation of rejection has niggled at my brain the past few days: did I do something wrong, is there something about myself that they hated, or are they just mean and I’m nice. None of those are true. I’m not all that nice. They are not mean. None of us did anything wrong, and if there is something about me they hate, well, that’s life. I guess what I think is that it is all okay. We’ll never be good buddies and I’ll probably always feel bad when someone rejects me. But I reject too, and we can’t like everybody. Instead, like the true ending of a relationship, I felt indifference. The tenuous bond of attending the same high school at the same time is simply not enough.
The other part, the reconnecting with my friends, was lovely. As I get older, I make a point to say the things I want to say. Heartfelt compliments come more easily, as does the sharing of those things we’re not usually eager to share. There is a level of trust that can be traced back to shared experiences at an age where we might not have been ready to handle them. But we did, lying in someone’s back yard, clutching hands and wondering if we were going to die from smoking a joint laced with PCP, walking out of a concert into a dark street full of drunk older people, or the fear when stopped by the ubiquitous Officers Novark and McQueen, our not-so-friendly law enforcement. We shared embarrassing crushes and academic disappointments, parental obstruction and shitty high school jobs. We picked up where we left off and it was good.
Will I ever go back for another reunion? I don’t know. It might get to be too much, the ever-growing list of classmates who have fallen ill or died. It might be that I choose to travel somewhere else. It might be that I am finally done with this chapter. The next time I visit Houston, I will go when it is really nice there; late October or November, when the skies are crisp and blue, or maybe March, when the azaleas are out. I’ll see the people I am close to. We’ll still talk about the old days, but we also talk about the future, our kids, and our families. We’re connected by a thicker thread than being part of Humble High, class of 1976. We’re lifelong friends.