This weekend is my fortieth high school reunion. I am going. There is something about Texas that keeps me coming back, but I’m not a Texan. I’m what I like to call an ‘accidental Texan’. My parents aren’t Texans, they are from Kansas, dropped into Texas because my dad was a geologist. I was born in San Antonio and adopted at six days old. I spent most of my childhood here, and went to college in Austin.
Houston and Humble are both deeply familiar and completely alien to me now. I wonder if my classmates who never left feel this way, too. For some reason, when Lyme moved into my brain for an extended duration, I went back to my past, circles within circles of memories. A high school reunion is a big circle. Many people say, “You’re going back? Why?” It’s hard to explain why Humble High School Class of 1976 was special. For those of us who were there, it marked us as one of the first classes where two radically different groups of students came together. It’s hard to imagine what a mass influx of new people from all over does to the delicate social balances that make up a high school. There was resentment and miscommunication, sure, but also a sense of adventure and acceptance. At least half of our class had lived in Humble most of their lives. The other half had lived there less than five years. Of course, there was Forest Cove, but they evolved into a super-tight group that didn’t quite fit into either category. I am over-simplifying here, but this is why I have a special place in my heart for Humble.
This past winter, I had days upon days where I could only lie in bed and listen to music. I could not read, TV was totally beyond me. With Lyme, I’ve spent the last year turning inward, often going back in time. I spent a few months looking up old boyfriends, as if imagining the road not taken would change the fact that I had a serious illness. Lyme disease is a great trickster. I felt fine one day, then was down for three or four days in a row. The symptoms varied—from the merely annoying, like achy joints and muscles, to the downright scary, like when my heart rate plummeted to forty-two beats per minute, or the times when I forgot how to drive. Of course, I took special pains to get bitten by a tick that carried three bugs: babesia, borrelia, and bartonella. I am an overachiever in all the wrong things. Lyme zigged and zagged its way through my body, never once stopping and asking how I felt about the whole thing.
In earlier years I worried quite a bit about how my life would look to my former classmates. Did I look happy? Successful? Did my family represent a fabulous, American dream kind of life? Now that I’m older, I care less and less about those kinds of measures. Instead, there is a long list of sorrows and joys that we all understand now: the great levelers. Loss of parents, brothers and sisters, and sometimes children. The birth of grandchildren, a life spent with someone you love, a settled sense of happiness. The list of lost classmates is growing. How I want to look is like me, the me I was way back then. I hope my classmates see me and know in an instant that I have changed very little inside. I’m still impulsive, dorky, happy, and smart-mouthed. I still sing in my shower and car. I still dance while I’m cleaning house. I still like almost everyone and wear my emotions right where everyone can see them. I still get anxious when I see old friends, that feeling that everyone else knows what’s going on and I don’t. I hope I take the time to see the person inside of them, too.
Music was a great comfort while I was sick. I actually listened to ‘Free Bird’, the Humble High Class of ’76 song and liked it. I listened to everything. Classical, rap, rock, electronica, jazz, soft rock (!?!?), and even, for an afternoon, The Eagles, a band I loathe. What does this have to do with anything? The whole circle thing, right. I saw Willis Alan Ramsey last Saturday night with my old friend Bryce Payne (he is both old and an old friend…an old old friend?) and had the pleasure of hearing a song he sang to Valerie Bell Greiner, another old friend from Humble. We were college freshmen, about three weeks in, and Willis played in Dobie Mall, right by the elevators. I was watching a Texas folk hero play ‘Northeast Texas Women’ to a friend of mine. I felt like I had arrived. All of life would be like this. I told Bryce and he was skeptical. He hadn’t heard this story, and he was certain he would have, if it had really happened. Was I certain it had happened? Mostly. It was one of those crystalline memories that stay with you. After the show we found ourselves standing next to Willis Alan by the door, and I said, “It’s a full circle night. I saw you play at Dobie Mall in 1976.” Bless his heart, he said “I remember that! First time I ever played by elevators.” Full circle indeed.
There is a sense of nonchalance about this reunion. Serious illness gave me the gift of whittling down my life to the things that truly matter to me. I hope I remember this as I recover. Now, I can’t quite figure out why going in circles has been so comforting this past year. Maybe you have an idea. Maybe by connecting with the past in times of crisis we can forge a new reality, taking strength from happier times. Maybe by getting a chance to revisit the past, as I will do this weekend, I can put the circles in some sort of order. Ha! As if life can be ordered. Maybe I’ll just kick back and enjoy it for what it is: a time to reconnect with people who knew me before I knew myself.