“Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.” ~ Thomas Hardy
The concept of linear time is a strange thing. This summer marks the 36th anniversary of my graduation from high school, the 27th anniversary of my graduation from New York University, and the 16th anniversary of my receipt of my graduate degree from the professional writing program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Those facts, so neatly laid out, still seem impossible.
Surely, it was only yesterday I crossed the threshold of my first year of school at Westview Elementary School in Spokane, Washington. I wore a homemade polka dot dress and a pair of brand new saddle shoes from the shoe department at J. C. Penney. Away from my mother for the first time that day, I stood next to my small wooden desk, fighting the urge to cry as she valiantly headed for the door, a patent leather purse slung over her arm like an afterthought. She left me with a teacher who wore a gash of red lipstick and an emerald green skirt and jacket. Her name was Mrs. Otto.
I watched the clock’s slow hands move throughout that first day.
I wanted to stamp my foot; anything to get the clock to move.
Years passed before Momma reappeared, and it was time to go home.
“All our sweetest hours fly fastest.” ~ Virgil
Now 54, I often feel bewildered by the speed of these intervening years. They have passed through me like lightning. My life has been completely changed by time – by the passage of it, by the stripping away of the notion of permanence, by the knowledge that time is the most ephemeral of all my so-called possessions.
I recently reconnected with a few of the friends I haven’t spoken to or heard from since high school. The friends of my girlhood. Friends who stood next to me as I passed through elementary, junior high, and high school; girls itching to delineate their boundaries, to forge characters and lives outside the confines of suburban life in the 1960s and 1970s. Women now, these girls remember a version of me I have forgotten. And because they remember me, suddenly, I do too. Through their eyes I remember that pensive waif standing on the periphery of the school yard.
I was certain I’d lost her to the dark waters of memory.
“And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” ~ Tillie Olsen
I chatted on the phone last night with a high school friend. I haven’t seen or heard from C since the early 1980s, yet I often wondered what became of her. She had a long waterfall of chestnut colored hair, a crooked smile, and a delicate and diminutive body. She moved like a graceful doe through the hell we charitably label as “high school” in this country. The two of us met in junior high. We lived on the edge of the world of cheerleaders, school pride, football, and the perennial favorite: binge drinking (and the requisite projectile vomiting afterward). We were never part of it. We never really wanted to be part of it. I take pride in the fact that high school was decidedly not the high point of my life.
“Whenever I heard anything by Elton John over the years, I thought of you,” she said, the hum of the telephone wire singing quietly behind her voice.
Elton John’s photos wallpapered my school locker back in the day. He was, and still is, my soundtrack for the entire decade of the 70s.
“Wild,” I replied. “You know I met him, right?” I told the story of meeting Mr. John backstage at a concert in London.
We talked about the people we still have peripheral connections to, although neither one of us has maintained contact with anybody from the class of 1978. We talked about the weirdness of reunions and the passage of time. We talked wistfully about our choices and the tributaries of connection that somehow bind us: the fact that we don’t have children; that we both managed to navigate the waters of life without ever jumping into that particular boat.
Eventually we closed the conversation by exchanging addresses. She promised to come visit me.
I was surprised by the ease of the conversation and the laughter that punctuated it.
It was as though I finally had a chance to open a gift I had forgotten I’d received.