05 July 2010

Reunions & Reinventions

Invention, reinvention, evolution, revolution:
Who are these geezers, anyway?
Bill, Jean, Suzanne, Karen, Larry’s daughter, Larry & Randy
(In the interest of privacy, I’m not using last names.)

My recent visit to Texas was marked by an informal class reunion, of the sort that my friends had enjoyed more officially one year ago. A few days later, when another friend, back East, exhorted me to reinvent myself, I realized that I might not require a reunion — at least, I might not require not the extra effort that went into this one — if I hadn’t already reinvented myself so completely. For 30 years, I have become less and less a Texan, until I had lost touch with all but one of the dear people who gathered around three tables at a café in Dallas; I have become more and more a New Englander, then a New Yorker, now (for a little while longer) an expatriate. And those are merely the reinventions of location, not counting those of politics and faith, profession and style and above all, sexuality. Thus when Elise says I must reinvent myself, I answer, “What, again? How long can I keep doing this?”

The fear is that one will lose something in the process of reinvention, and my friends were at pains to prove to me that this need not be the case. In truth, one of them has succeeded quite brilliantly in demonstrating that one may gain something in the reinvention: Lauren and I were rivals in junior high school, or so I thought; now in maturity I’m able to see us as peers, whose life experiences have been strikingly similar even when they were not shared.

Lauren & Bill

When we were children, Suzanne, Randy, and Larry were the funniest people I knew, reliably capable of making me dissolve in helpless laughter, and they still are. Jean was always a voice of sanity in irrational surroundings (though pushed to the brink, I grant you, she held her ground), and she still is; in fact, it is something very like her job description nowadays. I see in all these faces the kids we used to be: not much has changed, after all.*

Looking around the tables, I could reflect on the assurance that, while I may have missed out on these qualities among my friends, for lengthy periods of time, and while I may have missed out on my friends’ companionship, I haven’t lost them.

True, I won’t ever be godfather to Larry’s daughter (who speaks French) or to Jean’s sons (who are theater-mad, and who even look like me), as I am to Karen’s sons. But my resources, such as they are, are available upon demand, and there is a particular pleasure in meeting a young person for the first time and discovering connections and affinities. I had a charming conversation with Larry’s daughter, for example: she’s turned out beautifully without any influence from me, and that’s gratifying in its own way.

All of my friends had this in common: they offered me a refuge from the hostilities I faced daily as a boy. What possessed them to see in me the better qualities that eluded everyone else in school (and most of the rest of the state of Texas, it seemed), I don’t know. Already I had developed enough of the psychology of the victim to believe that there was abundant justification for the bullying I received. Looking back, I believe that I, too, would’ve found myself insufferable.

Bill, Suzanne & Jean

I couldn’t have remained as I was: at once naïf and pretentious, shrill, hyper-animated, even more confused than I was horny (which is saying something). Those traits are unattractive in a boy, and poisonous in a man. My friends must have been aware of them, and yet they looked past them. But in casting off those traits, I cast off those friends, too — more than I like to acknowledge.

It’s possible that I flatter myself as to the degree of my first reinvention. True, after the first week at Brown, nobody believed I was from Texas; but the fact that they universally mistook me for a kid from Connecticut may be less a reflection of my valiant attempt to resemble my roommate, Alan, than it was a reflection of “geographic distribution.”** And yet, would Elise herself have found the patience to put up with me if I too closely resembled the original Bill?

Perhaps so. For throughout my jaunt through the States, I encountered people who have put up with me for a very long time, through multiple reinventions. Some, like Elise and Karen, have done so without the benefit of long pauses; others have let me know unequivocally that, even after reinvention, I am not yet an easy person to be with. So I must cling to the hope that, no matter what happens, there will be someone to keep me company — and my friends in Texas suggest that the hope is not vain.

Larry & Randy

*NOTE: That said, Jean is taller by a head than I remembered her to be. Evidently she didn’t stand up often when we were in Mrs. Morini’s class.

**“Geographic distribution” is the principle whereby nearly everyone at Brown came from the Northeast; I’ve never doubted that I was admitted primarily because I was from Texas, in the administrators’ desire to add variety to the Class of ’83.


Girl From Texas said...

I don't think any of us feels like we are the same person we were then.....the miraculous thing is that we do still enjoy each others' company, even after we have grown up/ transformed into the people we are now.

Nat said...

As an expat American who isn't going home again, I'm enjoying your accounts of meeting up with family and school friends. Being open is nice; so is sharing.