Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Joy of Reunion

Elizabeth Zelvin

It all started with an email from a friend I haven’t seen in fifty years, though she lives only a subway ride away—the same ride I used to take as a high school girl from Queens making weekly pilgrimages to Manhattan, where I live now. She’s a lawyer, and she told me that a mutual friend had died. He and I had remained friends, having much in common. Like me, he was a therapist and a poet—though the third string to his bow was not mystery writing but standup comedy. We weren’t in constant contact, but we always had a long phone conversation around our birthdays, two days apart, in mid-April. This year, I was surprised he didn’t respond to my book announcement or show up at my launch party. The latter was actually on my birthday, and for the first time in decades, he didn’t call or answer my emails. (I don’t phone if I can help it, but that’s another story.)

As my lawyer friend told me, he had a good excuse: he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall and died a week before our birthdays. I felt terribly sad not only about losing him but that he’d chosen not to let me know he was ill. Apart from the bad news, I was delighted to be in touch with her again. We had spent two years together in an extraordinary group of boys and girls at Parsons Junior High in Queens (two years after Simon and Garfunkel) designated the SP orchestra class. That meant we did three years of junior high in two, skipping eighth grade, had tested high for musical aptitude, and all had IQs of over 130.

There’s nothing like a death to make you realize you’d better stop putting off getting together. So one thing led to another, we found 10 out of 17 girls and 13 out of 19 guys, and we've already had two gatherings in New York. Sadly, one woman and one man have died. In other words, at 51 years since graduation, it’s high time, and it’s a good thing we’re seizing the moment.

In the old days before the Internet, a reunion was a one-shot event. You got all dressed up, traveled to some hotel ballroom, and spent an evening saying, “Hiiiii! How are you?” and thinking, Good grief, he’s lost all his hair! Thanks to email, the reunion was in full swing a month before the dinner. By the time we met in person, we'd already done enough catching up to be dining and partying not just with fondly remembered childhood friends but with friends indeed.

There is nothing more delicious than fifty-year-old gossip. Among the hot questions were who took whom to the prom, who kissed whom at Spin the Bottle, who became a hippie, who came out. Some confessed to secret crushes. Others reported fascinating career paths. The guy who died developed the eponymous Chaikin's algorithm, a way to draw curves on the computer. The woman who died co-founded a journal of radical Asian scholars. The one who left academia to manage hedge funds has a new marriage and a baby the age of my granddaughter. So far, I’m the only one who’s written a novel, but I’m happy to hear there are mystery lovers among us. In an amazing stroke of networking luck for me, one’s the mom of a major Hollywood producer, and she’s offered to pass on my book. I’ve always wondered who those 30-year-old heads of studios were. Now you know, she says. They’re the kids of people you’ve known since you were kids. So if I become the next Charlaine Harris (I can dream, can’t I?), it’ll be thanks to the SP orchestra class at Parsons Junior High.

Note:In the class picture, I'm fifth from the left in the third row. In the snapshot below, I'm on the left in the second row.

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