Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reunion redux: Drama, closure, and mystery plots

Elizabeth Zelvin

Back in the fall, I wrote a post I called The Joys of Reunion, describing how my junior high school class from Queens rediscovered one another 51 years after graduation. It ain’t over, far from it, and I can’t resist writing a follow-up.

We’ve had several get-togethers in addition to the continued barrage of emails that have us what some classmates are calling “addicted” or “hooked.” One was a poetry reading in New York at a progressive bookstore—did you know there are still people out there talking about “the Revolution”? Another was a party at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, which I remember back in the Fifties as being so snooty that Jews (like most of us in the class) were not welcome, and the first African-American to win the national women’s singles title (Althea Gibson in 1957, the year we graduated) was not allowed to shower in the clubhouse. (I hasten to add the place has changed a lot!) We had an all-girls dinner at which, as I’d expected, the conversation became even more intimate than in the mixed group, ranging from first menses to widowhood.

Musical aptitude brought us together in “the orchestra class,” and the teacher we all adored was our music teacher, the father of one of our classmates. He helped us all choose instruments: I wanted to play the flute, but couldn’t coax so much as a squeak out of it, so I ended up as a cellist. He made sure we joined the All-City Orchestra, even though we were younger and less skilled than the other members, because he wanted us to have the experience of playing onstage at Carnegie Hall. That performance remains a vivid memory for those of us who participated. He also charmed us by talking to us in a forthright manner that most adults didn’t in the Fifties. For example, I remember being deliciously shocked and skeptical when he explained the Oedipus complex. I’d never heard of before, my mother the lawyer not being a believer in the unconscious.

Apparently it is rare for a junior high school group to have a reunion, though, as everyone knows, it’s common among high school and college classes. It’s not only the time span that's remarkable, although we’ve certainly seen enormous changes in the half century between then and now. These are the people who knew me, and I them, when we were eleven and twelve years old, that crucial moment on the brink of puberty. One thing that’s changed a lot is the frankness between men and women. So I got to tell the cutest boy in the class how cute I thought he was. That was fun! And I learned he not only thought I was the smartest girl, but he thought I was attractive back then. Man, I wish I’d known that fifty years ago, but it was good news even so belatedly. In fact, it was healing.

One of my most painful memories of junior high was the fiasco of the ninth grade prom. The prom back then, especially in junior high, was not the wedding-level gala proms have become. There was a dance in a hotel ballroom, somebody’s father drove you and your date to and from the event, and if you were lucky you got a chaste peck on the cheek or perhaps the lips (depending on whose father was waiting in the car) at the end of the evening. Most of the invitations were issued at my thirteenth birthday party, which happened to fall in mid-April. For the girls, there was great cachet in being asked to the prom, especially by one of the boys we considered cute. As the evening wore on, everybody but the birthday girl paired off, and I felt worse and worse. Finally, a boy invited me. He was rather a sullen kid, whom I didn’t know well, but I was relieved and grateful I had a date—until he marched up to me in class the next day and rescinded the invitation. (All ended well when someone else invited me—a very nice guy whose path since then has included coming out.)

When we started sleuthing on the Internet to find our long lost classmates, we had trouble locating the boy who’d uninvited me to the prom. And as more people remembered what had happened, the emails included a certain amount of joking about whether we should punish him by not trying to find him. I dealt with the painful memory the way any mystery writer would: I wrote a revenge-fantasy short story. (I changed the circumstances: in the story, the girl gets stood up at the last minute.) Well, it’s a good thing I wrote it fast, because we’ve found the guy. And you know what? He apologized handsomely. The way he remembered it, he hadn’t rejected me because of some flaw in me (and do you know any thirteen-year-old girl in the world who wouldn’t take it that way?)—he’d “chickened out.” What a healing revelation that was. He admitted without prompting that he was “not a well behaved boy” at that time and assured me he’d become “more of a gentleman” in the fifty years since. My heart melted. My first thought was, “How incredibly sweet!” My second: “Thank God I’ve already written the story!”


Anonymous said...

What a fabulous story! Are you glad you tracked him down?

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Yes indeed--surprised, too. I guess in 50 years, people do grow up. :)But I couldn't have written the short story if I'd already known he'd be so nice. As they say, revenge is a dish best eaten cold--but sometimes it goes bad and you've gotta throw it away.

Anonymous said...