During the early sixties, when I was in elementary school, one of my classmates was hit in the eye with an acorn. It had actually happened – exactly as our parents and teachers had repeatedly warned: Don’t throw things. Someone could lose an eye!
The kid who threw the acorn didn’t intend to injure this boy, but the eye was lost, nonetheless, and to our great horror. I’d never known anyone to be seriously hurt in schoolyard scuffles, other than the usual repairable scraped knees and elbows, the occasional broken bone. So this incident struck home with most of us, and recess became much more sedate, as we heeded the adults’ warnings – at least for a while.
The eye-less boy soon returned to school, sporting at first a patch then eventually a glass eye, which immediately transformed him into a folk hero amongst the rest of the class. I don’t know who threw the acorn, but I still remember that glass-eyed boy. For a while, he was an oddity, grossing out the girls by removing the prosthetic and popping it into his mouth. At least, I think he did, or is that me embellishing memory for the sake of a good story? In any case, the boy soon resumed being another of our classmates, no different from the rest of us who managed to make it through school unscathed, hanging on to both eyes and all our limbs. Checking his picture in the high school yearbook, you wouldn’t even suspect he had a glass eye. He looks just like the other seventeen to nineteen-year-olds; anticipating and hopeful, about to step optimistically into their futures.
I got to thinking about that boy the other day, and those eager kids who attended the same three levels of public school with me – Williamson Road, Glen Ames, and Malvern Collegiate. I’d received an email: A group is organizing a get-together. I spent all of two minutes deciding before booking a flight to Toronto. Another two years remain before our fortieth anniversary marking graduation from high school, but why wait? At our age, mid-fifties, we never know how much time we have left. Paul Quarrington, my mentor from the Humber School of Creative Writing, who was a month younger than me, passed away today. I’ve decided to follow his example from now on and “Give ‘er!” living every opportunity that comes my way as though each day might be the last. I personally plan to live into my hundreds, but you just never know.
I first met some of these former classmates in junior kindergarten, and we’d travelled together through elementary and high school – our formative years. Many of us renewed acquaintance when we attended Malvern’s 100th anniversary in 2003. That reunion proved to be a life-altering experience for some… like me – or was it coincidental with turning fifty the same year? Whatever the case, I know I wasn’t the only person who contracted a bad case of mid-life crisis, veering off on a totally different life-path than had been my direction up to that point. Rethinking an early retirement in the Caribbean, which had seemed like a good idea at the time, and returning to Canada, I began taking my writing more seriously, enrolling in instructional courses and programmes, eventually re-entering the publishing business. This was a wild and wacky time in my life, while I sorted out who I’d become, and who I really wanted to be. But it was comforting knowing I wasn’t alone in my journey. I’ve heard that others in my class had begun swimming in those same mid-life waters as a result of that reunion.
But the planned get-together in 2010 will be for our graduating class of 1972 alone. While I’ve maintained contact with a few since the 2003 reunion, I wonder how much the others have changed. Even with their expensive hairstyles and sensible shoes, will I still see them as teenagers with long straight hair and Beatles’ mops, wearing mini-skirts, tie-dye, and kilted band uniforms? Will I recognize them through the greying and wrinkles, bald spots and receding hairlines, double chins, and added pounds? What have they been doing all these years, and what have they accomplished in their lives? And are they happy? How many more classmates have we lost since 2003? I wonder if I can manage to shed forty or so pounds over the next six weeks so I again resemble the age I still feel myself to be.
I’m not as interested in meeting spouses, congratulating on careers, or gushing over pictures of grandchildren, as I am in wanting to hear about who they have become, these kids I used to know, while we still have the chance.
And I wonder if the boy with the glass eye will be there, and how he’s fared throughout a life without depth perception. I like to think that, if he now has grandchildren, he teases them, using that glass eye to gross them out. And that he’s comfortable with who he has become, despite the unfortunate toss of an acorn, so many years ago.
(Only women at this particular reunion, but we do plan to meet again, and spread the word to others who we either hadn’t been able to reach or who weren’t able to make it this time. This gave us a great opportunity to get together, and to catch up. Not life-changing this time, but definitely an affirmation that who we were so many years ago, and our connection at that time, were instrumental in making us all who we are today. Oh, and that “blink” I mention above… I was particularly saddened by the news that we lost both Ellen Fox and Barb Scanlon last year, so I dedicate this post to the memory of both our friends. Carpe diem.)