I leave today for Sandpoint. Even after all these years, seeing the name of that town in print creates a certain vibration that has the power to call up ghosts.
We moved to Sandpoint from Montana when I was 7. It was a sad move for the family. Sadness became the soil from which our lives there grew. Sadness and secrets and soul-killing anger.
I graduated from high school and left Sandpoint when I was 17. While that was a move I had longed for since I was old enough to know that leaving could happen, the joy I expected to feel was drowned in my family's disapproval and my own fear.
I'm going to spend the week with my best-friend-since-seventh-grade, Marcia, at her beautiful lake-side home. We'll do what we always do during our summer visits: enjoy the lake and the sun, eat Pringles, and talk for endless hours. Shopping will happen. Books will be shared and read and discussed. Marcia owns a book store. One summer I read a book a day while I was there. If I were going to design a summer camp for adults, it would look just like our time together.
This year, we're also going to attend our forty year high school reunion. Forty. Years.
I missed the ten year reunion. Those were my cult years. High school reunions were considered far too worldly, and I was glad for the restriction. The shame of my life immediately after graduation was still too fresh and raw. I didn't want to be seen or known or even remembered.
Walt went to the twenty year reunion with me. We'd only been married a short time. I was still a new teacher. I was proud to show off my new respectable life. I dieted for weeks before, bought new clothes, held in my stomach and breath during the whole event. The only thing I really remember is how bad the band was, dancing to Louie, Louie, and feeling every single high school emotion I thought I had left behind.
I went to the thirty year reunion by myself. I was sober and in therapy and wanted everyone to see how much I'd changed. Again I dieted, bought new clothes, got a new hair style. What I remember from that summer is discovering for the first time that I couldn't lose ten pounds in a month, no matter how hard I tried. I remember being crushed that I didn't get voted most changed - that no one could see the results of all my inner work. I was terrified that if it didn't show, then maybe it wasn't real. I remember being noticed and flirted with by a guy who had been one of the most popular in high school. I took the memory of that attention home with me, like a certificate of achievement.
Fast forward ten years. No dieting this time. No point. No frantic shopping expedition to find just the right outfit. I'm going as a healed, thriving woman, writer, seeker of adventure, connection, and the next good story. The adolescent yearning for approval, validation, and acceptance has been filled finally, from the inside out. This time I'm free to be the whole self I've earned, with people who shared a time of life that is so significant we need to get together every ten years even though we have little else in common.
I think I'll go out to my childhood home this time. It still stands empty along the highway, all 80 acres of it, the barns, and the house. The house has begun to fall in on itself. There are ghosts who deserve to be put to rest finally into the sad soil that has waited forty years to receive them. It's time.