"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reunion, Part 5 - Life and Death

On a perfect July Friday afternoon, sunny, 80 degrees, just hours before the reunion officially begins, a small group of classmates gather.

The nine of us on this houseboat have settled into a loose circle. The day and the water surround us in gentle waves as we travel without any purpose beyond being together. We're past the excitement and surprise of seeing one another again after so many years. We've shared food and the basics of what our lives are like now, who we've become in the last decade.

All afternoon, four other presences have traveled with us, and the conversation now shifts to include them.

Marilyn, whose sharp wit and exotic looks have softened only a little over the years, lost her brother two weeks before our graduation.

Beth, whose beauty and musical talent came into full bloom after we graduated, lost a son just over a year ago.

Cory, whose warm smile has only grown brighter over the years and who brought us together today, bought and remodeled this boat with her father in the last years of his life.

Larry, who dated every woman on this boat in high school, missed the last reunion because he was at home in Florida with his wife, Antonea, who was dying of cancer. I've felt her energy with us all day, and surprise myself with the depth of my desire for her physical presence.

In junior high Beth and Antonea and I were in constant competition for first chair of the flute section in band. Antonea went on to become the majorette of the high school marching band. Beth is a Sweet Adeline and directs musical groups. I hum along with Christmas carols. In high school our circles often overlapped and I considered both of them close friends. For a good portion of my early adult life, I would have given anything to trade places with either of those women.

Someone asks Cory if her dad ever visits her on the boat. Her affirmative answer leads Beth to tell the story of her son coming to her shortly after his death. Marilyn acknowledges that her brother is still a regular and real presence in her life. Larry's recounting of Antonea's visit to the home they shared in Florida has us laughing. She moved things from one place to the other, in such a conspicuous manner that there was no way he could miss that it was her.

Later that afternoon Tom and Marcia and I are relaxing in their living room, reliving the intimacy of the houseboat gathering. Marcia is in the middle of a new Antonea story when the fireplace poker flies from its stand, clatters on the hearth barely missing Tom's glass of soda, and comes to rest on the carpet at his feet. We look at each other, laugh with the delight of children who've discovered a new treasure, and offer our verbal greetings skyward to our dead friend.


At the Saturday night reunion dinner, all the names of our classmates who have died, maybe a dozen in all, are read aloud. There are the two boys who were struck by lightning the spring before graduation. There are the two Steves who died of drug overdoses: one a hood in high school who never found his way, the other a popular jock who became a doctor and then lost his way. There is Antonea. There are several other names for whom I feel little connection, but for whose passing I feel a real and aching sadness.

I look around the room, filled with people who know me in a way no one else can, and realize our dead classmates will always be alive whenever we gather. Our remembering, our stories, our shared feelings of loss have the tremendous power to resurrect them. For this weekend at least, all 188 of us exist together - the dead, the absent, the lost, and those present - bonded by the adolescent passions that continue to create life.

photo from Flickr


Carrie Wilson Link said...


I love that the fireplace poker flew off. Right after my dad died he took and moved things all the time. It never felt scary, it only felt comforting, like he was saying, "I'm right here."

Rosaria Williams said...

How comforting to have so many people around who have known you for so long.

Angie Ledbetter said...

So glad your reunion trip brought comforts and heart/hearth-warming events.

Amber said...


And the poker made me giggle. So funny.


Jessica Nelson said...

I guess this is a morning for tears. I'm just getting over a different touching post when I came to this.

So interesting. It sounds like you had a beautiful time. :-)

Nancy said...

"bonded by the adolescent passions that continue to create life."

Thought a lot about this lately. Beautiful post.

Carol Murdock said...

And So, another page of history in your life has been written! It seems to have been a "good " thing for you! I'm glad! :)

Kathryn Magendie said...

What a beautiful post...

so funny you write of life and death - I dreamed of my brother, who died in 1994 suddenly, and in the dream he was alive and walking to me with his smile - I woke both happy and sad

Jerri said...

Deb, your writing matures with every post. This is simply gorgeous and filled with telling detail that brings it alive on the page.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I enjoyed reading all the pieces of the reunion essay. I'm glad you found such fun and comfort there.

The Unbreakable Child said...

Beautiful, deb!

hugs and hi and hope you are having a great summer.

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