all those years ago
I get this alumni newsletter from my high school in the mail every so often. It goes straight in the garbage. I have no great allegiance, no strong ties to my high school and I really don't care to read what the rest of the Class of 1980 is up to.
Lie. That's a damn lie. Sure, the newsletter always goes in the garbage, but about five minutes after it hits the trash can, I'm fishing it out, separating it from the coffee grinds and banana peels.
I don't read the whole thing. I skip right past the page where they ask me for money and head to the Alumni Update section. Run my finger down the list, stopping at 1980.
I didn't really like these people all those years ago, so I don't know why I care now. I don't care, I tell myself. I'm just curious.
Flashback [insert wavy lines here, fade to grainy black and white film]: Senior year, early spring, 1980. Our English teacher is feeling morose. He gazes outside the window, looks upon the main road that winds past the school and points to the cars with their headlights on. It is daytime; a bright sunny day.
Do you know why everyone is driving with their headlights on today?
I know. But I want to see if others know. A few people shrug their shoulders.
Look. Go to the window and look.
We all line up at windowsills and watch as the cars race by, bright lights blaring.
I raise my hand slightly, though my back is turned to the teacher. I'm still looking out the window. I hate speaking up in class. I hate speaking up at all. But I'm horrified that my classmates seem to know so little beyond their own world of friends, sports and hanging out.
Hostages, I say. Iran. And I leave it at that.
The teacher nods solemnly and explains that someone - maybe the Governor, maybe some newspaper editor - decided that everyone would drive with their headlights on today to show solidarity and support for the hostages.
One kid shrugs. It's not like they can see it. What's the point?
I want to explain the point but find that I can't, or my mind just won't. Sometimes explanations are futile, depending on who you are doing the explaining to.
The teacher is agitated today. He obviously doesn't want to get back to the Literature of Western Civilization. He makes us sit down. Take out paper. Get pens ready. It's essay time. The class groans.
Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?
Huh? Most of the students look at him questionably. We're 17, some of us 18. No one has thought that far into the future. When you're a high school senior on the verge of freedom from the restraints of a private school, you only think in terms of June, July, August. Your 30's is like some faraway, mystical land. [insert more wavy lines here, end flashback]
I still wonder what other people wrote on their essays. I'm sure most of them were filled with hopes and dreams like: Married, 2.5 kids, white picket fence. I'm willing to bet that none of the essays said: Dead. Abject failure. In rehab.
And as sure as some of my classmates are married with 2.5 kids and the proverbial fence, some of them are dead, failures, in rehab or a combination of all three.
Yet as I scan down the list of the Class of '80, and catch up on what my old buddies are up to, I see nothing but happiness, success and riches beyond imagination. Almost everyone is a CEO or President or Vice-President in charge of something. Knowing what I know about Mark Smith, I'm wondering if CEO of Smith's Pharmacy translates to Drug Dealer. And there's Kate Jones, Vice-President of Human Relations at an internet dating service. Yea, hooker.
They are all lawyers and CPAs and doting stay-at-home moms to their seven children, all named after biblical figures.
And there are a few who aren't any of those things. Some of them are soldiers. I recognize the name of one of those soldiers as that boy in my English class in 1980:
It's not like they can see it. What's the point?
After we finished our essays that day, we did not return to our regularly scheduled examination of literature. Instead, we got a lecture. The teacher stood at the front of the class for for the rest of the period and talked to us about freedom and democracy and the future of our world. He talked about what our lives might be like 15, 20 years from now if those who hate our nation had their way. There may not be any picket fences or freedom to choose your career. There may not be any world, for that matter. [This is back when we were afraid that any moment, some crazed world leader would push a red button on his desk and blow the entire world to smithereens]
So I wonder, as I look at my alumni newsletter and see that this person has spent many years in the Army, if our high school English teacher's swell of patriotism at the sight of all those headlights during the day and the subsequent lecture we got in defending democracy had any impact on the career choice of this one classmate of mine.
I'd like to think so.