What happens when you return to your hometown when you haven't been back for decades? You begin to understand the genesis for the series LOST (ignoring--temporarily--it's sub-par finale). Your back stories and your current life keep crossing lines, intersecting at unexpected points, fading in and out, and resulting in theories that take weeks to process.
As a writer, I knew the experience would be good fodder for future projects. But, I hadn't expected it to be quite the mother lode it was. Which was more unlikely: the fact that with one sentence, I picked up where I'd left off 30+ years ago with old friends? Or that the main street of the small town was almost completely unchanged? I could have held up an old, faded postcard and it would have matched what was in front of me. It felt at once weirdly wonderful and a little unnerving. If I was time travelling, where was my DeLorean?
Mash into the experience the fact that it was also a reunion weekend for all graduating years (it's a very small town) and the crush of memories got more dense. I tried to keep straight who had moved away (and to where), who had never left, and who had moved away and recently moved back. I tried to hide my sorrow for those whose lives had not been as happy as they might have been. I was thrilled for those who, against the odds, had made a success of their lives on multiple levels. The fact is, all of us are still on the journey. As I spoke with one person after another, the old Rod Stewart song, "Every Picture Tells a Story" came back to me, but I heard it as, "Every Person Tells a Story." And they do. With their words, or their demeanor, or with an unguarded expression or two.
There were moments that rattled me. Not having known someone's son had died until the still-grieving father told me in a choked voice, "No parent should ever have to bury their child.". Realizing, mid-conversation, that another person I was speaking with had not emotionally evolved past their 16 year old self. There were moments that delighted me, especially when I was able to say, "Thank you," face to face with my influential junior high English teacher. Or when we were in town and I brought my husband and son to eat in the old soda shop where I'd worked during high school. It was so unchanged, I could have slipped behind the counter and made a sundae without hesitation. (Yes, I realize that sounds like I was in high school in the 1950's. I promise, I wasn't even born then.)
I made sure there was time set aside to be with those I'd been closest to all those years ago. I savored reconnecting with them, and expected regret on my part that I'd kept my distance for so long. But, I truly believe things happen when they're meant to happen and so, joy took the place of regret. Interestingly, there were very few sentences that began with, "Do you remember when...?" We were in the present. Whatever had connected us in the past, connected us now. Some discussions carried a depth and mutual empathy that was lacking when we first knew each other, when we were too young to have had much weight of experience on our shoulders. Some conversations were enlightening, others raised unanswered questions. Some new stories began and some old stories had new chapters. Most of the stories, though, are just waiting to be written.