It took many phone calls from Jeanne to convince me to try out the reunion of a few folks from high school, most of whom I hadn't seen since 1957. She was very good about calling, speaking to me in a rather strict voice as if she would take no silliness, but always conveying support and understanding. Her skills are considerable and I agreed.
And then I panicked and said I'd go for Thursday night when Helen and Ros would be there, when we'd stay at her house in Portland. This seemed safe enough. Ros and I had a number of interesting conversations before the 50 year class reunion which I skittered away from at the last minute. And I did remember Helen from high school and knew that she's been a midwife...surely there were good stories there. And married a musician, so she might know someone of the people I knew. Safe. But. I would leave Friday morning. More calls from Jeanne and I agreed to stay until Saturday because Helen was staying until then and could drive me back to the bus.
Now staying until Saturday was a big deal because as of Friday at noon, I'd be marooned and couldn't escape from the lodge, where Jeanne and her husband were hosting us, unless I was driven a couple of hours to a bus station. I hate highways and didn't want to drive my car to Maine. What was worse? Highway driving? Or being stuck, trapped, unable to escape, until Saturday? I agreed to go this far, let me repeat, because Helen was going to drive me on Saturday.
I'm not great on social gatherings. No, let's say that I get very anxious. I've been known to walk up to the door of a party given by friends and walk away again without ringing the bell. I'm a pain in the ass to get anywhere. And no amount of success in talking to strangers, once I'm forced to do that, has changed this initial internal panic.
And high school was a wretched time when I played the part of the normal teenager while living with a father who often slept in the bathtub at night (turning on the hot water when he got cold as if pulling up a blanket from the bottom of the bed.) With a step-mother, the nurse who had brought my mother home from the hospital to die and immediately saw a good thing in my father and his large house, and who spent much of the six years they were married back in Chicago visiting her second husband who never knew she's married a third. When she was with us, I got terribly sick -- ulcerative colitis. And with my teatoatling (perhaps the spelling isn't correct, but believe me, the sentiment is there) grandmother lived with us for some of that time, lonely for her church-going Eastern Star friends in Ohio, coming out of her room only to watch Kate Smith and very occasionally to slowly, slowly scuffle up the stairs to hunt in my father's closet for his bottles of Scotch. I didn't know anyone who lived in similar chaotic conditions. Those were the days before anyone spoke easily of alcoholism or other forms of wretched family dysfunction. Nor was there much discussion about the effect the death of a mother has on a child.
How could I imagine that five of us in this little reunion had equal, if not greater, difficulties growing up? That they went through high school, that same Paul D. Schreiber High School where I spent so much time pretending and erasing/forgetting/detaching from what was happening? And assuming that I was terminally unique, a fine term used often in Alanon. It was a strange relief to realize that I wasn't, not that it matters fifty years later. And it was sad, too, since no one wishes disruptive, confusing childhoods on anyone.
It's not that the others in our small group hadn't experienced traumas. One had had polio, the only person in the collective grade schools of our small town to experience that frightening debilitating disease. And another was a refugee who had lived with another family while his parents were hidden away for safety during the Second World War. I have always been aware of these facts and was sorry about both of their hardships and was glad to find that both have had long, stable marriages, a state of being that has eluded some of us who had lived with secret family disruption.
I know (as in deduce but not feel) I was nervous during the late afternoon and dinner on Friday because I would periodically escape to the kitchen for a brownie (chocolate works for me, my comfort under stress) that someone had made for desert. My attempt support from a glass of bubbly wine proved as ineffectual as always -- I just wanted to go upstairs and go to sleep. (My father's solution to social occasions was to drink quietly, make the rare, but wry and insightful, comment, and then go to sleep on the floor with his head on a sofa pillow while everyone else continued with the evening.)
I was actually extremely glad that I went.... had many meaningful conversations. And I can't thank Jeanne enough for providing this opportunity for me.