#50 My High School Reunion StalkerPosted: July 9, 2013
In 1985 I climbed into my little Peugeot and drove west across the country for our 20th H.S. reunion, my first. People looked at me perplexed about making such a trip alone.
It was just as much a trip to get distance and perspective about my business partnership in Pennsylvania. It was a kaka meme partnership, a gigantic blunder. (Decision posted 7/7/12) But I didn’t have the stomach to shut it down and accept considerable losses. I was going to take a magnificent tour of the west coast for eight weeks, as if that was going to make anything better. At least I would have that memory to hold in case I lost everything in that business.
I want to say that another way, because it was the string theory of my life, the theory of everything. At the age of 37, I believed that this might be my last trip or pleasure of any kind, ever again.
I drove from Pennsylvania to Seattle in 5 days with a couple of 15-hour stints. One night a hotel clerk in Montana had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel. Then I stayed with a friend and mentor in Seattle before my drive the next day to Port Angeles. This was the summer after the Christmas I spent with my mother in Arizona. I wrote about that in Holiday Whack posted 12/29/12. I would never again stay under her roof after she got her husband to hit me with his cane. That would show her, right?
It takes over two hours to drive from Seattle. I stopped at my brother’s office before checking in at my motel. I was always eager to see him in an idiot little sister way. His receptionist didn’t even know he had a sister. When he was finished with a patient he came out to the waiting area. I had just driven 3,000 miles and we hadn’t seen one another in years. He didn’t even cross the room to say hello. I went to him to try an a-frame hug. He was so uncomfortable I backed away. I now understand some of the reasons for that perpetual cool.
Friends were beginning to check in with me to see who was attending the parties. Since I’d lived so far away all my adult life, it was wonderful to get together with friends for lunches and chats at the beach before the actual festivities. I was also going to get to see my then, little nephew.
Friday night was a casual party. One pal stuck right by me with a copy of our annual to help me recognize former classmates. We only had one high school so it was a big class. It was both an exhilarating and exhausting experience, trying to remember how I knew some people. If we didn’t have class together it might be a club or church or some organization. But people didn’t know what to ask me. I wasn’t married, had no children or pets. One woman asked the usual questions and finally said, “ Well do you have any plants?”
Saturday night was a big party at my father’s old Elks Club. His ghost was present along with his portrait on the wall. The reunion was held in the main lodge room with a stage. It was historically the place for award banquets, father/son dinners, father/daughter lunches or New Years Eve parties with plenty of eggnog.
On this night it was a place of loud music, drinking, and old football stories for some. For the rest of us, memories of shyness, debate club, chemistry experiments gone wrong or which parents let us have parties in their basement. One friend left early because no one asked her to dance that night. She was in the same pain she had felt at 16. Nobody asked me to dance either but I never expected that to change.
Yelling was the only way to talk so I heard every fourth word. And there was the spouse question. Besides the job of a stepmother, the spouse at a reunion stands up there on the awkward scale. Since this was my first reunion I adopted the role of observer.
At one point a friend and I decided to go into the quieter clubroom across the hall to talk. We found an unoccupied table in a corner. She and I had shared an apartment for summer school at UW in Seattle. That was the summer my father died so I was pretty absent. I had a small crush on her older brother in medical school. But I was unbearably shy and home every weekend. My friend married the boy she was dating that summer.
As we talked I looked up and was startled to see my mother and her husband at the next table. What the hell was my mother doing at my high school reunion staring at me? My friend and I returned to the party after agreeing to join her family for breakfast in the morning. I’m sure I politely stopped to greet my mother’s friends.
The party continued to be big and loud. As great as it was to learn what people had been doing for the past twenty years, I was tired. So I walked back to the motel where many of us stayed.
Sunday morning I met my friend and her family at the motel restaurant. I hadn’t seen her husband since that summer school adventure. She was shocked that I had no children. Apparently my stint as stepmother didn’t count. She asked, “Then who will take care of you when you’re old?” I wanted to ask if that was the reason to have children but thought it a bit rugged in front of her kids.
I saw other classmates in the restaurant. Then I looked at the next table and who was there? My mother! My mother was at my reunion breakfast at the table next to mine.
The night before she shows up at my reunion, and now here she was at the breakfast. I got up to politely say hello to the nice people at her table. I was the dutiful daughter going into perfect robotic mode. There was no thinking, just a lifetime of autopilot. I kneeled down and graciously spoke of how these people had taught me to waterski as a little girl. She had brought them there just to see me. How did she know I was there? I performed perfectly for the mother who hadn’t given me one moment of affection or nurturing in my life. I returned to my table with that old robotic absence of feeling in my core.
On that trip I also politely/stupidly went to Alice’s house to see an old family friend, Hilda, a jolly woman who sadly is no longer on this earth. This was billed as an opportunity for Hilda to catch up with me. Of course I could have gone to Hilda’s house, but was outsmarted. My mother had another agenda. She made two strange statements. Out of nowhere, she angrily stated, “Elizabeth never let me help her with anything.” Which was a breathtaking lie. She informed me when my father died that she would never help me, and she never did. But I knew the look on her face. The look I had seen since I was an infant. I said nothing.
Then, just as odd she said, “Elizabeth was always healthy, never had anything wrong with her. The only thing she ever had was granulated eyelids.” Did she really say that? The old gut feeling hit me. What was she doing? What about the chicken pox I gave my brother, or my cracked skull, or appendix out in college, or the time she slammed my little fingers in the car door: all the usual childhood maladies. Or what about how I got bronchitis or strep throat every time I knew I’d see her? What was this about?
When Hilda left, I left too and followed her to her house. At least I was going to correct the one statement. I told her a little about the bargain Alice had made the night my father died and how she had refused to help me get a start in life. Hilda was always fond of me, but at that moment I knew the impossibility of explaining the history to that nice woman. I did not say anything about the health comment Alice made. I was still too numb, too robotic to even understand the health comment about eyelids.
Alice had protected her lie about leaving me in a hospital alone at the age of nine by then, for 28 years. It was a complicated lie covering her friends, doctors, my brother, my father even teachers. She probably told people I was at camp or visiting a friend. She was still protecting the lie with Hilda that day. She had brainwashed me so from birth, she could change the truth.
At 96 she is still protecting the choice she made between her children with lies about me. Protecting her lies is the same as protecting her life. Or, her “self.”