Remember that Simon & Garfunkel song of too many years back? Old Friends. Plaintive guitar notes, sotto voce Garfunkel voice singing descant over Simon’s steady tenor.
With that song playing background music, I find myself thinking of old friends. Maybe these reveries are brought on by a stream of emails recently received from a long ago classmate updating us on the status of fellow graduates: this one is sick; this one getting married for the first time (!); this one has just died. The names at times are so obscure that even deep dredging of memory fails to bring a face to the surface. Thank goodness for saved yearbooks. I trundle down to the basement, and blow off the dust, then look up the pictures.
Sometimes the news ends my wondering. I have not kept contact with any high school classmates so some of the names that float to the surface really set me to wondering. Whatever ever happened to. . .? A couple years ago, out of the blue I read the obituary in the local newspaper for my first boyfriend. I saw him only once after we graduated from high school then lost all contact with him. So even the bad news of an obituary was news filled with information: he had served in Vietnam, had married, had sons, had lived and worked about two hours from where I live. The cause of his death was Acute myelogenous leukemia or AML. Agent Orange, that horrific herbicide the U.S. used abundantly in Vietnam, has been implicated in causing AML. So, I couldn’t help but wonder: was this old friend exposed to Agent Orange, maybe he had even helped spray it in those faraway jungles. And did that exposure eventually lead to his death?
The purpose of my wondering is a sort of never ending curiosity about the paths these high school friends took. The emailing high school classmate was a very popular athlete. She was the star of the field hockey team that I tried out for TWICE, but of course never made. So when she began emailing, I could fill in a few of the blanks about her life. She ended up as a teacher and coach in a local high school. I remember her as part of the inner circle of the most in crowd. You might have guessed—I was NEVER in the in crowd. In fact, I and two of my friends in high school started the anti-clique clique!
When our high school put together one of those alumni directories, I went searching for my anti-clique friends. One became a teacher at a Quaker school, and married the head master. The other, also married but more importantly, went to law school and became a public defender in Pittsburgh. I had no idea. These two women who were my closest friends in high school had set out on their life courses, as had I, and we simply lost touch.
Occasionally the email news concludes a long time wonder of mine. Whatever happened to Ted? Like other classmates, he had disappeared. In fact, in messages about class reunions, his name was one of those perpetually on the “Do You Know Where This Person Is?” list. Well, he died. And even though he had been off all of our radar screens for decades, the emailing classmate opined how sad it was that he died and no one in the class knew or had been in contact with him.
No doubt we have all had this experience. When we graduate and set off on our various life journeys, we make assumptions about who will end up where: the classmates we think well of, and assume will be smashing successes, don’t necessarily make it. And the ones we all assume will never make any mark in the world—those are the ones who succeed beyond all imagining.