I carry a magic light in my heart. Helen Keller
Stop running after the waves. Let the sea come to you. Elif Shafak
I’m sitting here at a corner table by the window in the Cafe Creme coffee shop sipping a blueberry smoothie and overlooking the intersection of Centre and Front Streets in my birth town of Bath, Maine. It is noon on this sunny Friday in early June. I know this because an old-fashioned clock stands tall on its cast iron perch in front of the oak tree on the wide-bricked sidewalk across the street, a clock that I remember from childhood when Hallet’s Drug store inhabited that building on that corner. Hallet’s made their own homemade ice cream, had a soda fountain and stools that swirled, and my father, who loved ice cream, would buy my siblings and I strawberry milk shakes and chocolate cones. As I tap the keys of my computer, my journal and my book of quotes lie on the table beside me, and, inside my journal, written fresh a few minutes ago, is a list of topics that I would like to explore in blog entries. This weekend, I have left my busy life back home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to fly east for my fortieth high school reunion.
Well, maybe I haven’t left my busy life behind. Maybe I have carried it to Maine with me. Catch up on those blog entries, I tell myself. Write about the wedding that you and your husband Cam attended a few weeks ago, the one in Palm Beach, Florida, the one that you almost didn’t show up for because the two of you overslept and missed your plane, the one where you connected with friends you hadn’t seen since your twenties, the one that left the two of you stunned with an overabundance of openheartedness. Yes, that writing is definitely on the Maine-weekend-to do-list, especially that one because you don’t want to forget it, the way you dug deep into your determination and found a way to get down to Florida in time for the wedding because you both knew that, for some reason, you were supposed to be there. Write about it because it is a powerful story. And yet I don’t want to write about it right now. It feels like work. And I don’t want to work.
I want to sit here instead and breathe in the sweet smell of freshly-baked scones mingling with the smell of coffee brewing. I want to watch the people: the little girl in the flowered sundress with the munchkin high-pitched bubbly voice who is leaning against her mother’s chair; the couple sitting on a couch in front of me bantering back and forth about what it means to be wearing certain colors; the man at the counter with sunglasses propped up on his balding head who might look familiar to me. It’s like that in a town that you once knew intimately but haven’t lived in since childhood. People seem familiar. You wonder whether the old man bent over his cane was once a middle-aged friend of your parents. And the teenager dressed in a T-shirt with a Winston Churchill quote on its back who is now waiting in line at the counter reminds you of a classmate that you had a crush on back in 1974. Sure, the past creeps into the present when you are lingering in a coffee shop across the street from the corner where Hallet’s Drugstore once stood.
We were the Shipbuilders, that’s what we were called, we students of Morse High School, we kids who were raised in a town known for ship building for over two hundred years. And, in the early seventies, the years that I sailed through the high school waters, the ship we sailed in wasn’t so tight. The rules had loosened, the dress code had disappeared, the English classes became electives, the drinking age was eighteen, and we were free to smoke in designated areas. Our campus was open and, my senior year, streaking was the rage. And somehow, when I dropped out of my typing class sometime during that senior year, I wasn’t given an assignment in a study hall. Instead, it became a free hour for me. And when the leaves unfurled that spring and the dandelions blossomed and the air warmed up, I jumped ship each day and headed for downtown, to this very corner that I’m now looking out on. It was ice cream I was after, delicious homemade ice-cream that dripped down my chin, and the glory of freedom and the glee that I was getting away with something that was still against our school’s lenient rules. Sometimes I walked the four or five blocks alone; sometimes my friend Ricardo would join me. I’m not sure how he managed to leave campus mid-day, perhaps the faculty was even more easy-going with foreign exchange students, but I appreciated his company. And I wonder where he is now.
And it is the “now” that I am interested in as I prep myself for this reunion. It is poignant to share history. When you gather with people who you haven’t seen in years, people who you knew when you were young, you can’t help but pull it up from the depths, their kindergarten face or their sixth grade walk or the story that is stuck in your memory’s net — the way Billy would flip his eyelids inside out and chase you and the other fourth grade girls around the playground, the way Curtis would do everything in his power to make you laugh in Mr. Brook’s sixth grade math class, the way Sally typed up your papers after you made that ill-advised decision to drop out of typing class. And when you walk into a gathering where these people are congregated, these stories make their way to the forefront for a moment, until you breathe deeply, until you bring it all into the present moment.
And that’s what happened at the wedding in Palm Beach two weeks ago. It was the son of Cam’s best friend who was getting married, a friend who Cam has known since babyhood, a friend whose parents, both still alive and vibrant, have known Cam’s parents since their childhoods. And although Cam has kept in close touch with this friend through yearly hunting trips and frequent text messages, there were other friends attending this wedding who he hadn’t seen in years. And for me, it was longer still. When I first traveled to Cam’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan with him after our first year together at University of Maine, Cam’s friends became my friends, and, for the first four years that we lived in Michigan after we were married, these friends were my rock. I had forgotten all of this, until this reunion two weeks ago. I had forgotten how much we care for the people who have been present in our lives. And I was astounded at how easy it is to catch up, to become current again, to bring that love for a person into the present moment. And what better place to do so than at a wedding or a fortieth high school reunion.