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Fear & Loathing in Special Education

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Babe, (sniffle) I Got You, Babe

Posted 08-26-2012 at 02:40 AM by Speced9

It's 4 a.m. and I can't sleep. Usually insomnia rears its ugly head when a new school year approaches, which is kind of the gist of this round of sleeplessness, but it's the late 40s school children who are on my mind this time.

Tonight was my high school reunion. Thirty-one years to be exact. Actually, I don't really feel that old. I guess my failure to mature in early adulthood is reaping its benefits now in middle age. My body may be forty-eight, but my mind is an early thirty-something.

Remember in the late 80s when David Letterman had Sonny and Cher as guests on his show? Everyone wanted to see that reunion happen. As I recall, Letterman pushed it quite a bit further by insisting that they perform just one song together. If you've seen this clip, you might remember that Cher wasn't real keen on the idea, and was kind of peer pressured into it. So, they start singing that famous song, but it's not without its tears. I think I recall Cher stating after the fact something to the effect of, "it started out okay, but then it just took a sad turn." Well, that's how our reunion felt to me tonight.

I seriously enjoyed myself for the first couple of hours. There were so many people I hadn't seen in years and it was great to see them. Of course, there are your share of people you don't want to see, but, like any mature adult should do, you say, "hi", make a little small talk and graciously walk away. It wasn't those people though that provoked that "sad turn". It was the people that I was closest to during those years in public school and shortly after.

As the free beer began to open up the floodgates of emotion, the talk turned from high school memories to things that were uncomfortable to hear. One friend thought it was time to talk about his sexual exploits with an upperclassman's girlfriend. Another, long retired from the military, went on a rant about how the military screwed up his mind, and honestly, I'm not so sure it wasn't screwed up before that. Many talked of their ailments with failing health already evident in their faces, and of course, there was the talk of those no longer with us, and how they had passed. Some from car accidents, others from cancer, and a few from drug overdoses. One classmate I have known since kindergarten, talked about the creepy guy who lived near our elementary school and her experiences of being flashed on many occasions as she walked to school. There was an ex-girlfriend, who subsequently became a good friend after the fact, who told me that her marriage of 25+ years was on the rocks and she didn't have the courage to tell her children, parents and friends. I was the first to hear she told me because she just had to get it off her chest. While I was flattered that she felt enough confidence in me to keep her secret, I wish it hadn't come as the result of Hour Three of Free Beer. Still, it broke my heart to see my friend in such pain.

The stories weren't the worst part of it for me though. The worst part was having the reality of life filter into my memories of those people I was used to thinking so happily about. Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of life's ugliness and God willing, I will continue to be able to get through each new chapter as it come about. Something about seeing friends in pain hurts me more than my own pain. I can't quite put a finger on it, but I'm sure it has something to do with control. I have the power to change my own life, but there seems to be little I can do to change theirs other than listen with genuine interest and concern, then walk back to my own life for another ten years.

I actually left the reunion much earlier than I had planned. Honestly, it was more of an escape. I didn't say all of the goodbyes I wanted to say. I just quietly walked out the front door, got in my car and drove home. Hopefully no one noticed my hasty retreat, but if they did, I'll have to come with some excuse better than the truth. The truth is after all, that after seeing some of my classmates in prolonged adolescence, bitterness and pain, my only thought was to get home to the safety of my family. In a few short hours, I'll be telling them how much I love and appreciate them as we sit around the breakfast table. They'll just look at me and wonder if I've done something to regret in my absence, but only I will know better. I love them more because I understand just how lucky I am. With that thought, I think I'm ready to go back to bed.
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