The grade school we went to is gone now. One half was torn down about eight years ago, and the other half sits empty. Our time capsules were dug up and stored in somebody's barn. A new school was built nearby to replace ours, so "gone" is probably not the right word. But meeting in the parking lot of the new one, unable to visit our old playground or take pictures in front of our classroom, just heightened to the sense that you can't go
home again. Of course you can't, but if you're lucky enough to have had a teacher like Mr. McInerney, you can inhabit the childhood version of yourself, at least momentarily. In his letter to our parents about the upcoming event he'd written the Irish proverb, "We have seen many days but we have never seen this day."
There was too much going on at the reunion yesterday to ever feel purely in the moment, like happens at big parties sometimes, even weddings. Wally running back and forth refusing sunscreen, 90s heat beating down, relentless crowds circling Mr. McInerney, my dad and I mistaking Sarah Pikcilingis' dad for Parker Damon (the former principal), lots of strained conversations, not only "Where do you live? What do you do?" but "Who are you again?" It was so hard for me to just get over how mind-blowing it all was, but I couldn't feel it, couldn't stop saying mundane things like "This is so bizarre."
The letters themselves did not live up to the surreal moment of ripping the envelopes open. They were simply a chronicle of crushes, lists of the stuff we did in class (which was rare and amazing, like making batteries and acting out courtroom trials). Dreams of being an actress on Broadway. Questions like, "Will I be married to Alan Michelak?" The writer of the letter did not seem to grasp how profound a moment this would be. She was not a young prophet. She was a girl who played Demoleon in the Roman Game, who wondered if she'd still be best friends with Heather MacFadden in the year 2010, who never wanted the school year to end. It is only looking back that we see ourselves in that classroom as Fitzgerald's Dutch sailors, "face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to [our] capacity for wonder." At the time we were just allowed to wonder.
Finally, just as Wally began to melt down, I did get to talk to Mr. McInerney. There was a lot of stuttering on my part about the influence he's had on me, but mostly just a sense of amazement to have "seen this day". The members of my class joined in for a few minutes, and then the rest of the admirers from other years closed around us and I had to slip off before Wally's meltdown turned into a spectacle.
At home I read my letter again and fell asleep dreaming of topology, etymology, microbiology, protozoa, Greek mythology, Alexander Fleming, the Center of Gravity. I woke up feeling sad and disheveled.
I was in my pajamas in the basement when my dad came down the stairs. "Rach? It's Erin Harris on the phone." The home phone. I cannot remember the last time someone called me on that, especially since my parents moved, but mostly because of cell phones. It was this great, lighthearted feeling, jumping up from the bed to talk to Erin. She said that some of the kids from our class were meeting at Scupper Jack's.
With more than one anxious backward glance my parents agreed to watch Wally so Alex and I raced out to North Acton to grab a few beers. It was maybe awkward for a minute or two before the Blue Moons arrived, and then we started laughing really hard about the Pikcilingis/Parker Damon mixup, and then much further back, the plays we had put on, my fainting spells, the field trip to Camp Favorite, the classroom adorned with poems we wrote, giant butterflies we made, a Duodecimal clock, and of course the crushes that seemed to dominate everyone's letters. It felt easy, connected; we could only stay an hour but for once I did not feel longing for the past so much as an appreciation for those fun and funny memories, for a time when we had so much to learn and not enough time, a 23-year-long lesson, one that will go on. The sense that not everything has to be the unbearable weight of nostalgia; some things can be a bearable lightness of being. Crushes and best friends and long-jump contests and giant butterflies hanging from the ceiling. A lightness we had felt as wide-eyed eleven year olds in a magical classroom. One we had given to our future selves like a gift, wrapped up in plastic, dug into the earth.