That translucent alabaster of our memories.
Marcel Proust, La Prisonnière
In May of this year a major milestone anniversary of my high school reunion will take place and I’ve written previously about helping to track down the location of classmates who couldn’t be found. I’ve intended to go but my closest friend from those days will not be attending; I’ve been in touch with several former classmates and neighbors, yet I find myself with less interest in attending. I’ve searched my motivations for going and not going and they basically equal one another. The biggest reason for attending is that no one – including myself – knew me back then and I suspect that I want to surround myself with those people from then, and see what my feelings might be; they are no longer the same people as they were then, so the experiment is certainly flawed, but it is as close as I can get to the “what might have been.” There were things I was incapable of sharing then and part of that was my inability to explain myself, to put into words what I felt; another part was that my family interpreted much of what I said as indicating a failure on their part rather than as a feeling on my part, or they interpreted the words as directed at them instead of coming from me, and so understanding – even if I could have been explicitly clear in my descriptions – would have been missing. My family made my life about them rather than letting it be about me. There were certain assumptions by some family members as to my future; assumptions that, had they known me for who I was, they would not have made. But no one knew me then. So this is the opportunity for me to let a few people know something about the person who was so deeply hidden. It’s also likely to be the only opportunity for me to have questions of mine answered such as “I wonder what became of so-and-so.”
Sometimes, as I walked Greenwich Avenue, the main street in my hometown, I – and no one else – briefly saw reflected in store windows the real me as I peeked in a bookstore window, admired a florist’s display, or window shopped for shoes and dresses. It’s now possible for people to see the real me, but it’s unlikely they can tie this person back to the terrified dormouse of so many years ago.
We lived but 30 to 45 minutes from New York City in the Connecticut suburbs and our life was dominated by the city. There was no news in my hometown; there was the entertainment and sports and political news from New York. Yet my only family memories of the city before entering high school are three: driving through upper Manhattan and the Bronx on our way to and from visits to the New Jersey relatives; visiting my dying father in one of the city’s hospitals; and my first adventure with a camera as I took photos of pigeons on the Sunday that my aunt and uncle took my younger sister and I into the city on an excursion. There were some grade school field trips to museums but I remember nothing of the city. None of those trips were really eye-openers for me, they didn’t change my life.
A trip to The Fantastiks did change my life, however. An English teacher – thank you Ralph Pettie – took a group of us into the city to the off-Broadway show – Jerry Orbach played El Gallo, then – and at that time Off-Broadway meant cutting-edge, offbeat, fluky, funky, and unpredictable. My eyes opened to a new world, to something beyond my neighborhood, beyond nights of staring at the television. It opened my life to Shakespeare, Jonson, Moliere, Beckett, Albee and countless others. It brought words on pages to life, gave them shape, form, voice. Over the years that love, like many loves, waned. I think there is the hope that if I go to that reunion, I might catch a glimpse of my younger self in Greenwich Village looking into a bookstore window. The chances are so slim. After all, in this day and age, how many bookstores remain?