Thursday, February 25, 2010

High School Reunions, or, Things Thought Up By The Antichrist

(I am smiling because I couldn't be more happy to be leaving high school behind me.)

It has been 25 years since I was forced to spend six hours a day inside a concrete-walled, four stories-plus-basement fortress with classroom windows that didn't open at Ninth and Broom streets in Wilmington, Delaware, called Padua Academy -- an all-girls Catholic school.

I called it hell. (I mean no disrespect to the school. It is a fine establishment, and I remember my teachers fondly. My classmates, however, were the spawn of Satan. Anyone who thinks an all-girl environment is nurturing either has a penis or plays softball -- very well. And one or two might wear a nun's habit.)

Seriously -- it was climbing those endless marble steps from the basement to the fourth floor for first period that I formed my idea of purgatory: Carrying 8 pounds of textbooks from one place I didn't want to be, with girls I didn't want to be with, to another place I didn't want to be, and arriving out of breath. To learn French. Knowing I'd have to do it all again tomorrow. It doesn't take much imagination. Il ne prend pas beaucoup d'imagination.

Girls are not kind. They are sharks (though I hesitate to sully that animal's reputation with the comparison. Sharks seek prey that is bleeding; high school girls seek prey they can make bleed).

Fast forward on that little cassette player of life and we come to January's alumnae newsletter, which I flip open to the class notes. And there it is: a classmate I barely recall is organizing a reunion.

Given the antipathy already expressed, why, you might ask, would that item merit even a second thought?

It's like this, cat.

High school is that old lover who f%$#*d you over, but who you have never been able to forget all these years. He knew you back before you even knew yourself. Heck, it was his hazing that helped you become the strong woman you are today. Surely, he's matured with age and life experience -- he can't possibly be as cruel as he was then? And man, when he sees who you are now -- well, that'll show him! I mean come on, you know you want to see him. I bet he's lost his hair! He might have gotten fat! And I'm sure he's unhappy. And then you can close the book on the whole thing and get back to your wonderful life with an empathetic sigh that you don't know how you couldn't have seen it, but he wasn't all that. You would've kicked him out of bed for eating crackers.


Anyway, I called upon everyone's favorite stalking tool, Facebook, to see what I was up against.

My first thought? Damn, these women look old. And how did my best friend from high school (who I no longer talk to) have four kids?

There's my homeroom homie D., who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning one weekend -- apparently she's got a kid now. There's S., who tried to OD junior year -- on aspirin. And there's K., who got pregnant senior year (weren't you kicked out for that?). There you are, J., whose speech I wrote. A., you were a softball star. And now you're married?

I can't decide: Will this reunion rekindle an old, dysfunctional relationship? Or will it constitute healthy closure for four years of my life that still leave a bad taste in my mouth?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Much Ado About Sue

My industrious friend Shaken Mama has been cleaning out her video/photo files, and I have been the recipient of a few gems. You see, we diligently document each others' lives, in order to be ready to spring THE MOST EMBARRASSING OBITUARY OF ALL TIME. (Wait til you see the photo of "Lamb chop" and "Pinhead" in Las Vegas!)

You might think that's macabre, but it's actually our way of egging each other on to live looooooong lives. Because, frankly, the world would suck with either of us gone. Just sayin'.

Most notably, she unearthed three video clips documenting the night of the Great Bathroom Caper, in which I got locked in Vicky & John's bathroom at their wedding party.

Now, Vicky maintains that she'd never had a problem with that lock. But mysteriously enough, she and John have now redone the entire bathroom. Coincidence? I think lock. I mean, not.

And so without further ado, I urge you -- if you are so inclined to proceed on this track -- to familiarize yourself with the Caper and then check out these video links of what was going on outside my prison.

1: General speculation and problem solving.

2: John picks at the lock.

3: (Another) John jokes about a bomb.

Suffice to say that my rescue hailed not from this side, but from the outside:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

My Life, in Cat Years

In July of 1991, about a year after my mother died and I was still getting my adult sea legs at age 23, on a whim one day I found myself at the Delaware SPCA.

I was in search of a black cat, preferably a female who, I hoped, would exhibit the same charming disposition of the calico I loved growing up. (She was named C'mon, pronounced "Simone," after my sister's misreading of the slang phrase in books when she was a kid. To this day, we will say such things as, "Simone! Let's go!" You can imagine the havoc wrought by railroad "X-ings.")

A shelter worker quickly disabused me of the pairing of my desires, reminding me of what I had learned in a college biology class, that color genes are sex-linked, so solid-colored cats tend to be male -- just as calico cats are female.

She showed me to a row of cages. One of them held a tabby kitten; the other, a black one. She let out the tabby and I held her. She squirmed out of my hold, wanting nothing to do with me. Then the woman placed the 4-month-old black kitten in my arms. He curled up against me and began purring. And the love affair began.

In honor of his color I named him Vesper, "of the evening star," also reminiscent of "vespers," Catholics' evening prayers.

He was incredibly annoying.

At night, if I let him have the run of my small apartment in Wilmington, Del., he would dig up the African violets on the coffee table in the living room.

If I kept him in my bedroom at night, he would jump on each piece of furniture and meow, trying to get out.

If I shut him out of my bedroom, he would spend the night meowing and scratching, trying to get in (when he wasn't tearing up the Afrian violets on the coffee table).

But he settled in with me, and I with him, and it came to pass that for the next 18 years, in whatever joyful, devastating, harebrained, ill-advised, wonderful, romantic, miraculous life scenarios I found myself in, somewhere in the frame was a wispy black shadow regarding the antics with gold eyes that held unconditional affection and forgiveness behind a seemingly detached stare.

From Wilmington, Vesper moved with me to Yorklyn, Del., where I shared a house with my college roommate Vicky, her two cats, Theo and Sophie, and Barney, an ornery stray tabby already living there who I would end up adopting.

From there -- now with Barney in tow -- we humped it over to nearby Hockessin, down to Wilmington, N.C., up to Boston, down to a summer in Riverton, N.J., and finally, about 14 years ago, all the way across the U.S.A. to San Francisco.

Vesper was there when I met the man who would become my husband. He was there when that man said goodbye. He was there when I lost my father, and when we lost Barney. He was there in my life for the birth of my best friend Shaken Mama's three girls, who decorated him with ribbons and jewels (above), just days before I had to put him to sleep.

Vesper was dying of congestive heart failure. On Aug. 20, with Vicky by my side and my sister on speaker phone, the vet eased Vesper into the Long Nap as he lay on his favorite afghan, in his favorite spot by the window.

It was the end of an era, a slicing of the umbilical cord that connected me to my 23-year-old self and all the "me's" in between.

And so it was that a chapter of my life closed, and I was on to the second half of my "book." But I will continue to use the memory of a gold-eyed wisp of black as my bookmark, forever marking my place.