Act One: How Did HE Know?
While at my 20-year high school reunion I began talking to a guy who had been a rather casual acquaintance…another “S” (at our school, we had to sit in alphabetical order most of the time, and he and I had taken a lot of the same classes). When he asked the fairly standard question, “What do you do?” I began to reply that I was an artist. With this his face shifted into a grand expression of puzzlement, like I was saying something incredibly redundant. He interrupted me saying, “Of course you’re an artist, you were ALWAYS an artist!” Huge question marks, then exclamation points flashed across my mind as he spoke those few words.
How did HE know I was an artist? I didn’t even really know the guy. In that moment a basic myth I had conjured about myself was exposed, then shattered. The thing about myths is that they’re so subtly woven; be it personal or societal, they are mostly unseen, unknown. With my intense reaction to his statement, I realized that I must have thought I was invisible during high school and that no one knew I existed, let alone knew that I was an artist. Then I saw how I must have needed to be in high school; as an ostrich with her head in the sand, feeling so safe and secure where no one could see me; then I laughed out loud.
An entirely different reality appeared, different from the one I remembered, or thought I remembered; so completely different, that I had an odd sensation inside my body like I might fall over. Much of what I had based my identity on had instantly been erased and replaced with an entirely new image so three-dimensional in form, that it carried physical weight: I actually felt off balance.
Act Two: You Knew That Didn’t You?
A month before my 40th high school reunion I received an email from someone that I grew up with, and what a wonderful surprise that was. He lived four houses down the street from me, and we went through elementary, junior high and high school together. He’d just heard a radio interview and when he heard the name, he was pretty sure it was me he’d heard…the Lauren Silver that he’d grown up with on Beeman Avenue. He contacted the show and they passed his letter on to me. We probably hadn’t seen each other for at least 25 years, maybe more – it was so good to hear from him.
He wrote to say that he was thinking about going to the reunion…wondered was I going? We both lived out of state, so it wasn’t a casual decision for either of us. The possibility that he might show up was the third fluttering of synchronistic events that were piling up to get me to go to this crazy reunion (first, I signed up to go to a writing workshop about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, second my Aunt’s 90th birthday party was earlier on the same day as the reunion and just miles away from it, and third…there was a chance that my childhood friend might be there). I gave in, and replied to him that yes………………I was going to go.
Arriving at the reunion I wondered frantically why I had come. Our reunions have always been at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, right around the “corner” from most of the entertainment studios in southern California. The whole scene is completely antithetical to the way I live. A small cabin bordered by some woods, just above the edge of the Puget Sound in Washington State; that’s my style.
He did show up, and the instant I saw him, I was wrapped in some deep, old comfort, a familiarity, and somehow a safety, too. He felt like home, like family. We grew up on a long block that itself was an old-fashioned neighborhood, right in the midst of the craziness of television, recording and movie studios and all the rest that comes in the baggage of “Los Angeles”.
Every once and a while during the reunion we ran into each other amidst the crowd. (Our graduating class was originally 1100 students and even though many did not attend, it was still a lot of people to sort through.) Each time we spotted each other, we’d share a few more memories from Beeman Avenue.
During one round, he reminisced about how he and another neighbor boy used to fight every summer, over who was going to marry me. My face must have reflected quite a confusion or shock because he added, “You knew that, didn’t you? We fought…physically…every summer.” What? No. I didn’t know that. Again, this was such a re-ordering of who I thought I was. They FOUGHT over who was going to marry me? As I re-wrote my childhood in my mind, adding this new information, I had another eerie feeling that every cell in my body was being rearranged.
Act Three: You’re Pretty
Our sweet little grocery store bears a sign over the doorway announcing Indianola Country Store, affectionately known to all of us locals as simply, The Store. We’re a town of maybe 3000 year-round residents and our “downtown” consists of just three small buildings that aren’t homes: The Post Office, The Clubhouse, and, The Store…that’s it.
I walked into The Store one late afternoon and immediately heard a soft, almost whispered, little girl’s voice say, “You’re pretty.” I looked toward where I heard that tiny voice, thinking maybe I imagined it. These days that’s not a common thing to hear. It came from out-of-the-blue, from a stranger, and most especially, it came from a child. As I saw her, as she saw me discover her, as I asked her what she said, she headed toward her mother. She ducked in the way that shy children do, or children who wished they had been shy and not said a word, which was more her case. “What did you say?” I gently asked, still shocked at what I might have heard. At first she did her best to disappear and pretend that no words were spoken. Then she told me that she was not supposed to speak to strangers. Her mother piped up that “they” were learning that “it’s not a good idea to speak to people you don’t know”. Then this sweet angel repeated her words. “I said…you’re pretty.”
Wow. “Out of the mouths of babes” and here comes an almost silent yet enormous and deliciously precious gift, all wrapped up. I do hope I will keep this one tucked away in the pocket of my heart for the rest of my days. So sweet. So sweet. However many days or years I have left, that quiet angelic pronouncement will carry me through all of them, if only I remember to peak into that pocket when I’m needing the reminder.