Sunday, July 31, 2005

Letter from California.

I'm back from a trip that lasted, basically, 32 hours. It was my high school reunion, thirty years.

LAX is a horrible airport. It has all the detractions of LA and none of the city's virtues, which is to say, all heat, all smog, all sprawl, whereas no beach, no cooling morning and evening fog, no surf and no nostalgia. In the petri dish of the Hertz Rental Car lobby (note to self: is it worth it to become a Gold Member?), anger was a-brewin'--there was a long line, about forty-five minutes' worth. When we got to our our agent, however, he was nothing if not helpful, charming, and efficient, including an upgrade when the keys to our economy car were not immediately forthcoming. Hello, Taurus!

However, I was triumphant in navigating from the airport to Redondo Beach. The directions I printed out from the handy Hertz interactive computer said I needed to get on two different freeways, but really, it's just Sepulveda Blvd., which turns into Pacific Coast Hwy., which turns into all the streets that lead to the ocean.

The reunion hotel was just across a skinny little street from our hotel, so we had that going for us, which was good. The 20 year reunion was at the very same place, which is odd, I think, since I didn't go to high school in Redondo Beach. We did have proximity going for us--I went to Rolling Hills High School (we are the Titans, the mighty mighty Titans), on Palos Verdes Peninsula, the hill to the south of Redondo Beach.

As predictable, there were a lot of the usual suspects peopling the reunion--former athletes, homecoming royalty . . .--but that wasn't the whole story. A couple of women (hi there to Debra Millar and Kathy Lewinson! --not their married names, sorry--) had the kindness to say hello to me, and we made one another's acquaintance essentially for the first time, it felt like. We ended up sharing a table for our sorrowfully not wonderful dinner (note to self: the vegetarian meal is almost always abhorrent, but then so was the chicken, according to my table mates). We all agreed at the conclusion of the event that meeting one another again was a real highlight for all of us. Also, Eddie Skinner, with whom I sang in the Madrigals, was there, this time with his lovely wife Linda, bearing pictures of a charming young son. Todd Bishop also sat at our table, he of a great, infectious laugh, on his way with his partner Troy across the country in an RV with four dogs. Finally, I did have the great satisfaction of seeing James Hitt, high school crush (one of the people I hoped to see at the last reunion, though I was denied), and having a very interesting conversation. Basically, I realized that in some ways I'm still exactly the person I was in high school--a little intense, and with a little more knowledge about some stuff.

Which leads me, then, to today, which we spent driving around Palos Verdes. I moved there right before 9th grade, from Tucson, where I'd gone to half of 6th grade and both years of junior high. I was utterly clueless about a SoCal high school. For the first day, I actually had a school dress, as in a dress you buy for the first day of school. It had a sailor collar. I had knee socks. Basically, I was dressed like Sandra Dee for my first day at Sodom and Gomorrah High. I'm pretty sure I'm not over the shock of that, lo these many years hence.

Last year, I traveled with my best friend--our Reunion Tour--to the area. I realized that, not having grown up there, I lacked the kind of memories and connections to that place that she had. She told me that she and her brother had visited the Malaga Cove Library, and they could still go straight to the books they rememebered checking out as children. That library, for me, would exist on an Air Force Base in Japan--if it's even still there.

What this means, really, is that the location of all my rawest memories--the ones of when you felt like you would break open with feeling and longing and urge, the ones that form your sense of who you are in the world--is a place that feels profoundly strange to me. My husband and I drove around Palos Verdes today, and although it's crowded with affluent people, there's still a wildness to the landscape that still calls to me. But a road I thought certainly led to a house my parents once lived in dead-ended. There were gated neighborhoods I know I've never seen. Lunada Bay Elementary School--who do I know that went there?--had some sort of bells that pealed at noon over the empty schoolyard.

I wish I knew this place better. I realized that I want to know its history, so we bought a book with a sort of florid style that starts with Don somebody in the 1700s, then moves directly to the Sepulveda family. It doesn't, however, tell me what I want to know: where did the field go where Brent Robinson kissed me? How about that beautiful ravine--where is that? And the high school my best friend attended--where is that now?

Cheers to this beautiful and alien place from my past, for which I long and to which I do not, and will never, belong.

3 comments:

Counterintuitive said...

and you said I was brave. Going to a HS reunion seems very brave indeed, something I doubt I will ever have the requisite courage (don't know if that's exactly the right word) for. I haven't gone to any yet; my 20th is in 2007.

Sleepy E said...

You should have called me up. I could have crashed the reunion and posed as any number of people in your life (or anyone's life). Anything for good blog material.

Lisa B. said...

Sure, now you offer.

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