You Never Forget Your High School Love

You Never Forget Your High School Love

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

“Love each other dearly always. There is scarcely anything else in the world but that: to love one another.” —Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Well, thanks Victor. That sounds easy, but it often feels like we never remember to do it until something horrifying reminds us to do just that.

In the aftermath of the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina, the tiny shred of comfort any of us can grab hold of is the love and support that Charleston and our nation have shown to each other as we struggle with our sadness, disbelief, and outrage.

But if you’re fortunate, once in a while—every once in a while—it doesn’t take a tragedy to remind you about the love. I count myself among the blessed because last week, in the midst of a park, a picnic, and people who will always be dear to me, I did remember Hugo’s suggestion. The occasion was our annual class picnic, a casual afternoon of food and friendship.

It’s difficult—very nearly impossible—to believe we are almost 40 years beyond our high school graduation day. Our friendships, formed so many, many years ago, still felt fresh. Forty years ago, we had nothing but time in front of us, decades to be filled with dreams coming true, discovering just who we would become. On Saturday afternoon, we caught up on husbands and wives or who had just been remarried; whose children or stepchildren were getting married (or divorced); and who had grandchildren they adored. We laughed at some old stories. We opened up about our lives, about our personal losses and professional challenges. We soothed aching hearts.

Quite simply, we restored our souls. In the aftermath of our national tragedy, I felt renewed.

The unchangeable fact is that we will always have our history as classmates. We can live six blocks or 6,000 miles from our childhood homes, but we’ll always belong to a little community that existed for one particular pocket of time and then dispersed. The friendships of our youth may grow hazy, but they never quite leave our consciousness. They are part of us—part of who it is we turned out to be. It’s impossible to know who we would have become without the people who were beside us, every day in our classes, in our clubs and activities, on our teams, or on our buses, some of whom we’ve known almost our entire lives. Yes, decades have passed and we’ve long since grown up, but we remember the feeling of being on the brink of adulthood, and “really beginning” to live.

And not one of us could have predicted what that would mean.

In the intervening years, some of us have become wealthy or fulfilled by a career. Some of us have endured the pain of a marriage that ended or taken long, lonely walks down Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” as we faced challenging or tragic situations of all kinds. We’ve lost spouses, parents, siblings, and children. We’ve lost each other—classmates who left us far too soon.

I listened and nodded in understanding. I shared my own updates. But what I really wanted to say was something like this: Do you remember us? And who we were when we were 17? Do you remember what we thought was so life altering and so important back then? Because I don’t. We’re different now, right? Or are we? Maybe we’re still almost exactly who we were then in the hundreds of small ways that matter, in spite of the 21st-century world and the ways it exhibits hatred and intolerance, ways that were unimagined in the world of our youth.

I know that’s true because, despite all the differences we claim exist between our 17-year-old and 56- or 57-year-old selves and all the wounds we carry, visible and invisible, as adults we’ve left our judgment, egos, and general anxiety about “fitting in” behind and replaced all of that debris with a smile, an empathetic word, a knowing hug of support—a flash of love.

I looked around at the faces, including some I hadn’t seen in almost 40 years, and thought, We’re here, and that’s a good thing. No guarantees about tomorrow—sadly, we know that all too well—but we’re all better people for having known each other. In some way, measurable or not, we are. I believe that, maybe more than I could have ever imagined in 1976.

As people departed, we hugged each other good-bye. They were hugs of love and gratitude—for the day, for 40 years, for everything we were to each other then and everything we are to each other now. We have a bond, not a chain. The strong, silky thread that connects us is flexible, comfortable, and unbreakable. We went back to our lives, our homes, and the chores, bills, and to-do lists that never end.

“So much to do tomorrow,” I thought, as I drove away. And yet, there was scarcely anything else in the world.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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2 Responses to You Never Forget Your High School Love

  1. Donna in Delaware June 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    I hear you, and feel it also. I was a child of bussing. I was happy to have not gone to a school with children of one race. Most of us got along quite well and there was very little discontent between the races. I sometimes dig out the ol’ yearbook, and while perusing, smile and grimace at the same time (is that even possible?). I smile at the guys and girls from the neighborhood that ended up in some of my classes, how mischievous they were (notice I did not include myself), the same pre-teens and teens that I had dinner with at their house, played with, camped out in the backyard with, now ready to graduate with and begin our own lives. We may never see each other again, and that happened too! As you say, some died way too soon, but living in our memories like the day we met.

    Loves, I did not have a high school love, in the girl-meet-boy sense, but I had other ‘loves’ in high school. Teachers, friends old and new. It was a wonderful and scary time. Life was changing for us all, the future uncertain, exciting, daunting and challenging. How will it all go? What can we expect, who will we marry or not, and will we have successful careers? Will we even be happy? All things a mystery and unanswerable, but no matter, we were full of hope.

    Most of us cared for each other. After graduation we all went our separate ways, as expected. Some still kept in-touch, others never heard from again. Class was a big help. I heard from relatives that I was asked about by former neighborhood friends, acquaintances and school chums! That was a surprise, and comforting in a weird sort of way. Who wants to be forgotten, right?

    I missed my 40th class reunion. I hope to make the next in good health and ready to see those people I like and love, and to lovingly remember those who left here all too soon. I miss those days. They are comforting to remember because they were gay and free, fun and adventurous, bonds were formed that haven’t been broken, and we still keep in touch, albeit sporadically. Hopefully that will continue until we are no longer, and our children and grandchildren will carry on for us. Sometimes it is needed, this connection to our past. Times are a-changing. Let’s hope our children will have memories of this nature of their own.

  2. renee June 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Thanks for your note and sharing your memories, Donna. I hope you get to your next reunion, too!

    I do feel very blessed to be part of group of people that offers support and shares so much love for each other. And like you, I hope generations from now, people still make and maintain these connections – in the real world, not just digitally – and feel the warmth and kindness that exist only person-to-person.

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