Who are all those old people? I received a URL in the email. Terrified but unable to resist, I clicked on it. I may never recover.
The link led to photographs that were taken recently. They were enough to wring tears from a rock: Old people, many now white-bearded (including some of the men), many bald-headed; more than a fair number portly some sporting well over their original allocation of chins.
A frighteningly large percentage wore Hawaiian shirts. Polyester was in sufficient supply to present a fire hazard. It was a sad and troubling scene, the kind of thing I would have pointed to and laughed at with unbounded delight, oh, say, 40 years ago.
But I didn’t point and laugh. For these elderly specimens were gathered together in reunion of their high school graduating class.
Which happened also to be my high school class.
My first thought, of course, was one of pity, followed by one of smugness. Who, after all, would have guessed that out of the multitude in my senior class, I would be the one who got no older? I know this to be true — I check in the mirror each day.
I was glad I had not attended. No, it is not sour grapes — I’m sure they tried to find me so as to invite me to the festivities. No doubt one day a year or two from now a very worn and wrinkled invitation will arrive, the multiple forwarding addresses providing a travelogue of my residences since I left school for college and the life of an itinerant disc jockey and rapscallion (a variety of onion which performs hip hop) halfway through my senior year. Instead, it would have been embarrassing, what with everyone able to recognize me and me able to identify a handful of those grizzled personages.
I exaggerate, I confess it: I would not have been able to identify an entire handful.
My anguish at the misfortune of my erstwhile classmates was altered only by a slight realization: the women who were still cute were ones I long ago figured would remain cute forever. Strangely, I remember the last time I saw each of them, the place and the circumstances. But I did not luxuriate in my appraisal skills for long: there were other girls I thought would always be pretty, about whom I had been woefully wrong. Indiana Jones famously said, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” Sometimes it’s both.
Still, the women got the better of it. There was not a man that I recognized. Not one. Oh, sure, I remembered the names, and what they looked like way back when. But none of these persons resembled their high school selves beyond being mammalian bipeds then and now. (Well, most of them. A few may have been reptiles.)
There was an adjoining page with yearbook pictures; I took many pictures for the yearbook but, thankfully, appear in none. My classmates and their current whereabouts, if known, were listed. An overly large number of them, including some I knew as friends, are now dead. One was puzzlingly listed as alive and “somewhere in Afghanistan,” which could have many meanings.
Fortunately, I had some warning that people I remembered as young and vigorous and attractive might no longer be so. One of my classmates is a United States senator, and she is on television from time to time. I attributed the change in her appearance to her having embraced the dark side and gone to law school and then politics. Now it seems that those things only account for most of it.
It all makes me wish there were a grown-up version of the doorway in homes, back when people grew up in just one house instead of moving around, where as kids we’d have to stand still as a line was drawn showing how tall we were this year. Maybe a series of mugshots, or we be allowed to keep and required to carry all our old driver licenses. Just something to illustrate to those who missed it how we got from who we were to who we are. It would be nice to preserve that continuum someplace.
Because it really has been a lifetime since any of those people was who I remember them as being. There have been weddings and children born and children’s weddings and grandchildren born; dreams achieved and dreams lost.
We used all of us to wonder how our lives would turn out. Some had definite plans (and some appear to have followed the paths they had decided upon, though I remember no mention of Afghanistan). Some had plans but strayed from them. Some had no plans at all.
I still wonder, and still from the point of view of decades ago, how their lives turned out. They don’t wonder anymore; they know. That’s something.
But I like my way better. They got old, poor things.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.