It’s been wintery (such as it ever is here on the California Coast) for months, and suddenly today it’s summer. So after much impassioned pleading, I inflated the blow-up pool. Much fun for the under-four-foot-high crowd, but part of the pleasure seems to be fighting with your brother or sister. So I just did the classic Dad shout about “if you don’t have anything nice to say.” Mine is, “If you can’t use your words nicely you’re both out of there!” Sigh.

So yesterday was fun and weird. Lots of people I sort-of-recognized, kind of an altered universe of past-into-now. All my high school friends are old! How did that happen? It was cool to meet them again and discover a bunch of pretty nice people. Some married, some divorced, some wishing they were one or the other. Lots with kids, some without, some wishing they were one or the other…

I started at Head Royce in 4th grade, so several people there I’d known since I was 9 years old. Wow. It’s funny what I remember of them, and what they remember of me. Lots of people asked about our old house above the Cal football stadium — we used to hang out on the roof watching games. One guy, Mike, has been telling his kids about it when they go to games now. He said his kids think I was the luckiest kid in the world ‘cause I got to watch all the practices and games. But I’d kind of forgotten about it. It’s like there these jewels getting dusty in a drawer.

There were some surprises. There was a kid called Jon, my last real memory of him was a fight we had in 5th grade when he bit me through my Tough-Skin jeans. Now he’s this gracious, handsome tall guy, who was great! I remembered “Karpo” as a sort of strange kid who threw his backpack through the window in Ms. Harris’ 7th grade history class. Some friends reminded me that was the day I punched Karpo in the stomach and he lay on the floor the rest of the class — Ms. Harris just ignored him there. Now he’s an incredibly tall attorney. I hope he’s forgiven me.

Geez, it sounds like I was fighting all the time. I don’t really remember that part of myself. Makes me wonder if my whole perception of myself is really different than my behavior. Maybe that’s part of what’s scary about the whole reunion thing — you might end up learning something about yourself you wanted to forget.

JB and David and I were pretty much best friends from 7th grade. They were both there and I was truly glad to connect, even if it was just for two hours.

All through 8th grade we called David “Generalisimo” and he wore a Castro-esque cap and we pretended to be intellectual. I figured we’d be friends forever, but I haven’t talked to JB for 18 years and David for 20. How did that happen? I think it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life — not just JB and David, but so many people who were so important to me for a time, then I moved onto a new place and new passions and lost touch. I know the phone rings on both ends and everything, but I’m wondering what it is about me.

I guess a big part is that Patty and I fell madly in love so young. We met when I was 20, we started dating 2 years later, and were married just after I turned 25. We did so much together — between theater and traveling and learning to be teachers. Teaching is a pretty obsessive job no matter what, but we were (are) really work-a-holics. It’s like between each other and work there wasn’t much room in our lives. Somehow we’ve made room for the kids, and kids’ friends, and the neighborhood… so maybe there really was room but I just didn’t pay attention.

One piece of good news — people really do change. For example, we all knew JB was going to end up in law school, which he did. Then after he started practice, he got interested in teaching. Now he’s a high school history and government teacher in the inner city. Meanwhile his kid brother who didn’t quite make it through school ended up practicing law. I guess people really do change.

The strangest part was at the beginning of the party feeling like I was back in high school — on the outside looking in. There were lots of people who seemed to be having a great time, and I was sort of standing there wondering how to step into the circle. Instead I floated around the outside, and made myself approach these quasi-strangers. The difference is now I know that my sense of worth and identity come from within, and I don’t really need other people’s attention to feel ok. But still, all these years later, I long for it.

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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