One of the last things ever said to me before I went to college came from the mother of Hampy Tucker, one of my best friends at Norfolk Academy. She said, “you’ll make good friends at college, but your lifelong friends will always be from high school.” I seriously love the woman and always will, but she had been wrong about that. At least so far.
My high school was deeply repressive, a bastion of southern breeding that had been chartered in 1680 off the shores of Tidewater, Virginia a hundred years before we were an actual country. I’ve been led to believe that we were among the last of the “ignored generation” to pass through those hallowed halls – I never met with any kind of emotional advisor, and I frequently burst into tears at inopportune moments during my years there. Thank god nobody saw me – we were all so emotionally shut down that any display like that would have freaked everyone out PERMANENTLY. It was no wonder that my first kiss happened in college.
Changes in educational style have come swiftly over the years as the baby boomers had children, but Columbine may have woken most snoozing administrators up to the strong pheremonal stench of their students’ misery. These days at Norfolk Academy the artsy students are not mocked; there’s a line 85 people deep for auditions at the musical. All of which is great for those kids, but I still feel an amazing animosity for the place.
Yes, I know I was blessed, and I know N.A. is the reason I got into any college I wanted, and complaining about prep school in this day and age would have Salinger, if he were dead, turning over in his grave.
Besides, we were never alone. My friends were a tight clique full of weird, surreal, intellectual independents that I still think about every day. But after our graduation in 1985, we saw each other less and less, and by the time 1992 or so rolled around, I hadn’t seen anybody in years. We had a bizarre, deja-vu-ish 10-year-reunion in 1995 where we ended up in a parking lot in Virginia Beach with nothing to do, but most of us soldiered on with our lives with the occasional email from lost souls every three years or so.
I think part of the reason is that we never had our “glory days” at 17 like everyone else. Our clique entertained most of our personal success well after prep school, and some well after college. We look upon the early 80s fondly with one another, but when I see pictures of us, I see cake batter: yellowy globs yet to form into anything coherent. It probably didn’t help that many of my male friends in my grade ended up being gay, which, back then, made me feel “not part of the club” (and furthermore, I had to get over my weird kernels of homophobia once and for all).
My friends were all tremendous people in their own right: Karyn was the brilliant pianist, Sherry the brilliant singer; Lynn turned me on to most of the culture I still adore; Marcie taught me puppy love while Sharon taught me how to flirt; Steve Shapiro had a surreal, brilliant sense of humor that lingers in my writing even now; and Hampy (now “Hamp” thank you very much) was the heart and soul (if not the car keys) of the group.
We all transgressed each other at some point. I insouciantly left my hamster to die in Steve’s care, I annoyingly refused to drive Sherry home after our prom date, and no doubt I took advantage of Hampy’s parents’ kindness on 400 occasions. At various points in the last 18 years, I thought we were just too annoyed with each other (or me) to bother raising the energy to get back together.
But somehow, the most cranky of us all – my darling Lynn – got a bunch of us to meet in New York yesterday, and while such reunions can run the risk of being demoralizing and awful, I ended up having a pretty fucking great day. Lynn was in the city to see the Throwing Muses, Dawson was in town for her sister’s bachelorette party, Karyn lives uptown, and Steve and Hamp trucked in for a surprise. It took about 12 nanoseconds to remember why I like these people so much, and while kingdoms can be built in the times between “we must not let so long pass again,” it was deeply satisfying to see how we turned out.
yesterday, in the East Village
1986, in Norfolk, VA