BUSHY PARK GATHERING: San Diego, October 2003
It's a fact: get a high school reunion notice, and your whole life will flash in front of your eyes. Any discomfiture you feel is in direct proportion to how many years it's been since you walked the hallowed halls. High school reunions conjure up a whole gamut of emotions, from eager anticipation to the certain, albeit irrational, fear that you are going to look like you look now and everyone else is going to look like they looked then. But you go anyway, especially if you were a military brat. Because deep down there is a need to be with your own kind one more time.
Unlike our civilian counterparts, we haven't known each other since the crib. We didn't grow up together, or sit side by side in a classroom for years at a stretch. The fact was, we seldom considered anything, friendships included, in terms of next year, next month, or even next week. We were a gregarious group, as military brats tend to be, but our nomadic lifestyle allowed only the briefest of relationships, however intense they may have been. Once we parted company, the chances were slim and none we'd ever see each other again. Emotionally, long-term friendships were a luxury we couldn't afford. So we simply enjoyed the time we had together, for however long it was to be. And while it was ingrained in us to smile and say hello to a new kid, because we'd all been there, goodbyes weren't that easy. So sometimes we didn't say them at all.
But that didn't stop us from thinking about each other now and then. Whatever happened to the girl down the hall who played that one scratchy record over and over again? Or what happened to the guy who borrowed your favorite shirt and never returned it? What about the teacher you just knew was going to flunk you for the sheer joy of it, but then went the extra mile to help you pass an important exam? And what happened to the roommate to whom you bared your soul, who knew more about you than any other living person, but liked you anyway? Finding people who'd traveled into and out of our life so randomly, so quickly, decades before seemed like an exercise in futility. Names change. People change. Circumstances alter. Situations hinder. Where do you start, when you have nothing to start with? How could we all have been so close, and yet known so little about each other? Nobody was really from anywhere. If you weren't from the same base, you weren't entirely sure if your friends had brothers or sisters, or what rank their dad was, or where they lived before they crossed the pond to our little corner of the world. Where did they all go when they left? What have they been doing all these years?
Eventually, the computer became our lifeline to yesterday. Even when our searches resulted in dead ends and brick walls, we persevered. We kept at it even through long, dry spells when there was no information at all to go on, nothing concrete to encourage our efforts, no positive proof that anyone, anywhere gave a damn one way or the other. Then, out of the blue, a name, or better yet, an email, would surface. Somebody would remember somebody else, who might still have an address, or a phone number of someone who roomed with a friend. Slowly we began to reconnect.
To renew friendships thought to be lost to us forever, uplifts the spirit and satisfies the soul. Certainly, we've all changed in varying degrees. Forty plus years will do that to you. But inside, we're the same bunch of transients who temporarily inhabited the same space, in a small school on the outskirts of London. It's good, and right, and necessary that we are together again. The memories we share define us, and make us unique. And let's face it: Bushy Park, the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as the funny, the sad, and the crazy, was an experience none of us will ever forget.
Thank you for taking the time to touch yesterday again. I hope you leave instilled with a new resolve to help with and continue our efforts to relink the chain of friendship that was forged so many years ago.
Bushy Park Class of 1960
18 October 2003
[At the San Diego "Gathering"]