Sunday 28 June 2020

The Zoom Reunion

It has been many years since I graduated from high school. My body has thickened, and my face is melting. However, such is the lot of women who live past forty as was impressed upon me yesterday by the sight of over a dozen old classmates on my computer last night.

It was supposed to be an online cocktail party; I drank a little too much red wine instead.

"Did you talk about the faith?" asked Benedict Ambrose, or words to that effect.

"Goodness gracious, no. We talked about where we all lived now, children, Sr. W's matching red-white-and-blue outfits, D being pregnant the year we graduated, V's arranged marriage and how she is now, how M likes living in Dubai, how at least of two of them were bullies, and which girl had had a baby with another girl, which I don't think is true, actually."

That is a reconstructed statement, to be honest, as I am not sure what I exactly said to B.A., having drunk too much wine. I think what inspired that was one of the women still living in the principal Italian-Canadian neighbourhood asking a woman with an Italian married name what part of Italy her husband was from. Nothing brought back my school days like that. Reminiscing about hairspray and the Dep brand of gel carried only faint shadows of feeling like an outsider.

Hey, paesana! Hey, chica! Come stai, ha? Oh, okay, you know? Hey, Carmela, what part of Italy are you from? Calabria? Yeah? Cosenza?

That said, this may have been the exact same woman who asked me how my husband was doing, which strongly suggested that she or her parents were still reading the Toronto Catholic Register in 2017. That was very kind, and the closest we got to what B.A. was hoping for. He was so indignant that my graduating class, despite having gone to a convent school (so to speak) and taught by nuns, were so uninterested in Catholic topics that I ran away back to my computer to send a message to my prom date, who was and still is a practising Catholic.

I noticed that the women who had been quiet, studious girls, didn't attempt to get a word in edgewise, and that the women who had been great at sports and parties did most of the talking. My own set of outsiders--some of whom had been bullied by the girls some of these women used to be--were not there. I was moved, however, that the former bullies remembered their principal victims and asked after them.

Memories were shaky and information shared--including by me--unreliable. Someone suggested X and Y had had a baby together, but someone else said that Y was married to a man. I said that Q was in Colorado, but today I see that she is in Toronto.

Someone said that 1 in 10 of us must have been gay, but that we didn't even talk about such things back then. I thought privately that possibly 1 in 100 of us was deep-seatedly same-sex attracted and that we certainly did talk about such things back then. For one thing, all my schoolmates were collectively called "The Lezzies of [School]" by outsiders, and for another there were rumours that two girls had been caught kissing in the washroom/behind a shed/in the art room, etc. I myself entered the school with a massive crush on an older girl that was soon replaced by a massive crush on a boy at my brother's school. Adolescence is complicated.

Occasionally a child or photograph of children showed up on the screen and at one point a computer was taken outside where a man was barbecuing. It looked as thought we had mostly turned out the way I always suspected the school meant us to: university-educated or at least married to university-educated men, with at least two children (but not more than four), employed or at least married to employed men, with suburban houses and back yards, and the school cheer still resounding somewhere in the back of our middle-class minds. This was not the life I thought I wanted, and (as you see) this is not the life I have.

I found the reunion profoundly interesting and yet disturbing, and I was thankful afterwards that for once my best practising Catholic female friend, mother of my Canadian god-daughter, picked up the phone. Lily (as I call her online) is one of the few people outside my family to whom that I can sincerely say, "I love you so much, and I think you are fabulously beautiful."

To tell the truth, though, my family is not given to enthusiastic use of the L-word. We fight back tears at our weddings and funerals instead and occasionally harangue each other about losing weight/quitting stressful jobs/not risking dying alone of Covid-19. So thank heavens for my quiet American ex-pat Lily, locked down in a downtown house with a handsome, clever husband and four beautiful, clever children. (The fifth won't emerge fully on the scene until later this year.)

With Lily I can talk about the faith and society and American politics and everything under the sun without a shadow of reticence or fear, and with her children I can be both a gift-giving aunt and a hideous monster that drags them along the floor before gobbling them up.  And so I do not begrudge similar friendships among the old classmates I saw last night: I think its wonderful and hopeful that they last so long.

Lily and I talked until I was sober enough to picture the phone bill, and then I went to bed.

Update: B.A. doesn't think that anyone on last night's call would be thrilled if they read this description, so I apologise in advance. I do think the reunion was a great idea.  Yes, I felt "on the margins" of the conversation, just as I felt awkward around many of the conversations at school. As for the reconstructed "Hey, Carmela" conversation, I understand the factors that led to close knit Italian-Canadian communities, and I don't begrudge the members their membership. At any rate, I will have an interesting conversation about all this with my non-Canadian Italian tutor this evening.

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