Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reunion Ready

“I’m not going and you can’t make me.”

“Come on. You have to go. It’ll be fun.”

“It won’t be fun. I will be uncomfortable the whole time. You know I’m going to revert to my shy self, stand in the corner all night long and no one will talk to me. None of those people will even remember me. Most of them didn’t even know me back then and I’m sure they have nothing to say to me now. Besides… I’m too fat.”

“You are not fat.”

“I am fat. I’m certainly not hot. I wish I could go back totally hot.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I am not being ridiculous……..by the way, how long does it take to get an MBA?”

I am going to my high school reunion this week. My high school experience was perfectly enjoyable and relatively free of traumatic experiences. Yet, despite the positive memories, I find myself dealing with a few disconcerting reunion related issues.

I received the reunion notice months ago. I was sure it was just the impetus I needed to lose those last 5 or even 10 pounds. I now find myself 4 days before the reunion having gained another 5 pounds instead of having lost the 5 I had hoped to! Stupid Taco Bell Value Menu. Not wanting to spend too much money, I decided to wear an old, favorite dress from the back of my closet to the reunion. I was most frustrated and disappointed when my family pointed out that it was the exact same dress I had worn to the previous reunion. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that, are you? I bet no one would even notice. The dress and shoes I did eventually end up buying, both from the clearance rack, together cost the same amount as the “Sensational Shaper” girdle I bought to wear underneath. As long as I don’t have to eat or breathe, I think the outfit will work out well.

I tried filling out the questionnaire for the reunion booklet and froze. The only thing I could think of writing was, “Things are fine. I’m pretty happy.” I left many questions blank. I even began to wonder what the heck I was going to talk about when I got to the reunion. The way I was going, I could see myself bragging at the banquet about how I was thrilled to have gotten all my laundry done that day. Reunions have their own special language and unspoken expectations. I was failing miserably at the proper reunion marketing of myself. It helps to have something about your life that makes you stand out, makes you memorable. I haven’t lived in Italy or had 12 kids or started my own internet company. I’m not an actor, I haven’t been in jail and I’ve never been bungee jumping in the Grand Canyon. My average, suburban life was not nearly unusual enough or exciting enough or successful enough to make a proper, positive reunion impression on any of my former classmates.

Not only did I have expectations and hopes of how I would look at my reunion, but I also had a desire to have something in my life that made me special. I wanted something to make me stand out. At a minimum I wanted a size 6 dress, flat abs and a fabulous answer to the question, “So, what have you been up to?” It was obvious to me that I needed to do a little last minute work to become reunion ready. So I made a list of what I need to accomplish in the next 4 days before my reunion.

Reunion To Do List
1. Pluck out the 43 gray hairs on the front of my hairline. 2. Cover up my farmer’s tan with self tanner. 3. Sign up for an online, extremely accelerated MBA program. 4. Purchase alumnus car sticker from said school. 5. Rent a Prius…or maybe a Hummer. I do need to decide what impression I want to make. 6. Fast all week. 7. Get on the board of a charity. 8. Overcome an unfortunate health obstacle with the support of my loving and beautiful family. 9. Travel to Tibet to discover some resemblance of inner peace. 10. Meet someone famous. 11. Figure out how to casually mention this famous meeting in any conversation. 12. Become fluent in a second language. 13. Backpack somewhere for a year. 14. Run a marathon. 15. Buy a big bottle of the anti-wrinkle/anti-zit miracle potion I saw on that infomercial.

As I thought about my list I came to realize how superficial and unrealistic it was. It wasn’t me. But was it even a possibility that I could attend my reunion as………just plain me? Just average, normal, boring me? Faults and all? A little chubby, a little less successful than I rightfully should be? A little less wealthy than I want to be? Nobody would be impressed. Nobody would talk about me later. I wouldn’t be reunion famous.

And then it hit me. That’s exactly what I hope to find when I get there. I want my fellow classmates to come as exactly who they are-faults and all. It really doesn’t matter much to me if they are rich or fat or bald or famous. I’m more interested in what kind of people they turned out to be. I’m interested in their life story-the good and the bad. We’ve all had successes and high points. We’ve all had struggles and hardship. We’re guaranteed to have that in common. I’ll be going to the reunion to hear about the things in life that make my classmates happy and content. I’ll be going to the reunion to commiserate about the things that have made them sad and disappointed. Our life’s journey started at the same place many years ago. I want to hear what happened next.

So to all my fellow reunion-ites: we spent four years together at the same high school, in the same town. We cruised the same street. We spent time at the same river. We liked and disliked the same teachers. We cheered the same sports team. We worked in the same fields during the summer. We wore the same green and white. I look forward to seeing you, faults and all, and look forward to hearing where our common experiences have taken you since. Please come up and say hi to me, in case I revert to my old shy self. You will be able to find me at the head of the buffet line. I’ll be quite hungry since I’ve been fasting all week.

In Memory
Mira the cat
August 1990- July 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

Terror on a Mini Spare

I can feel my heart pounding inside my chest. My sweaty hands grip the map tightly causing it to wrinkle. I look out the front windshield of the car to see the rutted, one lane dirt and gravel road curve steeply up the hill to the left. I could reach my hand out of my passenger window and touch the massive rock scree spilling down the treeless hillside. If I weren’t paralyzed with fear, that is. The nearly vertical hillside is covered in thousands of tons of sharp, craggy and charcoal colored fallen rock. On the left side of the car, the cliff drops off sharply continuing the flow of fallen, broken rock. I’ve been told the view from that spot was incredible. My attention however, was focused on the seemingly out of control SUV barreling down the hill toward us leaving behind it an overwhelming explosion of dust. For the first time in my life I am truly terrified. I am wide eyed and speechless as I bend over and lower my head to my legs, close my eyes and cover myself with the map to await my impending doom.

I’m not always this much of a chicken. I have even been known to seek out adventure a few times in my life. And perhaps this drive on this forest service road, in the middle of nowhere, would have been a bit more enjoyable—had it not been for the mini spare.

Our day began with a 2 hour drive into the mountains. We first visited an abandoned gold mining town that much to our surprise, was now quite populated. Our next plan was to head 30 miles back to town and then take a 2 mile gravel road up to a spectacular viewpoint with a 360 degree view of hundreds of miles of mountains and valleys. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we headed out of the gold mining town and our chances of seeing this amazing sight at the spectacular viewpoint were promising. It was then the husband saw the sign. “This way to spectacular viewpoint! Only 16 miles!” The husband turns to me. “Look honey! It’s a shortcut!” The husband looked at the map and determined that this “well maintained” dirt and gravel forest service road was perfectly acceptable for a front wheel drive, family car such as ours.

For the first couple of miles it was gorgeous. We rolled down the windows and breathed in the cool mountain air. I could feel the stresses of every day life melting away with every fir and pine tree that we passed. The wildflowers were stunning. The orange, yellow and blue butterflies were the size of a small hand. I was so relaxed that I didn’t even mind when the children began their backseat commentary of our drive. We all chuckled when the almost a teenager would yell out, “blind curve!!” at each blind curve that we approached. We laughed at the most unlikely possibility of oncoming traffic in such a remote area. Each time the boy yelled out, “big rock!!” we all debated whether that rock was bigger than the last. We even managed to find it amusing when we would hear shouted from the back seat, “death drop!!” each time we came to a somewhat precarious section of the road which was bordered by a drop off or cliff. We did have to go somewhat slow on the forest service road but it was certainly passable and the trip was enjoyable.

And then it all changed. The road started to deteriorate significantly in spots. Just when I would begin to demand that we turn around, it would clear up and become quite passable again. 9 miles into our 16 mile shortcut something did not feel right. “Honey, what is that noise?” I asked. The boy in the back seat put in his two cents worth as well, “Yeah dad. And why does the forest smell like rubber?”

Our tire was utterly, completely flat. We had picked up a nail, probably back on the paved road. We had been driving on it for miles. We were going so slow that the leak wasn’t noticeable until we were driving on the rim. Fortunately the husband has changed plenty of tires and was quite competent in this area. When he was done, the family gathered around the dust covered car with three normal sized tires and one tire the size of a large donut. We looked at the map and realized we could continue on the same road of unknown, but increasingly irregular conditions for another 7 miles to the spectacular viewpoint and then travel the 2 more miles into town. Or, we could backtrack the 9 miles we had already travelled and then drive 30 more miles into town and not see the spectacular viewpoint at all.

We mistakenly chose the “quick” way into town. The last 7 miles of the forest service road were more challenging than anything we had encountered so far. The ruts were deep. The washboard was jarring. The July snow was unexpected. The speedometer rarely got over 5 miles an hour. Even the husband later admitted that he would have never taken the road any further if he had known just how bad it would get. The kids and I passed the time by calculating that at our current pace it would only take 9 hours to make it to town. I prayed the mini spare wouldn’t get swallowed by a deep rut. I prayed the mini spare would hold up on such rugged terrain. Needless to say, I was a bit on edge. I was nervous. I was jumpy. My body was continuously tensed. My thinking was beginning to become irrational. My thoughts were all negative ones. Suddenly, the almost a teenager daughter yelled out, “Blind curve!! And look at all that dust! This time someone IS coming toward us!” The boy, amazed by what he saw, shouted out, “Wow! Now THAT is a death drop! Dad, look at that snowmobile down there. Do you think it fell off this road?” It was all too much for my fragile state. It was about then that I lowered my head below the window line of the car, covered myself with my map, entered a semi catatonic state and waited to die.

When we pulled into town many hours later I almost jumped out of the car and kissed the pavement. Despite the fact that it was quite late on a Sunday afternoon, we easily found a new tire for our car. We were also fortunate that the rim was not damaged at all. As we sat at the local Dairy Queen eating burgers, my family began to reminisce about our adventure. The spectacular viewpoint really was quite spectacular. The wildlife and wildflowers were amazing. The July snowball fight will always be remembered. And wasn’t it funny when mom freaked out on the big cliff.

I have no explanation for my unusual reaction. My extreme fear is a bit embarrassing. I have learned however, that “shortcut” sometimes means an extra 7 hours. I’ve learned that “well maintained” could mean “enter at your own risk”. I’ve learned that otherwise well behaved children are capable of inciting great fear by verbal means alone. And I’ve learned that a full size spare is most preferable to a mini spare when off roading in the boonies with your family sedan. Experiencing any one of these events is enough to push the average stressed out mother over the edge. To have encountered all four in one day? Well, all I can say is I am sure glad I had that map.

Check This Out!

The book Between Two Worlds by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund has the subtitle of Escape From Tyranny: Growing Up In the Shadow of Saddam. Find out what the private Saddam Hussein was like and how he affected this one woman's life forever.