Fifth Reunion

My fifth reunion is coming up next weekend! I am wildly excited to catch up with dear friends and dance our shoes off at the soiree and visit our favorite old froyo place for old times’ sake and wander around Harvard Yard and get all nostalgic. At the same time, I am anticipating (dreading?) all of the impending conversations with people I never knew very well… you know, those conversations where people ask you what you’re up to more out of curiosity than anything else, and in a split second half sentence they size you up in that Harvard way (AND I DO IT TOO) and then I catch myself wondering, what if we could talk about something deeper? Isn’t there more to life than this, whatever you told me in that half sentence, probably some letters? You are more than whatever you said in that half-sentence answer to “What do you do,” and I am too, and what if we could really talk? …And so I wrote this.

 

“What do you do?”
fifth reunion refrain
from high-heeled
cocktail-dressed
suit-and-tie-clad
former classmates,
dining hall acquaintances,
shuttle bus companions,
library buddies…
(I ask it too,
don’t know what else to say-
you too maybe? All of us?)
Over and over,
smiles of fake interest
behind glasses of wine,
“What do you do?”

A jumble of letters-
That’s the answer.
That’s what everyone’s doing.
PhD, MBA, JD, MD
Letters and sometimes keywords-
Startup, residency, consultant
And the really impressive letters,
the compound acronyms,
the strings of letters-
JD-PhD, JD-MBA, MD-PhD
Letters that make fake smiles
melt into approving slow nods
behind the wine glasses
as they give you in turn
their own letters, and then,
alphabet soup appetite sated,
they excuse themselves,
glide on, wine glass in hand,
to the next target–
“What do you do?”

Though I too am- like them-
a fake smile behind a wine glass
in a sea of suits and cocktail dresses
moving like graceful robots
in slow hallucinating circles
under white sloping tent arches,
twinkling lights, twinkling glasses,
questions, letters, gliding on as if on cue,
Does something behind my eyes beg for more?
Invisible pleading masked by
light giggles and infinite cliches?

Don’t give me your resume alphabet soup.
Tell me who you are
and how you are.
How is your heart?
What does your soul yearn for?
What makes you laugh like a kid?
What have you learned in these past five years
about what it means to be human,
about this complicated adventure they call life?
Do you have faith, and in whom, or what?
(I do.)
Do you know what you’re meant to be?
(I don’t.)

I want to tell you in one breath
about all of it–
this beautiful struggle of early adulthood,
this stumbling metamorphosis
of early twenties into mid twenties.

It was idealism crushed into gravel
under the weight of knock you down
trample you, get back up again
even though you don’t really know why,
questioning, wondering
what is the point of all of this–
and reborn into a new kind of idealism
like a gaudy indigo Victorian mansion
torn down and rebuilt as an
ivy-decked stone cottage
with candles eternally flickering
in every geranium-lined window,
deeper, less naive, realer,
a kind of stubborn glow,
a kind of inextinguishable spark.

It was heartbreak like the depths of alone in a foreign city,
like trying to find words in a language I don’t speak,
like aimless soul-searching train rides through Provence,
like sneakers thudding on sidewalk
even though I’m not really a runner,
like healing in a Mediterranean sunrise.

It was conversations in broken Arabic
on buses winding through mountain passes,
and it was standing on a Sahara sand dune,
touching sky, desert wind whipping my hair,
twenty-five and alive, free, free.

It was friendships like boats unmoored
drifting gently slowly almost unnoticeably
yard after yard away in the tide and breezes
of life and time and distance…
And it was friendships that wrap themselves
in ever extending coils around your heart
like tree roots harder to uproot with
each shared experience,
each leaning on each other.

It was finally knowing what love is
and it’s not what I used to think
but I think it’s better.

There are places in this world
where no one asks you what you do.
They ask you who you are–
and how you are,
and how your family is,
over and over until you think
maybe they didn’t hear you the first time.

“What do you do?”
And I know you’re just looking for my alphabet soup,
And I wonder if it should have more letters in it,
But I give it to you anyway
Because I haven’t seen you in five years
(and it would be weird to have
a real conversation with you, right?)
And I tell your fake smile behind the wine glass
the letters and buzzwords you’re looking for.
“TFA, Fulbright ETA, M.Ed., BU.”

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