I left high school in 1971 with no intention of returning. I did not hate high school but there was nothing to call me back. Instead, there was much to call me away into a world I had only known in books and was now free to explore. I was unfortunate in that my father died when I was not even a toddler. I was fortunate to have a Social Security Survivors Benefit which allowed me to pay for college and supported my traveling habit. In the 1970s, you could still hitchhike with a sense of safety.
I traveled and explored at every opportunity. During most of my undergraduate years, college was a place to return to for tests, rest, recovery, and to find friends willing to take off during the term to see places larger and more exciting than West Virginia. I was able to see most of the US East Coast from Delaware to Florida. Professors were always willing to accept excuses so long as I showed up and took exams. On semester I came to report still another tragic family death, the fifth one that term, when the professor stopped me mid-sentence. He suggested that I just appear on exam dates as a way to save the lives of my few remaining family members.
My junior and senior years were more focused. I realized that I needed better grades for graduate school admission. My last big road trip was to Miami with a woman who would become my partner for the next two decades. We started on a trip to California but she was pregnant by then and starting to become car sick rather easily. We stopped at my sister’s in Missouri and then hitchhiked back to West Virginia.
West Virginia never lost its hold on her and she eventually decided to return. She could never shake those time passages and I never felt them. I kept going: Indiana, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Germany, and Russia for work and many more for travel and fun. An academic career gave me the opportunity to earn two Fulbright awards, a Canadian Studies Fellowship, to lecture in multiple countries and to travel to more for work related purposes. My old school was a distant memory.
In Russia I met the most incredible woman I have ever known and for reasons that still elude me, she agreed to marry me. She often asked me about growing up in West Virginia. The state’s geographic similarities to the Russian Urals, where she spent her childhood, fascinated her. I was embarrassed to realize that large segments of my school years were not retrievable. I had been so future focused for the 45 years after leaving high school that I could not recall much from those years. A few names and faces remained but most of those years had faded into the deep recesses of my brain beyond recall.
When I learned about my 45th high school reunion, we decided we would attend. If Fagen and Becker can go back to their old school then maybe it is time for me to return to mine. I have followed the reunion posts on Facebook and looked at all the photos. A few more names and faces have returned but most are not even distant memories. I guess I am probably the same to most of my classmates: a faded ghost of a memory. Still, I am going back to my old school.