Our quadrant of the heavens

Old Notre Dame High School 11-25-2011

I no longer remember where my locker was, or where I sat in Mr. Wittenborn’s class, or the exact sound of the halls echoing after the last bell in the old Notre Dame on Ritter Drive.

Memory fails. But come August, the Class of ’83 will gather like we always do to celebrate our 35 year reunion. To jar our memories back to life.

“Every person is born into a particular quadrant of the heavens,” Phyllis Theroux wrote in The Book of Eulogies. “Our friends hang like companion stars around us, giving us point and direction. We run to them when we have something to celebrate…” And nobody, I mean nobody, got more excited about celebrating than Chris, the class president we elected way back on the lark of 17 year-old kids.

For three solid decades, Chris would start calling, texting and emailing us months, or even a year, in advance of reunion time. “I can’t believe we still have to wait a whole year!!!” he would write with his trademark exclamation points. “Why can’t we have a reunion every year?!!”

If you have ever been in charge of planning a reunion, you know it can feel like herding cats; statistics say less than 30% will ever attend, citing everything from, “I hated high school” to “I’m too fat, too bald, too gray” to “I’m ashamed of (fill in the blank).”

Our class was no different. We were, we are, just has flawed as everyone else. And yet 80% of us have shown up over three decades. Why? Because Chris was tireless.

It broke his heart when any of us went missing, and he made it his mission to bring every last one of us back. He found Ellen in Arizona and Steve at Kelso Supply and Lisa in Arkansas and Mark in the balcony of St. Mary’s and Jay in Louisiana … and so on.

Five years ago, in the run-up to our 30th, he wrote this to me: “Post cards are printed, labeled, and ready for stamps. We are getting closer!!!” Followed immediately by, “WHERE IS PENNY?!?! SHE HAS TO COME!!” then, “My toes are crossed! It’s not a party without Penny!”

He was right. It’s not a party without Penny. It’s not a party without the whole lot of us:  without Penny and Joe doing the Stray Cat Strut; without us kicking off our shoes like maniacs while shouting, “I’ll hang around as long as you will let me”; without the choir of us singing every last word of Hank’s Family Tradition.

You may be thinking all of this sounds stupid. But as the great Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Amen to that.

“There are friends one makes at a youthful age in whom one simply rejoices,” William Styron wrote, and on August 10 we will do just that. There will be tired, raspy voices from all the singing and catching up; there will be cheekbones stiff from all the laughter; there will be worn out knees and feet from all the dancing; and there will be real sorrow on Sunday when the time comes, as it always does, to say goodbye.

Only this time, there will be no Chris.

After our 30th in August 2013, he sent me this message: “Are you home safely, my friend? I miss you. I LOVE our reunions and I LOVE my friends!!!”

Chris died 10 weeks later. This was the last reunion message I ever got.

Memory fails, but so what. We are 53 years old. It no longer matters if we remember where our lockers were or where we sat in class or what the old halls sounded like after the last bell.

We were born to be together, as Theroux wrote, in our particular quadrant of the heavens. It’s reunion time. The band is playing our songs. And Chris—our beloved Chris—will be with us in his great big spirit, his companion stars now shining from on high, suspended from the heavens, exclamation points and all.

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