My friend Cyndy dragged me to an employee reunion a couple of weeks ago. I agreed to go, since Cyndy and I are old, old friends.
She and I have memories dating back to the early 1980s in Charlottesville, Virginia, such as the time my husband and I gave one of our legendary parties and stupidly used grain alcohol in the spicy drinks we were whipping up, which rendered all our guests so smashed they ended up crawling and slithering out our front door. That was also the party, I believe, when one guest killed our late sheffelera by using its soil as an ashtray and another guest vomited in the front yard — but I’m not sure. All those parties have merged into a blurry daze by now, which is pretty much how they started out, anyway.
To boot, Cyndy and I were also members of the worst women’s softball team in the history of the universe, and she once went with my husband and me to Chinatown in Queens talking about how she spoke Chinese, but it turned out it was the wrong kind of Chinese.
So, anyway, you can see why Cyndy and I are friends, since we have so much history together. If she wanted to go to an employee reunion, then I’d go, too, even if it meant driving 200 miles on my least-favorite highway, I35, to Dallas.
Our former workplace was KERA, the public TV and radio station in Dallas. I worked there for six years (my all-time employment record), writing everything from magazine pieces to pledge song lyrics to scripts for instructional TV. I occasionally got censored on the grounds of questionable taste, but not often. (For example, I once wrote a scene with a high school football coach/history teacher watching an instructional video on the Civil War. “I watch this every year,” he said. “It’s so exciting. I can’t wait to see who wins!” That got canned, for some reason.)
Cyndy and I headed into the jam-packed bar, where the reunion was being held. It wasn’t like a high school reunion — the commemoration of an unhappy time, the subtle competition that exists for several years about who’s done well and who hasn’t (which goes on till about the 25th reunion, when you finally figure out you’re all going to die, anyway, so why keep score of the unimportant?).
Instead, it was a time to see people I’d known and cared about during an era in my life when I somehow thought time was unlimited, that none of us would ever really age, that my children would always be small. We’d always, all of us, have a future that stretched in front of us, long and full of possibilities. I didn’t care about the wrinkles and weight we’d all added — minor concerns, really. I cared about a time of life that had vanished.
So, we drank and we talked and we shrieked. It’s what you do when you’re with old friends, when it’s a dark time of the year, when you’re old enough to realize that any happiness is always tinged with melancholy. When you realize, too, that any story you’re telling, no matter how jaunty and carefree in the beginning, can turn a little sad and yearning in spite of your frothy intentions.
Oh, that’s right! You only think you have control of the story you’re telling. I’m old enough to have learned that before, but I keep trying to forget it.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about sordid tales from the workplace