Happiness is a Warm BowlFebruary 26, 2012
Shedding Your BaggageMarch 21, 2012
This week, I found out that one of my high school classmates passed away. Any time a contemporary dies, it’s jarring, but given that David was only in his early 40s, it goes without saying that he was taken too soon. After his death, I also learned that years after we graduated, he’d reconnected with Cheryl, a fellow classmate, and that the two had become one of those couples that romantic comedies are constructed around, a pair of fortunate individuals whose lives overlapped early on, but who took two decades to find in each other a soulmate. (Thank you to Cheryl for the photos of David that appear on this page.)
With the news of his passing, classmates began posting condolences and memories of David to a dedicated Facebook page, and Mickie, another classmate, organized a meet-up event last night for any alums who would be in the area. The group planned to gather outside of our former stomping grounds, the old, hulking armory on East 94th Street where we all spent our formative years together. Those who could not attend were asked to join them in spirit and raise a glass in David’s memory at exactly 6:45pm Eastern time, a gesture commemorated online in a string of posts from California to Europe. David was a kind soul, someone who wielded his keen intelligence gently, and many recalled his funny, radiant spirit and the smile he shared so readily with others.
I wasn’t able to be in the schoolyard last night, and I don’t want to imply that David and I were close because we weren’t, but in the outpouring of grief, support, and remembrance, I was reminded once again of the rare bond that I share with my fellow classmates, and how lucky I feel to have grown up with such a stand-up group of individuals as my peers, David and Cheryl among them.
Junior high school and high school are supposed to be traumatic times—at least that’s what we’re often told—but Hunter College High School was never that way for me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think of it as a metaphorical incubator, a place for “pre-mature” children to safely grow and develop until they are ready to face life outside the bubble. A haven where they are free to express their intelligence and quirkiness without ridicule. Where they have license to be deep—or just deeply weird.
During my freshman year of college, I always felt a bit older than my classmates, like I knew a secret that the others had not yet learned. Though many were the progeny of senators and ambassadors—children of privilege who’d seen much more of the world than I had—in many ways they’d lived more narrow, sheltered lives, while I had had the good fortune to go to a school like Hunter, a kind of mini United Nations, and one that was far more economically diverse than the General Assembly over on 42nd Street.
My 200 or so Hunter classmates came from all five boroughs and represented a host of ethnicities and religions. Some lived in lavish apartments a few blocks south of the school on Park Avenue, while others hailed from rough-and-tumble neighborhoods in the opposite direction, and still others came from middle-class homes two subway trains (and another culture) away. But for those six years of our lives, from 7th grade through 12th, we flocked to a shared nest. Hunter was our own personal island of misfit toys, minus the existential angst of a toy train with square wheels. (Though that’s not to say there was no angst—we were teenagers, after all…)
When I think back on my time at Hunter, I sometimes chide myself for an excessive amount of sentimentality, and maybe I’m a little guilty of trafficking in rose-colored memories, but mostly I think I was pretty damn lucky. As in any high school, cliques did exist, and mini-dramas unfolded on a daily basis, but I can honestly say that I never viewed any of my classmates as “the enemy,” as people to be dreaded or feared. We were all just doing our own thing in a largely peaceful coexistence. Want to wear a fedora to school today? Be my guest. Feel like busting out into a Broadway show tune in front of your locker? Why the hell not. Gonna join the math club because you think quadratic equations are cool? Whatever, dude.
I am sorry that I could not be there last night to honor David in situ, to stand in our schoolyard where we all spent so many afternoons together figuring out who we were and who we were on our way to becoming. But I’m deeply honored to have, in some small way, shared six wonderful years with him and Cheryl—and with every last one of my classmates.