Fifty years was an unimaginable amount of time when I was 17 and now, like a thunderbolt, that long stretch of life is behind me. My best friend from high school is going to the reunion with her halo of wild dark hair gone white – like mine. What will she see? Trim athletes now bald, pot-bellied and lame? Willowy young girls now wrinkled and thickened? Comfortable retirees who worked, reproduced, and are replacing a generation of old people who once sat on New York City park benches in the sun?
In truth, I’m quite proud of my class of 1963. Three that I know of got caught in the second wave of feminism and became chairs of women’s studies departments. Five of us, at least, have published books. Many taught at the college level. I’m looking forward to hearing the accomplishments of others when my BFF reports in. She urged me to go with her, but she’s a few hours up I-95 from the school and I’m across the continent we studied in school. Also, I felt like the odd girl out back then and I feel just the same now. As she e-mailed, “Wish you were here but you would probably explode.”
Oh, and did I mention a federal judge? Who would have thought one of us, especially a woman, would accomplish as much as she has. If she’d been born ten years earlier she might have gotten as far as president of a PTA.
High school was so long ago, yet so fresh in my mind. I went into it determined to leave my bashfulness behind. I managed to make friends, and also to grow a persona that would mature with me. My poetry was published in our literary magazine; I was gay and proud of it; my ambition, beyond writing, was to be a gym teacher. One foot was in the circle of high school intelligentsia, the other in a sneaker on the tennis and volleyball courts.
An altruistic alumna, who became a librarian, created an internet page for those early sixties classes. By way of introduction, she wrote, “We came of age in the mid-sixties. It is hard to believe the changes we went through and our world went through in the years between 1963 and 1967. Did we make the times or did the times make us?” What a great question for us, for any generation.
Did we help change the world for the better? Well, we sure tried. How many of us died in Vietnam? How many were arrested for protesting that war? How many were active in the civil rights movement? The women’s movement? Gay liberation? Were environmentalists? Pro- or anti-choice activists? Did any grow their hair, drop acid and become hippies? My BFF was at Altamont when the Rolling Stones were there. Were others at Kent State? I know some were hit with cancer. At least two committed suicide.
Why do I have no desire to be at the reunion? Would it really be too disturbing to see the metamorphoses of these people from dreaming kids to world-weary adults? Only one was a lover and I ran into her out here about 20 years ago. She wanted to stay in touch, but too much water over the bridge for me. I have a very full life, for which I’m grateful, and my seventeenth summer, lovely as it, and she, was, has been over for a long, long time.
Long enough that I’m looking at retirement from my job too. When I checked out the high school page it was clear I’m one of the last to stop working for a living. I feel like a sixties dropout compared to them. I’ve had jobs ever since graduation, but just to scrape by while I gave most of my energy to writing. Looking at the bios on our class pages I see teachers, ad execs, attorneys, designers and engineers, along with those who identify themselves as housewives and mothers. As far as I can see, I’m the only one who boasts of writing queer books or even of being queer.
No, I have no desire to see those folks. We sat in classrooms and passed one another in hallways. We survived high school, adult careers, marriages, marches, the tech revolution, empty nests, losses and successes. Some of us proved to be a waste of space, others made a bit of history or culture or money or offspring. I may be odd girl out again, but I have no time to review milestones. In my head, I’m still 17, anxious to get on with writing future stories, to, finally, making a lasting marriage, to changing the world.
Lee’s new book The Raid is now available in both paper and electronic format from Bold Strokes Books
The Raid by Lee Lynch
Before Stonewall, having a drink with friends or your girl could mean jail. In 1961, The Old Town Tavern is more than just a gay bar. It’s a home to strangers who have become family. They drink, they dance, they fall in lust and in love. They don’t even know who the enemy is, only that it is powerful enough to order the all-too-willing vice squad to destroy the bar and their lives. Would these women and men still have family, a job, a place to live after…The Raid? This was how it was done then, this was the gay life, and this is the resilient gay will.
Lee Lynch’s novel Rafferty Street concludes her epic Morton River Valley Trilogy (Dusty’s Queen of Hearts Diner and Morton River Valley). In this stand-alone novel Annie Heaphy, beloved hero of Lynch’s classic Toothpick House, reunites with her old crowd. She loves her job driving people with disabilities to and from work – until being gay becomes an issue. Valley gays unite to defend her as she revels in love with the right, and wrong, women. Lynch’s warm, engaging prose deeply affects her readers as she tells her story – even more powerful today when civil rights for gays are still denied. Now available in electronic format from Bold Strokes Books.