Approaching 40: In your eyes

Eleventh grade was a rather remarkable year. Not only did we experience the two-week bliss of the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher’s strike, but our humanities magnet program experimented with a “school without walls” program that allowed us to spend a fair amount of time on the campuses of Cal State Northridge and UCLA. It gave us a preview of what college life might be like. That summer was a busy one, too. I was working in a stationary store and I met a girl there with whom I would end up spending a good deal of time with. I spend several weeks that summer visiting relatives in Utah. And of course, when school started in the fall, I would be a senior in high school: the top of the social food chain.

All though high school, it seems to me, I was never part of any particular clique. I had my friends and we hung out together, ate our lunches together, and that was that. I didn’t notice (or don’t recall) much in the way of social stratification throughout those years. But being a senior was a big deal. It was something you earned, in its own way, and it meant that you were on the verge of graduating and heading off to college. For me, that was still a fairly abstract idea. I was simply enjoying myself.

When I returned from Utah, and a few weeks before school started (as I recall it, anyway), there was a party at a friend’s house and all of my friends would be there. I remember that pool party fondly. It was a typical late summer southern California day, hot and dry and the pool felt so good. I don’t remember how many of us were there, but there was a radio playing in the backyard. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” was a big hit that summer, thanks to its appearance in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. That song has a refrain that goes:

All my instincts, they return
The grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

What I remember best about that day (aside from telling my friends about the girl I’d met) was several of my friends jumping off the diving board while singing, in exaggerated fashion, the last line from that refrain: “I reach out from the inside!”

I’ll tell you, I have been incredibly fortunate in the friends that I’ve made over the years, especially those friends I made in high school and my first year in collage. I cannot hear Peter Gabriel’s song without thinking of that pool party and the people that were there, many of whom I am still close friends with (and one of whom was here at my house today for brunch, some 23 year after that late summer day in the San Fernando Valley). We are somewhat spread apart now. A few of my friends from high school still live in the L.A. area. One lives in Albany, NY. Another lives right here in the DC area. But whenever I see them or talk to them, it’s as if they’ve been there all along. We were thrown into a social situation some 25 years ago and ended up choosing each other as friends for whatever reason and those have to be among the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Our senior year in high school would be a busy one. We were preparing for college. We were learning to be independent. I don’t think I would have gotten through it as well as I did if it were not for my friends. It was for them that I enjoyed showing up at school my senior year. And it was bittersweet. For at the time, I assumed that once we went away to college, that would be it. I wouldn’t really see them again. I am so glad I was wrong in that respect.