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Remembering Sweet Years & Dear Friends

“Do you remember when we used to dance? And incidence arose from circumstance. One thing led to another, we were young, and we would scream together songs unsung. It was the heat of the moment telling me what your heart meant. The heat of the moment shone in your eyes.”

-Asia, "Heat Of The Moment"

A few months ago, via Facebook, I became aware that next year marks 30 years since I graduated high school. Shortly thereafter I received an email reminding me that it’s been 25 years since I donned the black cap and gown and walked into my adult life after my college days ended.

Reunions.

Every five years or so one sneaks up and you’ll have some decisions to make. Who’s going to be there? Will it be fun or lame? Will it unleash wonderful memories or old insecurities? Hitting middle age, and surviving cancer a couple of times, I find that I don’t ask those questions anymore – I jump right in and enjoy the moment, because reunions, like anything else, are what you make of them. And if you’re lucky to still be here, they are a privilege.

When you reflect on your past, are your memories of experiences and friendships as it actually was or as you remember them to be?

I’ll openly admit while I was in high school I hated high school. I agonized about every little thing and I was terrified of being judged. That, to me, was the worst thing that could possibly happen – someone forming an opinion about me and then having it ... stick. My friends knew me as edgy and fashionable and artistic but they rarely, if ever, saw the vulnerable side of me. If they ever caught a glimpse of the heart on my sleeve I made sure there was a steel cage around it. I wouldn’t let anyone get too close because I was so fearful that when they found out what I was really like, an incredibly neurotic, insecure, swarthy girl who loved food, music, and had a very twisted sense of humor they would turn and use it against me … that was until my senior year, when I did something unimaginable.

I decided on a whim to try out for my high school talent show. Literally, I was passing the auditorium and I just walked in.

Even more amazing than nerving up for tryouts, I got into the show. I called my mom right away from the payphone in the school lobby (yes, with a freaking coin and everything) and told her. My mom exclaimed, “Oh wow! That’s great!” then, silence. I knew what was going through her head. Talent? What talent? Is she going on stage to paint a picture? So I quickly spit out what I did that charmed my teachers into giving me a spot in that program; stand up comedy.

The night of the show arrived and I jumped up on that stage mimicking my teachers and my mom and mocking public figures. I even did a few impersonations and I got the laughs. Not at me – with me. It was simultaneously the most thrilling and terrifying thing I ever did, and that night more than anything else up to that point, changed me. In that moment I realized I could be myself…and still have friends. Maybe high school wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe so much of what I hated was what I perceived because of my own insecurities.

When I blazed my way into college I had a little more swagger. I was going to be everything I wasn’t in high school. I joined clubs and I got involved, I was loud, I was funny, I was ballsy and I gave zero fucks about being judged. I made friends for life there on that leafy campus in Philadelphia and seemingly in the time it took me to finish my beer – those days ended. Four years went by in a flash and I wanted four more. I wasn’t ready to live where my friends weren’t just next-door, down the hall, or across the quad. I loved college but I loved it because I made the most of it. I chose my experience.

After college I adulted quickly, landing a job in my industry less than a month after graduation. I began working and decorating my first apartment. I met this great guy and we married. Immediately after our “I do’s” we bought a house and had a couple boys to chase after. We moved around (a lot) and eventually a giant grunty beast of a dog joined our family. I was way too busy to do the reunion thing but I always found ways to reminisce.

From the time my boys were little I blared The Ramones, Aerosmith, and The Beatles and sang along ... way off-key. They listened to Van Halen, The Clash and Blondie while strapped into their car seats. They grew up knowing Springsteen is The Boss, Pink Floyd is the ‘old stoner music’ mom likes to play embarrassingly loud when they take too long coming out of the school, and Duran Duran is the band on Guitar Hero. They know Nirvana evolved into the Foo Fighters, Meatloaf sang about 'baseball', and the Go-Go’s make mom dance around the house. They both roll their eyes at U2 (yes, this remains a hot button debate in my house) and they always knew, musically, nothing was off limits; Eminem, The Sex Pistols, and Abba all got equal time. The songs I raised them on were mini-reunions, reminding me of old times, sweet years, and dear friends.

Then in 2007 cancer arrived, and oddly so did comedy.

Our house of boys was usually filled with the sound of laughter, inside jokes and a lot of ‘hey, pull my finger.’ But in 2007, when that laughter looked like it might disappear we indoctrinated our kids into another entertainment genre; stand up comedy. They quickly got schooled in Carlin, Kinison, and Murphy. They began following Chris Rock, Tosh, and Louis CK while acknowledging the work Adam Sandler, Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld had done long before they became known for funny movies and classic TV shows. Routines that I once adored in my youth stood the test of time quickly becoming my boys favorites too, a reunion of laughter when we so desperately needed it and it reminded me that no matter what – I could still find my funny.

I wrote a book that was all about making cancer more bearable with music and humor and cancer left us alone for a few years, I guess we spooked it, but eventually it reared its ugly head again ... that bastard. My reunion with cancer sucked but I knew that if music was the salve then comedy was the bandage. The two parts of myself I was so afraid to show the world when I was young became the two tools that brought my family together during the very worst of times.

Ahhhh, reunions.

Now I make time to go to these things. Life’s short, it’s experiences and people that count the most. So when I reunite with old friends at these gatherings the first thing that strikes me is a familiar gesture, cadence, or a memory long forgotten. Amazingly we are still the essence of our younger selves even if we’ve been dragged harshly down life’s unpaved roads. We remember old lyrics and laugh at inappropriate jokes. We mock our former teachers and roll our eyes when talking about our parents. We brag more about our kids rather than the concert tickets we scored and we can still hold our booze like pirates. We are lucky to be there and we know it. We are comfortable in our skin and we cherish our friendships a bit more each year as time marches over our faces and bodies.

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