It took me a while to post this photo, because I wasn’t sure what the first words of the post might be.
This is the official photo from my grade eight graduation, scanned on May 17 this year. When I pulled it out of my old sticky photo album, I found every name carefully written on the back, in handwriting I don’t even recognize as mine.
I dug this out because I discovered on FB that one of the guys in my class had died. A few cross-messages later, and I found out that he also had 5 kids, the oldest 29 — which means he reproduced pretty much simultaneously with finishing high school, as at least one other person in this photo did. (That couple is still happily married, and their offspring now happens to be my youngest sister’s boyfriend).
S’s sudden death made me sad, as these things do, though I hadn’t heard tell of him in decades, and my main experience with him was as the brother of someone else in the class, who was my compatriot in loving the Bay City Rollers and sighing over Shaun Cassidy. He was also the high school boyfriend of a good friend, so he had that mythic “crying over that guy” status. I have vague memories of some new year’s eve (maybe when we were 15 or 16?) where we ended up walking down Lauzon Rd in the snow, in soggy street shoes, late at night. Just a flicker of a memory, the circumstances lost — too young, I think, even to try to get away with sneaking into Abar’s, the infamous underage-accessible tavern down on the river.
The boy with red hair on the left in this photo died at the end of high school, a suicide off the Ambassador Bridge. Assumed at the time to be Teenaged Angst, though now I of course wonder if maybe he was gay, maybe. I have nothing to base that on, except the interpretive lens of three more decades, wondering about torments we didn’t have words for at the time.
S’s death triggered a few waves of angst for me, and I couldn’t parse it at first. Something to do with feeling a sense of scarcity for the first time in my life. I think I’ve posted about this before, but something about this cusp of middle-middle age, deaths and grave illnesses of many people around me, my mother and my sweetie both needing cataract surgery, has flipped a page for me. I used to have a sense of endless possibilities — maybe a too manic one, where I would leap into things always assuming that if they didn’t turn out, I could rebound, that what I learned was more than enough of a tradeoff for any costs I might have incurred. Don’t like your job? Become self-employed, feeling your way for nearly two decades without anything resembling a business plan. Yearning for a loft? Buy the first one that suits, without investigating the value of the building. Yearning for a particular kind of relationship? Toil to make the clearly-not-working long distance one with distant, cold man resemble what I imagined it could be. Have opportunity to help out orphans? Make 16 year personal commitment. Yearning to move out west? Sell the loft (without negotiating a good mortgage exit), move everything I own at great expense, dive in to my little house by the sea, fly back and forth across the country, empty bank account, jump into mismatched relationships, move back to starting point. Yearning for love and met someone lovely? Jump into a transatlantic relationship where everything I know is upended.
Overall, these leaps have stewed into a pretty luscious casserole: a toehold in rural Uganda with kids who’ve taught me how to be a better person; a loving, delightful romance with the kindest man I’ve known. Work that I’m lucky to do. But the travel is wearing, and I am unduly snippy when the star alliance lounge ladies aren’t nice to me. My clients often drain me. I take to my bed on all possible occasions, nesting more than doing it seems. I’m *tired* and everything feels just… out of focus. Adventurous leaping and thoughtless impulsiveness not as distinct as they could be. And my peers, it seems, are grandparents, have chronic or potentially fatal illnesses.
I talked about this unease as sense of scarcity with my lovely friends in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, and they were, of course, thoughtful and warm about it. And yes, I’m not one to frame my life in terms of scarcity, or to hunker down out of fear. But being at this point, decisions feel more consequential, the time for earning a lifetime of money more truncated, body much less resilient and able to recover. Not exactly scarcity as much as a need to be choiceful, to be intentional about where I’m putting energy, what I spend money on, where my time is spent. And it turns out, I’m not that experienced at that.