When I wrote my latest novel, Once Upon a Time, There Was You, I included a scene of two middle-aged women, old friends, taking their clothes off so each could inspect the other’s body. This was ostensibly so that one of the women could be reassured that the man who just dumped her did not do so because of her body. Alas, the “consolation” she receives is her friend saying, “Oh, hon. this is not the time of our bodies.”
I suppose this could be seen as sad. But maybe it’s not. Maybe along with all the trials and tribulations of getting older, comes a kind of compensation that makes it all worth while. I’m not talking about wisdom, here, although I think that comes, too, albeit slowly, especially in some people. (People like me, if you must know.) I’m not talking about grandchildren, either, although—oh, well, don’t even get me started on grandchildren. That would be a whole other essay. That would be a whole other book.
What I’m talking about is something I learned after having written The Last Time I Saw You. I wrote a novel about attending a high school reunion without ever having attended a high school reunion. After the book came out, many people thought I’d gone to a reunion and taken a lot of notes, and eavesdropped on a lot of conversations. They said –and wrote, on book review sites–that I did this, and they said with great authority that I did this. Well. I went out on tour and revealed the truth: I had never been to a high school reunion, unless you call the one my military-base high school in Germany had—in San Antonio, Texas. That reunion included far more than one year, and I didn’t know a lot of the people who came because the population was ever shifting. But I never attended the typical high school reunion, where the class of X gets together, and nearly all the people know each other, and were together for four years.
So. There I am on tour, talking proudly about how I never went to a reunion and I guess I fooled you! But a question kept coming up at a lot of the readings I did, and it was this: Why were the characters in the book stopping at the fortieth reunion? Why was that one the last one? I explained that it had to be the last, so it would compel people who might not otherwise come, to show up—people like Lester, the shy veterinarian, and Mary Alice, the class nerd. And also, I explained, I thought that after the 40th, people would have had enough. But I was so wrong. Time after time, people told me they went to their 45th reunion, their 50th and beyond. They told me that the more years that had passed since graduation, the better the reunions were. One woman said, “You know, at my twentieth reunion, it was all about competition. At my 40th, it was all about friendship.” And I inferred from all the people who told me stories about reunions long after the 40th, that those reunions are all about kindness to one other, and a gratitude at being able to see each other again that deepens every year. In this time of giving thanks, I gratefully acknowledge that what I learned makes me happy to be growing older. Tell me how else that might happen!
I hope you enjoy The Last Time I Saw You and feel compelled to share it with your book club!