"I have a life, and it only goes in one direction: forward."
When Don Draper said this back in 2007 during the fifth episode of Mad Men's first season, I was just getting to know the antihero.
Even though I was becoming a fan of the troubled ad hotshot, this particular quote was just posturing at its most sanctimonious, as well as unrealistic, unless you have amnesia.
The past makes you who you are in the present. Granted everything that happens in one's life isn't a fond memory, but putting it all behind didn't seem like the answer. Then I started racking up attendance at reunions — six for high school and two for summer camp.
Unlike on TV or in the movies (think Romy and Michele's High School Reunion), I went back, not to rub success in anyone's face or show that the ugly duckling had become a swan, but with genuine goodwill toward my former class/bunkmates.
I was pretty sure that I'd still like those I had liked back in the day, and kept an open mind about those I didn't. I wasn't the same person I was when I was a girl, why would they be? There did seem to be a person here and there who held on to a you-didn't-let-me-sit-at-the-lunch-table grievance, which I found sad. I just listened hoping that it would be enough to help them move on.
I will admit that the earlier reunions, the ones closer to when we graduated or outgrew camp for summer jobs, were fun and I still could relate to my childhood friends.
At first, we were all in college; the next time, we'd graduated and were getting a foothold in new careers.
About ten years in, bewilderment that some of us were not as predictable as others had expected entered the conversations. “I thought you'd be married by now. You always had a boyfriend in school.” “She does PR for nightclubs? I never remember her being all that social. She didn't even go to dances, let alone prom.” It rubbed me the wrong way that people seemed surprised that those “most likely to” votes weren't gospel.
Fifteen years later, I went to my 25th high school reunion. This time I wasn't going to give a play-by-play of my life over the past decade and a half. If there was a milestone, like the birth of a child, that got a mention, but mostly I ended up saying, “Can't complain” or “It's all good.” Then we'd get right to the requisite “remember-the-time” nostalgia.
By my 40th reunion a few years ago, as well as a recent camp get-together, the same ol’ recollections — as sweet as they were — seemed tedious. I couldn't help but think about one of the last episodes of The Sopranos, when all the wise guys were sitting around bull----ing about who was sleeping with the fishes or the night when the cops raided the Bada Bing. It was all Tony could do not to blow his own brains out. The hadda-be-there stories were tired, and although a good idea at the time, you could tell the mob boss was beginning to wonder why these anecdotes were worth recalling in the first place.
As I walked down memory lane hearing about “bug juice” yet again, I thought, Tony wherever you are, I feel ya.
Since about 2009, I've been on social media and been friended by most of my childhood companions. And I was glad to be. They were good kids and now fine adults. I like knowing they're well; seeing their beautiful families and pictures of their travels; sharing in their senses of humor with cartoons and memes; even offering comfort in their sorrows when parents pass.
Seeing them in person though, quite frankly, I have nothing to really say. So, I doubt I'll be going back any more. Instead, I want to enjoy the now, and look forward to what I hope will be a long future.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels Fat Chick and Back to Work She Goes.