Who I Am Not (Part 2 – The Reunion)

I thought about continuing Part Two from my last post without mentioning Christmas. Something seemed wrong with that…but I didn’t – still don’t – know what to say. This has been the oddest Christmas since Philip died. Including the fact that I don’t know what to say, because when it comes to how I feel about Philip, I am never at a loss as to what to say.

I love Christmas. I love it because the focus is on family and loved ones, because I get to give gifts, because the streets are lit up and people say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” There was a time I would’ve snarled because how the fuck am I supposed to have a Merry or a Happy with Philip dead? But now I see it’s not personal – those are expressions of love and good will, and I will take all the tenderness that’s given me.

But this year was disjointed, pieces here and there, without a narrative. I have been reluctant. And removed. I look at Philip and I don’t know what I feel. There’s something I won’t touch here. I’m detached, but not because I chose to be. Detaching with love works. This is not that. This is the relentless march of life and at times there are things it requires of me – for Christmas, it required buying, wrapping, cookies, cake, chocolate mousse. It required spending time with Cindy, it required Christmas Eve at my brother’s. It required my tree, small and sparkly and which I kept lit – mostly -24/7.

I liked being at my brother’s and I liked being at Cindy’s and I loved giving my gifts. But getting there with all that doing – I hadn’t the heart. So what so what so what, I said? That did not help. Philip is not coming home for Christmas. Or anything else. I am not done being afraid. But I was numb. I was unable to feel what it felt like not to have Philip with me on Christmas. Who can I tell? I’m not ready to talk about it.

Peace, then, to all of you. If you’re suffering and that seems impossible, I wish it for you anyway. May it help you to believe that I believe.


But this post is part two, The Reunion. For the last ten years, my classmates from  Junior High have been getting together annually, along with our homeroom teacher, Mr. M. This I discovered when one of them, Jo Ann, found me on Facebook. Everyone’s been looking for you, she said. Who is everyone, and why were they looking for me? I have a hard time thinking anyone would remember me, much less care to see me. I remember that time as the start of my rebel years. I was already drinking, smoking and taking drugs. I had a boyfriend and I had sex. I was too cool for the smart kids in my class, but not cool enough for the badasses I wanted to hang around with. I had it coming at me both ways. I belonged nowhere.

I decided to go, which for me was a walk on the wild side. My first reaction to any invitation is no thank you. Especially an invitation I considered dangerous: facing an unhappy past with people I couldn’t possibly know any longer, who I hardly remember knowing when I was actually in class with them. What if they thought about me the way I thought about me? Unhappy, distant, angry. By all accounts, I’m aging well, so the way I look was one less thing to worry about. And at that point, it was the one thing I brought to the table. I mean, if they didn’t like me, at least they wouldn’t say what the hell happened to her?? when they saw me.

But the fun of going was that no one, other than Jo Ann and Mr. M., knew I was going to be there. I arrived before most, and as people walked in, they tried to guess who I was. What shock and joy on their faces when they realized it was me. And I wondered why, all those years ago, I held myself back from them. Because it was more important to stand alone than be part of. I thought that was power. All it really was was lonely.

Reunions are perception shifters. You not only see your classmates differently, what you think you are is also shaken up. The biggest shock to me was that people liked me. They didn’t see the addict, the miserable girl, the condescending bitch I thought I was. “You were nice,” someone said to me, and while I once said “nice” is the laziest word in the English language because it tells you nothing, I was grateful that I was remembered as other than bitch.

The evening was a mix of past confusing present, and never more so than when Mr. M. reminded people that I had been Arista Leader. Artista was an honor society, and every year the boy and girl with the highest academic achievements were chosen as leaders. I’d forgotten, like I’d forgotten so much of what I achieved before I got to high school and determined to be mediocre. In sixth grade, I was Valedictorian. There was year I scored the highest in the district in the City-Wides in math, and the year when I scored so high in reading, my teacher refused to tell me my grade until she could figure out a grand way of announcing it.

But being reminded of Arista didn’t make me feel proud. I felt ashamed. We were all in the SP (Special Progress) class, reserved for the smartest of the smart. And my classmates were now doctors, lawyers, nurses, production assistants – and me, an administrative assistant. What had I done? Sure, I had kids – but anybody can have kids. And I couldn’t even keep one of them alive. How’s THAT for an achievement?

So much for not questioning “who I am.” Because that questioning was the conversation going on in my head. Until it got too painful and I started to talk. Turning to the half of the table where Mr. M. sat. I told them how troubled I’d been in Junior High, how I’d already started drinking and taking drugs. No one knew. I told them that life felt difficult for a long time. I talked about Philip, about some of what it felt like living with his death. I did not cry. I was telling my story. I was trying to connect.

Talking tamed the beast, at least for a bit. But not enough to get me to talk to the handsome man at the head of the table, the boy who’d been Arista leader with me. “Don’t you know all the guys were crazy about you?” I’d been asked earlier. No I did not. In Junior High I tensed when someone attracted me and only looked at them when I was sure they weren’t looking at me. They were looking at the pretty girls, the ones who nailed their outfits daily, whose boobs could fill out more than a training bra and whose butts were bumps, not bulges. When it comes to men, that’s the shame I cannot tame.

Shame is exhausting. And sad – so very sad. How much of my life has been lost in shame? How much care and comfort have I rejected because I was so ashamed to need? I thought if I let myself feel how much I needed I’d be swept away screaming, and who would want to come near me then?

I still weep for what I carry, wishing someone would appear and ask if I’m okay. No, I would say. I am not. And the best thing is that when I came from a day where I’ve had to listen to how John’s kid was a varsity golfer, Mary’s kid was accepted into Columbia, and Bob’s kid was auditioning for a Broadway play while my kid’s a bunch of ashes is in various jars around my house , I can say, “Today was hard,” and two strong arms would pull me close. No one can take this grief from me – I don’t want anyone to take it from me. I just want to come home to someone who cares.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Dec 31, 2014 @ 03:50:16

    I have no adequate words except to say how much I admire you.


  2. Denise
    Dec 31, 2014 @ 04:45:53

    What kinder thing could you say?

    How are you, Julie? Wishing you love and peace for these holidays…xoxoxo


  3. daveallen
    Dec 31, 2014 @ 09:47:34

    I have a reunion coming up this year and I dread going. I dread seeing people who remember how I was then, and I dread the comparisons I’ll be making with my classmates – who has better jobs, bigger houses, more successful kids… I hope I can handle it as well as you have.


  4. Denise
    Jan 02, 2015 @ 11:19:48

    It helps to remember what matters; and after what we’ve been through, we surely know what matters. And I’d like to kick myself in the butt when I forget – however briefly – what those things are.


  5. Rose
    Jan 05, 2015 @ 09:33:55

    Hello Denise, I was thinking about you on this holiday season and I want you to know that I was sending good thoughts your way, warm thoughts of love and peace. I always, think about you and all the other parents there are in the same situation as you. How, can someone ever wish you a Happy Holiday season knowing that deep inside you are all missing an important part of you. It’s unconfortable for me to say, but it’s not unconfortable for me to feel this warm feeling of a happy holiday to anyone. So, I wished that for you and all the other parents, all over the world who went or are going through this very dense, deep, dark, sad phase in your lifes. My warm thoughts were with you all.

    As I was reading your message, once again you got me to think about things that I had forgotten, and were hidden somewhere inside of me. I never been to any class reunion. I did keep friends with some people, all the way from kindergarden. More because they were my neighbors, and their parents still leave around the same house I grew up. Anyways…I was never the pretty girl in school, I was never the smarted one, never had any great academic achievements, was never the rich one, the one that dressed the coolest…I was just a girl, trying to make through school years. I, like all of us wanted to belong…wanted to BE someone within a group. Be known for this or that…but, well that never happened. I never finished college, I don’t have a diploma hanging on my wall, showing how proud I’m of my academic achievements. I didn’t travel thousands of places and have tons os stories to say. But, I have my life…entertaining to some, boring to others, all I have is my life. And for a long time, I thought of myself as a loser, someone without ANY major achievements inside or outside of school. And that thought pushed me down, many times.. all I wanted was to do something big, something that would impact a bunch of people, something that others would look at me and say UAUAU who is this human being…well, that didn’t happen either….and as hard as it seems to accept that I’m really nobody in this huge world, I do know that sometimes my small actions do impact someone’s life. And that my small actions, will make someone happy, or less sad, less desperate in the end of the day. My small actions, won’t be broadcasted anywhere, my friends who are doctors, lawyers,etc today won’t know about my small actions. Nobody, will …..but, what I know and what makes my heart warm and full of love and life, is that I was able to give something to someone else that perhaps all my friends w/ all their degrees and big achievements in life were not, will not, ever give to anyone or receive from anyone in their lifes, LOVE.

    We all have misconceptions about ourselfs, one way or the other….it seems to me, that your past hides more things about you than you know. And, I believe it will be good for you to hear about them.




  6. Denise
    Jan 11, 2015 @ 23:59:05

    I think we have selective remembering – we remember what suits the story we decide to tell ourselves about ourselves. What matters – no matter how often I lose sight of it – is what I choose to make matter. Your “small” actions, then, are not so small. Learning to love is all, Rose. That’s not nearly as small or simple as it sounds. We’re challenged a hundred ways in a day in that regard and in the end, that’s what makes or breaks a life.

    I hope your holidays went well, and that you get back as much as you give. xoxoxoxo


  7. Lucia Maya
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 00:11:30

    Finally getting to read this, and just want to thank you. For your beautiful gift with words, sharing your story and your heart. Sorry I have few words, but know I am always with you, and Philip too.

    love, Lucia


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