25 Years and All Growed Up
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© copyright 2001
Mark J. McGarry

It's been six weeks since my high school reunion and I still don't have it quite figured out. Albany High School Class of '76. More than 500 kids in the graduating class, and maybe a thimbleful of school spirit among them. There was no five-year reunion, nor a ten. We managed a fifteen-year gathering. The quarter-century mark would no doubt have passed without notice had it not been for efforts of a handful of alumni, and one in particular.

I took on the job of tracking down my former classmates. As I often say these days, I don't know what I would have done without the Internet. I searched Anywho.com and the others, sent out a few hundred pieces of mail, kept all the results in an ever-expanding Lotus Organizer file. I probably put in a couple hundred hours, but I didn't do it for school spirit. More the thrill of the hunt. I was actually ambivalent about the reunion itself.

Left: Jim Saturno, Brad Velcoff, Mark McGarry, Eric Spencer, at the post-reunion picnic at John Boyd Thacher State Park, outside Albany, N.Y.

I attended the fifteen-year reunion, but I don't remember too much about it. I did spend most of the evening talking to the same gang I've stayed in touch with all along. That kept me occupied, as did my new fiancee (later my bride, now my X). No new friendships were forged.

Not that I had anything against my former classmates. Not that I had been bullied (much), or given any other reason to become a member of some proto-chapter of the Trenchcoat Mafia. But I was a quiet sort, a bit of a loner, and pretty much kept to myself. I had a few close friends, and kept many of them to this day. I ran track for a season and a half. I edited one edition of the literary annual. But I didn't hang, drink, smoke pot, or do much socializing of any kind. And, naturally, I made my social awkwardness a virtue. I was different, more thoughtful, more contemplative, with more depth. I identified with those protagonists of a whole genre of science fiction, the outcasts with dormant powers, the sleepers who would awake.

Mary Lou Doyle, expressing astonishment that someone does not remember her from high school. (It is hard to believe.)

Was there ever a science-fiction writer who was captain of the football team, dated the head cheerleader, pulled straight A's and was warmly regarded by teachers and classmates alike? Certainly the cliché is that we're misfits. Certainly most writers are observers more than participants. We are observers even of our own lives. Many times, a part of me has heard words spoken by a brokenhearted lover and thought, "Wow, good line," as if it were well-crafted dialogue and not a bit of anguished conversation. It's all material. As Milan Kundera put it, "The novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to building the house of his novel."

So I went through high school observing, and expressing an offbeat personality only mutedly.

 

James DeMarco and Jim Saturno

Most of my memories of high school are of the times after the dismissal bell rang. But there is one event that took place during the school day, and more than any other single incident, it set me on the path toward becoming a writer. Our final project in my senior-year English class was to make some sort of presentation, form and topic open. I wrote a science-fiction story, "Becalmed," and when the time came our class decamped to the auditorium and my best friend, Jim Saturno, read the story aloud. He had a better reading voice ... and my place was not center stage, but offstage. Early on in the story:

Four, laid out in a neat row. Four Warlocks, each lying in his own casualty well, all of the same height and build, or nearly so, differing only in the condition of their corpses. One, face contorted, had bit through his cheek completely. Another, blood-spattered, looked to have clawed out his own eyes. Another --

And one of the girls in the class said, "Ewwww!" And that, my friends, was my first taste of how the writer can stir the soul or, at least, roil the stomach.

Sarah Looby Foster and Gwendolyn Shutter Peters

 

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