My Fight with Panic Disorder Part II: Gwin and Marijuana

From the essay, “Stuck in the Middle,” by Cindy Zelman

Look, you even get your own handbook.
If only I’d had a handbook on how to keep out of trouble when I was 15.

When I was thirteen I met Gwin, new to town, and we spent a lovely year bonding as we entered the eighth grade at junior high. We walked to and from the bus stop each day, chatting about our young lives, and yet feeling so mature.

 “Those seventh graders still act like children,” she might say, and I’d answer, “Yes, they do, Gwin, like babies.”

Already, she was interested in junior and senior boys in high school. I thought this made her very grown up. Although we didn’t share many classes at school, we hurried to each other every afternoon when we caught the school bus home. We babysat together, and spent all waking moments keeping each other company. We shared secrets. Her father drank too much. So did my mom. Her mother was mentally unstable. So was my dad. She was a virgin but she wanted to have sex. I was a virgin and I wanted to learn to play the guitar. We ate Swiss Rolls (chemically produced cake with chemically manufactured whip cream) and drank Diet Pepsi (with fake sweetener to give you brain tumors, someday, long down the road, we imagined.) We laughed so much. That was the thing: I’d never been so happy, as I was with Gwin.

She had cat-green eyes and a reddish-blonde afro, a hairstyle popular in the 1970s, no matter your skin color. When she smiled at me, all other reality collapsed. I had fallen secretly in love with her – the secret was on me, and it would take me years to understand these feelings. I would have done anything to please her, and I did.

Before panic attacks exploded as a regular part of my life, I agreed, at the end of our freshmen year in high school, to try marijuana. By age fifteen, Gwin enjoyed smoking pot. She thought it was her right that I should smoke with her.

“What are best friends for? I want you to get high with me. That’s what best friends do together.” She demanded it, her tone chastising.

I had done a little drinking since entering high school, but I never got drunk. I hated the taste of booze, truly, and thought of my mother every time I felt even a little tipsy. My mother was a big nighttime drunk. As a child, I’d suffered through her episodic inebriated jags, always as she came home from a night out partying, fumbling with her house key, noisy and incompetent. Such memories made me afraid of the idea of pot—the potential loss of control—but I did not know how to articulate such a fear to Gwin or to myself.

Too late!

As we departed the woods, I stumbled down a three-foot embankment and blacked out. I could not remember climbing down the embankment. I was at the top of it, and then I was staggering at the bottom of it. I couldn’t remember the two seconds in between. A terror ignited inside me, extinguished, lit again and extinguished, like brush fires ravage through the woods on a windy day. Somehow I managed to reach Ellen’s patio, which served as an open and pretty backyard to the condo she lived in with her mother and sister.

Ellen had laid out a feast for the stoned: potato chips, onion dip, little meatballs on a stick, chili, Doritos, candy, cake, and Diet Pepsi. My getting high for the first time signified an occasion. I sat down in a patio chair. Ellen turned on music. We were seventies rockers. We listened to The Who, Rod Stewart, and Queen. One of my favorite songs of the era was “Stuck in the Middle,” featuring a now obscure band called Stealers Wheel. The song played out of Ellen’s stereo speakers. Ellen and Gwin were giggling ecstatically, but I sat with a mortified expression, feeling stiff and paralyzed and other-worldly.

“Are you having fun?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know.” I managed to say.

“What’s the matter?” Giggles.

“Nothing. Just let me feel the music.”

“Just let me feel the music!” They mocked with more uncontrollable giggles.

That was a line I never lived down with those girls. Yet how appropriate some of the lines of the song: Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight/I got the feeling that something ain’t right /Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right/Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

I was stuck in the middle of a drug experience. I was stuck in the middle of my first full-fledged  panic attack. I was in a state of marijuana hallucination. I stared at the red brick wall of the back of Ellen’s condo. The brick wall existed and did not exist. I viewed everything through a warped visual haze that apparently my friends either did not experience or did not experience as terrifying. I saw a hand crumbling Ruffles Potato Chips to my lower right, understanding that this was my hand, but this wasn’t my hand. I had no reference point for reality, and my perceptions floated un-tethered and petrified, as a hand, mine, not mine, crumbled Ruffles.

My throat was parched. The table with the refreshments rested just feet away, but it seemed miles. There is a table but there is no table. I couldn’t imagine how I would get out of my seat to pour a drink, and I could no longer speak to ask for one. I could see my friends laughing and munching Doritos, but I couldn’t figure out if they were there or not. Gwin, Ellen? There, not there. I would die from thirst. My tongue was huge and leathery in my mouth.

I was pouring myself a Diet Pepsi over ice cubes. How did I get to the table? I did not remember rising from my chair. How will I get back to my chair?

 I am paralyzed.

 I will fall and die.

 I am back at my chair.

The hand continued to crumble potato chips. It’s my hand. It’s not my hand.

 I couldn’t lift the glass to my lips to relieve my enormous tongue that no longer fit in my mouth. It is my tongue. It is not my tongue.

I was downing Diet Pepsi and trying to un-parch my tongue. Drink or die. I felt myself swallowing liquid. Drink or die.

I swallow. I cannot swallow. I swallow.

I could not turn in any direction; everything I saw was there but was not. I looked up to the sky (which exists and does not exist) and prayed to God (who exists and does not exist) to get me out of this: Dear God, if you get me out of this, I promise I will never again take another drug.

I saw my father, difficult and frightful, walking toward Ellen’s patio, although he did not know where she lived. I imagined him, with his dark-tanned skin and wounded eyes, demanding that I get up and go with him. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t walk. He would have a tantrum. I can’t get up. My father is not here but he’s coming. No he’s not. Yes he is.

My prayers worked, eventually, because I started, after what seemed like hours, to come down. Reality slowly started to look real again: the brick wall, the table, the glass in my hand. Potato chips were just potato chips. I ate some. I thanked God in my head, and I experienced a deep physical calm and acceptance of all things. I wondered if this was how people felt right before they resigned themselves to drowning at sea. I felt I had drowned, had lost something in silvery waves of fear. Although God (or something) got me out of this horror, I had not been saved: I remained the daughter of a drinker mom and a mental case dad, and now, I would come to find out, I’d triggered a psychiatric disorder and would become a teenager with a wrecked adolescence.

To be continued.

A version of this essay was originally published in Cobalt Review

If you are interested in reading Part I – please click here:

Watch the video: Stuck in the Middle

Hey, I’m a Free Bird

What's Your Name (Lynyrd Skynyrd album)
Image via Wikipedia

Usually when I’m in flight I read or let my mind drift, stare out the window at clouds or the lighted dots of cities in the dark. If I fly JetBlue, I watch Channel 13 – a little cartoon plane flies across a map on the mini screen embedded in the back of the chair ahead of me. I can see the route the plane takes, and the speed and altitude.

Recently I attended AWP in Chicago, which is a high volume conference – meaning a high volume of writers and editors gather once a year to schmooze, read, take seminars, sell books and journals. I was on my way home from this event, on that JetBlue plane, watching Channel 13, and seeing the night sparkle of Boston come into view through the plane window. As the plane made its descent, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” played through my ear buds. Songs bring me to places, my past and my present and sometimes fantasies of my future. I watched the map on Channel 13 and looked out the plane window, as we drifted down from 35,000 feet to 21,000 to 10,000, and as “Free Bird” rocked me back and forth through the decades of my life. 

The song is one of the anthems of my youth – it represents both the joys and pain of my adolescence – the time before the panic disorder, and the time after it, the time before my best friend dumped me and the time after she dumped me. That kind of thing. Ronnie Van Zant’s voice remains relentless and hard-edged into the 21st century, although his body left the earth decades ago. He had his time in the 1970s, as did I, before he crashed in a plane and before I crashed in a panic.

Not long after “Free Bird” became a hit in the 1970s, I locked myself in my house for a year, as I succumbed to panic attacks. I became a recluse, a full-fledged agoraphobic. I couldn’t go anywhere. I mean, not anywhere. I quit high school. I quit my part-time job at Roxies Supermarket. I quit going out with friends. I quit riding bicycles or taking walks. I sat in my apartment, the one I shared with my mother. And I lost my mind.

I’m writing a book about that time in my life, trying to figure out the design of the story, trying to remember all that happened in the year 1979 particularly, the worst year of my life.

Today I can jet to a city like Chicago where in 1979 I couldn’t sit on the stoop of the apartment building where I lived. In the past year I’ve traveled as far as Seattle and Colorado, I’ve braved the big cities of New York and Chicago, and if I get into a writing conference for summer, I plan to go to Los Angeles. In 1979, I couldn’t sit in a high school classroom without panic assaulting my body and mind. And so I quit school.

But things are not the same. I am not the same.

I must be traveling on now, because there’s too many places I gotta see. Bye, bye babe, it’s been a sweet love, but… If I stay here with you now, things just couldn’t be the same. Because I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change. – Ronnie Van Zant

When I was 17 I prayed for overnight miracles; more than 30 years later, I’ve learned miracles don’t happen overnight but over a lifetime.

On October 20, 1977, just three days after the release of Street Survivors, and five shows into their most successful headlining tour to date, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s chartered Convair CV-300 ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina, where they had just performed at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, to LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Though the pilots attempted an emergency landing on a small airstrip, the plane crashed in a forest in Gillsburg, Mississippi.[13] Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were killed on impact; the other band members (Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins) and road crew suffered serious injuries. – Via Wikapedia.

David, pray

1975 Plymouth Duster photographed at the Rasse...
Image via Wikipedia

(Early draft stories from my agoraphobic life)

In his youth, David Pray sported a thick shock of blonde, wavy hair. That’s what you noticed first: all that crazy yellow-white hair. He had fine blue eyes, thick, pouty-boy lips, and a charismatic, toothy grin that occupied half of his face. He wasn’t what the girls considered a hunk, but he was sweet. Before my problems with agoraphobia landed me in my mother’s apartment, bewildered and paralyzed, I’d dated David, in his junior year and my sophomore year in high school. For several months, he bicycled six miles to see me. When he got his license, he bought a used car — a green Plymouth Duster with a kick ass stereo. He’d pick me up and we’d cruise around town with Lynrd Skynrd and Jethro Tull thrumming in our ears. These were our glory days; these were our days of innocence and joy.

We’d find our way back to my condo, where we’d make out sprawled across the plush carpet in the living room. My mother worked and my brother had moved to his college dorm. David and I had privacy. We didn’t shed much clothing during our make out sessions. We kissed and we held each other. After, we ate Doritos and drank Diet Pepsi. We smoked cigarettes. He smoked weed, too. We didn’t think about tomorrow. We went for another drive. We blasted Molly Hatchet and Pink Floyd. We sang this shit at the top of our lungs. We were free, like Skynrd’s Freebird, before the band members died. We stopped at MacDonald’s for fries.

The better part of a year passed, and David enrolled at Wentworth Institute of Technology, as my senior year in high school began. We’d broken up for no apparent reason except he was off to college and I wasn’t. By 1979, I’d become housebound, and I hadn’t seen David or any friends since “coming down with” panic attacks. Agoraphobia was the term we used in the 70s and 80s, for those of us who were so deeply terrorized by panic that we could not leave home to see a movie, attend a dance, go to the prom (David had asked), work a part-time job, or sit in a classroom. At the time, I was the only person I knew like that. I thought I had gone insane, I thought I was nuts. The inside of my head was a fucking mess; I imagined it looked like Alice Cooper’s face in Welcome to My Nightmare.

One night in the middle of my housebound year, I was surprised when David called and asked to visit me.

“You know I can’t do anything.”

“I just want to see you. I need to talk.”

“David, I look awful. I haven’t had my haircut in a year.”

He sounded so sad, that at his urging, I told him he could come over.

By this time, my mother and I had moved out of the condo and to the third floor of an apartment building. I heard the “buzz” of the ringer when David arrived. I let him in and I tried not to stare at his eyes, glassy and teary, as he attempted to hide sadness behind his huge and dazzling grin.

He hugged me and gave me a kiss. “How have you been? Are you doing any better?”

I don’t remember my answer. I’m sure I explained to him that I wasn’t as bad as I had been at the start of 1979, and as 1980 moved closer, I could almost imagine going outside. I know I explained to him during one of our phone calls that I thought I’d lost my mind, that I was afraid to go anywhere, because everywhere I went, I had a panic attack.

“I can’t even sit on the stoop,” I told him, as I told anyone who was in touch during that period in my life, “I run back upstairs sweating and trembling and feeling as though I’ll faint.”

“I’m sorry,” he’d said. I told him it was okay, that I was bound to get better, right?

And now he stood in front of me, looking more emotionally disturbed than I was.

“David, what’s the matter?” His grin had evaporated.

“I smoke too much pot.”

“You always did, David.”

“This is worse.”

I waited for him to explain.

“I can’t get to sleep at night unless I smoke a joint, and I’m scared. I can’t control it.”

It wasn’t the joints and the marijuana that were the problem. It was his lack of control. Maybe that’s why he wanted to see me. Lack of control was something I’d been living with for most of the last two years; I felt out of control during my panic attacks and with my life generally. I’d been going to therapy in an attempt to deal with my panic and phobias, so when David asked me what I thought he should do about his problem, I said, “David, find a therapist on campus to talk to about all this.”

We continued to discuss his dependency on pot for a time. He asked me more about what it was like to be agoraphobic and housebound. Our discussions led to talks about teenage tragedies. “Remember, Pat CXXXX?” I asked him. She’d been a girl who was a year behind me in high school, killed in a car crash in her sophomore year, just a mile down the street from where I lived. I recalled seeing her in gym class when she was a freshman, a short, cute cherubic girl, who looked much like her older sister, whom I’d known since first grade. A year later Pat was gone, dead at fifteen. David and I both recalled, Dave CXXXXXX, a boy we worked with at Roxies Supermarket, a physically large and generous guy, who had been diving from cliffs stoned out of his mind with his friends one night. He broke his neck during a swan dive, and died from complications in the hospital days later, after the entire high school, it seemed, had sent rallying prayers that he should live. “He’s tough,” a friend of his said hopefully, proudly, while he bagged someone’s groceries at the end of my check out counter. This kid had never talked to me before. All the girls who worked the second shift arrived at the supermarket crying on the day Dave CXXXXXX died. Two kids dead. Me, housebound. David, frightened about his addiction. No longer in the glory days, we’d entered the years when the shit rained down upon us.

We moved to the couch where we lay and held one another, both of us frightened by our behaviors, growing out of our teen years and into our twenties, into young adulthood with addictions, phobias, and fears so powerful they hurtled and ricocheted like daggers and boomerangs in our brains. We imagined the worst that could happen to us, instead of dreaming of the best, as you’d like to do at age 19 and 18. We lay there, our arms wrapped around each other, trying to save the other and ourselves, slipping instead into black holes of terror.

I didn’t know if therapy was helping me. I didn’t know if it could help David. I didn’t tell him that I’d begun praying for the first time in my life. I was not and still am not religious, but I had a few litanies I’d made up, which I said nightly, such as “God, get me through another day, send me a miracle, I can’t go on like this.” I’d need to repeat such a prayer five times before bed. And then a variation on it ten times. Why? I don’t know. The compulsive nature of my prayer was part of my illness. I was embarrassed to admit the prayer, the compulsion, or that I’d been thrown into a hell that had me trying to believe in God, where before I’d just believed in love and rock and roll. I didn’t say any of this to him.

David, I pray, I wanted to say. David, pray, I wanted to say. David Pray, I want to say, where are you now?

Please enjoy this hilariously dated video by Alice Cooper:

Running up the escalator

Suzanne, what is wrong with these fucking people?”

It seemed more appropriate than usual that I should fling the f-word, seeing that I found myself in a Secaucus, New Jersey train station near midnight. “I mean, why the fuck are these people running up the escalator when there are two huge staircases on either side of us?”

We’d just come from a Prince concert at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. I’m from outside of Boston and rarely use public transportation. I was perplexed as I watched people running upwards on a moving escalator. I was also geographically disoriented. I have no idea where I am when in New Jersey, no sense of what goes where. If I’m in Secaucus, where is New York City? Where is Jersey City? Where is the Hudson? Where am I? But one thing I do know, despite all this confusion: When you ride an escalator “up,” you don’t run up the moving stairs.

Image via Wikipedia

“They’re showing off,” Suzanne said. “Just stay to the right and let them pass.”

“But isn’t this the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever seen? I mean, what is with these people? Assholes.”

Suzanne took my hand and laughed. She’s very cool that way. All my bad language just “sweetens the pot” for her, she says. Gotta love a girl like that, right?

The next day she reminded me of what seeing Prince at the Izod Center really meant in my life – it was an incredible success story for one such as I who has been fighting panic disorder and agoraphobia for most of her life. I told Suzanne about the first concert I ever attended in 1977: The Steve Miller Band played the old Boston Garden – home of the Bruins and Celtics. At that time, smoking was still allowed in public venues and smoking pot was expected and allowed at rock concerts, despite marijuana being an illegal drug. The Steve Miller Band was reaching the height of its popularity in the 1970s with songs such as Fly Like an Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take the Money ‘N Run. Their first hit came when I was a little kid, four years earlier, with The Joker.

In 1977 I was fifteen and my best friend’s older sister agreed to take us to the concert at The Garden. I should have been excited to attend the event, but I was scared. I became obsessed with my fear of inhaling pot smoke, smoke which I knew would infiltrate the arena. That fear extended itself into a fear of crowds. This was the blossoming of my panic disorder and agoraphobia. I had no awareness of the extent of my anxiety at that time; it was an inarticulate tremor beneath my skin.

When we walked into the Boston Garden that night, and a reefer cloud of smoke reached all the way down to our ankles, I was petrified. I spent the entire concert in a state of panicked alert, waiting to trip out again as I had the year before when I’d smoked marijuana and hallucinated from it.  To better understand my problems with narcotics, please see my blog entry “Drugged.”

That was more than thirty years past.

It’s 2010. Suzanne reminds me of how I’m challenging myself and pushing my limits, of how I’m growing.

I can board trains, buses, and escalators and walk into the Izod Center arena in the State of New Jersey – so far away from my home in Massachusetts – to see a legend like Prince. When we first walk in, I note the music is way too loud. I feel the drums vibrating in my chest and the guitars searing my eardrums. That kind of physical stimuli can still give me panic. I remember how strong I am, what good shape I’m in, at age 48. I have worked hard (for decades) to reclaim my ability to attend rock concerts, to attend life.

Of course, it helps to have a supportive lover/friend by your side.  Thank you, Suzanne. And it helps that smoking of any kind is no longer allowed in public places. So there is no cloud of reefer smoke infiltrating my nostrils and making me hold my breath and squirm in terror. The worst we run into at the Prince concert is a young woman who tries to hustle us into buying her a beer at the concessions. “I’m thirty years old,” she lies. “And can you believe I left my ID at home?” When we tell her that we won’t buy her alcohol, she says, “You guys, suck.” I don’t hear this but Suzanne tells me later. Suzanne looks at me and says, “Thirty years old, my ass.”

It’s all so easy now.

Prince is gorgeous. One cannot help but stare at his phenomenal presence and physical beauty. He reminds me of my twenties, the age I was during his rise to fame during the 1980s. I feel a kinship with him because he can bring back my youth, just by standing up on that stage and singing the songs of 25 years past. He can bring that youth to me now, now that I am healthy enough to breathe it in deeply.

I am so calm as I watch Prince dance and listen to him sing those amazing songs: Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Purple Rain, 1999. The idea of panic fades away to the mustier regions of my brain. I eat a giant pretzel and drink red Gatorade and hold my girlfriend’s hand.

And later, I will curse the New Jersey-ians running up the escalator. Life is so much better now.

Reunion – Why do I remember you? Why Do you remember me?

My 30th high school reunion begins as most of the stories of my life do — with an embarrassing moment.

“You have something on the back of your pants,” the young woman at the registration table says. I figure her age to be somewhere between 15 and 17. I will soon learn she is one of the daughters of the reunion organizer, graciously and helpfully volunteering as the Stoughton High School Class of 1980 saunters into the Holiday Inn. And one of us – me, of course – has something foreign and inappropriate stuck to her ass.

I wonder: What could it be? I don’t have my period, I have not peed my pants — have not had nor done either of those things in quite some time. I have not shat myself. I am wearing midnight black pants. Did I sit in a bucket of white flour? Did I eat any mauve-colored yogurt? I’ve been known to fling that stuff around. Is there a big, ugly, sticky glob of  undefinable muck on my ass? How bad could it be? I smile at the young lady. I use my fingers to diddle blindly at the back of my pants. I say calmly, coolly to the girl, “I can’t feel anything.”

Her face is red. Mine is middle-aged.

If you’ve been following my blog, you are not surprised to learn that here I am, standing at the threshold of  my 30th high school reunion with the first boy (now man) I ever dated by my side as I feel up the back of my ass with my fingers. If you are new to my blog, let it be known to you: This is a typical scenario in my life.

I see that the young lady is mortified but I must ask, “Since I can’t find anything, what is it, then?”

“It’s a price sticker,” she says. She moves toward me, tentative and brave. At that moment, I think she may die from embarrassment. I am amused by this.

“Is that all it is? Oh well.” I am trying to calm her anxiety over my pants. I mean, the things that might have been stuck to my ass (see potential disasters as mentioned above such as bodily fluids, indefinable gunk, shit, wildly flung pink yogurt, etc.) The young lady takes the sticker off for me since I have apparently become helpless in my middle-age. I thank her and smile.

Time to ponder two curious aspects this “something on your” pants incident…

First, I’m not nearly as mortified that something is stuck to my pants as the young woman is who notices it. I joke with her, “As long as it isn’t a sign that says, ‘Kick me.’ Hahahaha.” She does not laugh. Sometimes it’s good to be middle-aged and feeble-minded rather than teenage-ed and sharp-minded. Things sticking to your ass don’t matter anymore, not after all you’ve been through in your life. Colonoscopies. The death of parents. One, two, three or more broken hearts. Bad jobs. Prejudice. Discrimination. Sexual harassment. Bad drug trips. Bad bosses. Bad dates. BAD DATES. What is a sticker on one’s ass after all of that?

Second, I’m perplexed and amused that I had a price tag stuck to the pants. I’ve owned these slacks for two years. I wear them often. Is the price tag something I just picked up recently when I sat down on my bed or in my car?  Or have I been walking around wearing these pants with a price tag stuck to the ass for two years? Ha. What a thought. I almost wish it so. I appreciate the irony. I also appreciate the young woman at the reunion registration table for finally pulling that sticker off my ass. She is very sweet.

So, sticker-less and with a presentable pair of slacks, I walk into the reunion.

“CINDY ZELMAN,” a youthful looking man says to me as I walk up to a table, and I swear he doesn’t even peer at my name tag or high school picture, both attached to my sweater. It’s as if, after 30 years, he merely recognizes me. He gives me a big and loving hug. I admit, I have to look at his picture to identify him. I say, “G—! It’s so nice to see you. I can’t believe you even remember me!” He looks better now than he did in high school. I mention something like this to him but with more finesse, “I didn’t recognize you, you look fantastic.” (You hear a lot of that at 30th high school reunions, by the way.) “Yeah, I lost a lot of weight,” he answers. Truly, he looks more boyish now than he did when I met him in seventh grade. I don’t admit this, but I am very touched that he remembers me and seems so happy to see me. I don’t recall very many conversations between us in junior high or high school, but apparently, I made some impression.

Why do you remember me? I want to ask but don’t.

Why do I remember you?

G looks at me and at M—–, the boy (now man) who was my first ever date and has agreed to be my date for tonight’s reunion. G says, “I just had a flashback about the two of you. You were at D.W. Fields Park and I saw you holding hands. I took a picture of you and brought it to school – it was seventh grade – I wanted to give Cindy hard time but all she said was, ‘Nice picture, can I have it?'”

M and I look at one another shaking our heads. We talk later about how we both suspected we’d had  second date and we both thought it was at D.W. Fields Park, but now we know it because out of the proverbial blue, G has confirmed this with his memory. He remembered our second date better than we did.

Why do you remember me?

Why do I remember you?

Many of the attendees of my 30th high school reunion looked quite good. At age 48, they’ve held up well, at least the ones who chose to attend. I was most taken by a group of men, G included, who were in my 7th grade smartie-pants-nerdy-some-of-us-might-be-geniuses class. Some of these boys were borderline geeky in those days, too skinny or too fat, definitely too smart, in the way back of the mid-1970s. And yet, here they all are – that particular group of boys, now men – and looking mighty fine. Handsome. Filled out. Slimmed down. Successful. Kind. Charming. Loving. Nice boys who have grown into nice men.

I begin to play the What-If game. What if in junior high and high school, I’d paid more attention to these nice boys rather than dating the bad boys and bad men that I did. (Older men are another subject entirely and for a different blog entry.) What IF I’d dated some of these nice guys for more than two dates. How would my life have turned out differently?

Dear reader, you must realize, if you don’t already know, that I am a lesbian who came out in her twenties in the 1980s. However, at this moment of my 30th class reunion, I am experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and past-life remorse wondering again what I might have missed. I am flashing back to the 1970s without the use of drugs.

WHAT IF I’d dated G or T or S or J or M for REAL, for four years instead of for four days or four weeks, and instead of those sexually obsessed psychopaths I did date? Oh, WHAT IF? Would I have lived the life of glee?

Instead of a life of gay?

Well, okay, we know the truth: if I had dated nicer boys I would have enjoyed high school more (with fewer dicks stuck in my face and more corsages pinned to my prom dresses) but I would have still discovered my lesbianism at age 24.

A lesbian is born, not made. Society may repress her from knowing her true self for decades, but she comes to learn who she is. And while we do not choose our sexuality (nodding to recent public events and debates) my lesbianism is neither greater than nor lesser to anyone’s sexuality. It is what it is: I love women in “that way.” You take my taxes. So let me get married. Stop bullying my children. Stop debating my rights. Stop voting on my life. Stop playing God.

I drift off topic.

I wish I could have fallen in love with one of those nice boys, so I could have felt high school the way so many (although by no means all) kids feel it. With society backing me up and cheering me on. But for those of us who are gay, we don’t have such backing. We didn’t in the 1970s, and too often, we don’t now.

In the end, I did not fall in love with one of those boys,  these lovely men who stand before me now at our 30th high school reunion. When I did fall in love in the 1970s, I fell in love with a girl. I kissed a girl decades before Katy Perry was even born. And I meant it. I fell in love with Lynne Simmons – I can say her name fully because no one knows where the hell she is. Does anyone? She was a bad girl. A very bad girl. I wonder if she’s still alive.

Life and death. All we have lived through, those of us at this reunion. Sorrow and joy. The colors in between. Errant things stuck to our asses. Health issues. Children. Lovers. Disasters. Wars. Money. Lack of money. Houses, homes, cats, dogs. Bicycles left out in the rain. All we have lived through and been blessed with, both good and bad. We are alive.

Leading me to my final thoughts on the reunion.

May those we lost from the Class of 1980 Rest In Peace: Kathryn Boyle, Kevin Brown, Paul Francis Callahan Jr., Pamela Camara, David Flanagan, Margaret J. Kiddy, and Shawn Joseph Nonnemacher. Peace to those classmates who may have passed away that we don’t yet know about. And may those young people who have taken their own lives recently rest peacefully also, those we know about and those we don’t. We send you our love. We remember you.