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Domestic Bliss


Announcement of my 30-year high-school reunion arrived by e-mail this month. The organizer, Vicky, who I remember as a smart, no-nonsense kind of girl, told us 144 of our 500-plus classmates were missing and asked our help in locating them. Reading the list of names, I could see the faces of almost every one of the lost, and tried to imagine where they might have ended up. This girl I could see in an unhappy marriage; this boy, plump and successful. This one, surrounded by grandbabies, satisfied with a life of steady love and hard work.

Come July, those of us who can be found will gather for two days in Memphis to reacquaint ourselves and to compare lives. We are a far-flung group, children of mobility and ambition who left home when career and opportunity called or when we married. Thirty years have passed. Trying to put it into perspective, I realize that I am now almost five years older than my mother was in 1972, the year I graduated. My youngest children are almost as old as I was then. Since high school, I have devoted 25 years to raising kids and making a home, 20 years to marriage, and 15 or so to education and profession.

Imagining the reunion, I feel hurried. Hearing that 30 years have passed since high school makes me feel that I have frittered away a lot of time. I try to take stock, knowing that I am more or less in the same place as most of my classmates -- passing long, generally productive days that feel repetitive and monotonous. In the morning, my bones ache. Sleep is thin as tissue, easily broken and hard to restore. The mirror reflects back a face with a little too much extra flesh, loose skin at the neck. All day long, an aching thumb joint and stiff elbows remind me that I am approaching 50.

Who do I want to be at 48? Not anyone in particular that I can think of, and not exactly the person I've turned out to be either.

A friend recently told me she wanted to be me. I laughed.

"No, you don't," I told her. "We both want to be Barbara Kingsolver. Or Erica Jong." We want accomplishment and a life we've never lived.

When I was 18, just one year out of high school, I was part of a close-knit group of friends who spent most every afternoon and evening together. We all went to school and we all had part-time jobs. We dreamed together, out loud. One night, we decided that when summer came, we'd do something completely out of the ordinary, but together. We would leave the city and find work on a farm. We didn't have lofty goals like organic living or restoring the earth; we just wanted to experience a completely different kind of life from the one we had known so far.

I started researching by reading county farm bulletins. I sent out letters to farmers who advertised for hands in the classified ads. Finally, one day I received a letter back from a farmer named Brown. He described his acreage and his operation, and said he could use the help we'd offered. My friends and I were elated. We began to plan our summer on the farm. We imagined ourselves tanned, sweaty and exhausted at the end of every day. We broke the soil and stomped through the mud in our imaginations.

I wrote our farmer back saying we couldn't wait to come; then he wrote me back. He explained how isolated he was on his middle Tennessee farm and how all the young people moved on as soon as they were out of school. He told me the color of his hair and described himself modestly. He told me shyly and respectfully that he was lonely and needed a partner on the farm. He was looking for a wife. I wrote him back and told him my friends and I just wanted to work and live in the country, but none of us were looking for a husband. I never heard from him again.

In 30 years, I'd wager, the dreams of my classmates and the lives they've lived, like mine, have rarely intersected. We've chosen our lives then chosen them again and again. We've succeeded and failed, raised kids, married, stayed single, divorced, worked, been bored, elated, exhausted, satisfied, joyful and despairing.

And approaching 50, we all wake up in the morning a little stiff, holding those same old dreams as close as a newborn baby, fresh with possibility.

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