Renegade Reunion

Without a hall pass, permission from the principal, or even a forged note of parental consent, certain classmates from my home town are planning to celebrate our 50th birthdays together. True to our rebel nature, we're not even informing the official High School Reunion committee. Still radical after all these years. Now single, coupled, gay, straight and everywhere in between, we're all turning 50 and indulging in our own brand of nostalgia and sentimentality. It's our party and we'll cry if we want to. Together we can reweave the frayed memory of our shared past. What few brain cells survived our youthful psychedelic excursions are now being knocked off by dipping hormones. I need these people. What makes this unofficial reunion especially great is that the closet door has been flung open wide and I know I'm not the only one who bolted out.This was not the case back in 1978. When the invitation to our 10-year reunion arrived I was happily ensconced in the Golden Age of Amazons. I was operating a forklift in a feminist collective, practicing Kung Fu with a lesbian Sifu, and holding up a parsnip for a shank bone at vegetarian Passover Seders. While I listened to women's music and reveled in the freedom of womyn-only space, I thought back to my graduating class and wondered if anyone from my past was sharing these glorious discoveries.Had anyone else had the same good fortune of breaking free of obligatory heterosexuality and dropping into the loving arms of lesbians? Jessica Bock came to mind. All through school she was smart, confident and could wallop a softball. She wasn't giggly or silly, although she had a great sense of humor and drew terrific cartoons. When we graduated, she still hadn't shaved her legs, plucked her eyebrows or gone steady. Were these signs of sisterhood? Had she become a lesbian? I hoped to find out at the 10-year reunion. I was pretty sure I couldn't be the only one who had turned on, tuned in, and come out. I spotted Jessica across the park playground. We marveled at how great the other one looked. Neither of us had on any makeup, which I took as a sign. We didn't comment on the coincidence that we were both wearing faded Levi's (this was before you could buy pre-faded jeans), T-shirts, and no-nonsense short hair cuts. I felt I had found a kindred spirit. We sat on the old picnic table that was still gouged with our once-revolutionary peace symbol carving. Certain that she was on my wavelength I asked "So, you're lesbian too?" She drew herself up and snapped "I'm happily married thank you very much." A decade later, at the 20th reunion, I tried again. I was in the hotel lobby meeting the wives and husbands of kids I once ditched school with. It was fascinating to see how people had aged, hear what they were up to, and look at pictures of their children. But I longed to share coming out stories, commiserate over AIDS losses and recount lesbian and gay rights political activities with someone who would get it. I didn't want to be the only queer at the reunion. Then my eyes zeroed in on Jessica standing by the banquet room entrance. Nonchalant, her hands casually rested in the pockets of her dark slacks. She wore a tweed blazer, tinted aviator glasses and Frye boots. I'm talking three-dollar bill here. If this wasn't one big dyke I'd have to trade in my gay-dar. I walked up to her, "Help me Rhonda" blaring from the hotel sound system. "Jessica Bock! Ten years later, same question." No rebuke this time. A broad smile spread over her un-lipsticked mouth. She nodded. We hugged and I caught a whiff of, what was it, Brut?Now that Jessica and I are here, queer, and used to it, we're masterminding a party for all the other renegades. We're including everyone who, however they managed it, escaped our small conservative home town, became independent free thinkers and led a different kind of life.We were the rowdy bunch who squeaked through before the era of Ritalin. Outside our elementary school classrooms we sang about the same rotten tangerine, then went on to high school to become the non-conformists who rebelled against the establishment and smoked dope to the same Jefferson Airplane album.Defying convention became a way of life for all of us. We' ve each made our own journey toward peace, love and higher consciousness. For me, being at ease with my whole self among the people who were there during my awkward growing up is another step on that path. We may have the gray hair, wrinkles and cellulite of other 50 year olds but we' re still the renegades. The "Class of '68 Renegade 50th Birthday Bash" welcomes all of us who got away, no hall pass required.Sally Sheklow writes a regular column for Eugene Weekly, where the article originally appeared.

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