time quivers slightly
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Twenty-nine years ago I left school; a graduation photo of me sitting in white robes on a dusty floor, mortarboard abandoned, Gauloise in hand, scowling into the distance, is a pretty accurate portrait of my state of mind back in 1984.
I had spent two years at that International School in Belgium trying unsuccessfully to be expelled so that I could go back to Scotland; my memories of that time are bleak. I didn't fit in with the children of diamond merchants and arms dealers, corporate American citizens or French aristocrats. I did a bit of acting but I mainly remember counting the days until I went to University, sitting alone watching experimental plays and feeling equally misunderstood, internalising a lot of anger, angst and black coffee and hanging out with local musicians, pretending to adore Moroccan drum music.
So when The Pretty One talked me into a school reunion, just a coffee, in London, nice people, it will be fun, I was completely prepared to bolt after ten minutes of squirmy, resentful small talk.
Of course, none of us are seventeen any longer. We've got battle scars: death, divorce, loss of country and sanity. We've got badges too: lots of beautiful children, unexpected careers, personal happiness in the teeth of grim societal opposition. Almost thirty years is, it seems, plenty of time to grow up, to soften and forgive, and to open our eyes to the good things that happen instead of dwelling on the bad.
I would like to pretend that, on the train home, I let go of three decades of resentment and ire. I am working on that, and it is happening, but this is a place for ugly truths.
I'm afraid I beamed with pride that a dozen people remember like yesterday, the sight of me outside Study Hall locked in battle with the Head, cigarette smoke and expletives thickening the air, refusing loudly and publicly to conform. It was a recurring image for much of the reunion, he and I eyeball to eyeball, neither giving an inch, furious words, contraband vodka and threats, tears and shrugs. I have just found that long-suffering teacher on Facebook and composed a brief panegyric on his patience and compassion.
It would have been easier to expel me.