Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Seeing an Old Fire Burn Again

Lately, my mind has been stuck on reminiscent mode of my high school days. I graduated from the smallest school in the state of Iowa where we had just shy of 200 people in kindergarten through 12th grade. In my class, there were eight regular students and one foreign exchange student from Denmark. We knew each other very well, most of us having been together all through school. That was over 12 years ago and with a couple exceptions, I haven't seen them since.

Two years ago, I was on my way home to my parent's farm and because of an errand, had gone a different route than I normally do. I needed some gas and stopped in at a gas station that I had never been to fill up. When I walked in to pay for my fuel, there was this woman standing at the register that looked familiar from my past. It took a few seconds and just when it occurred to me who she was, I saw recognition register in her eyes as well, we were former high school classmates. We said hello and made the normal 'how are you doing' chit chat for a minute but it was busy there and I had to go so that she could take care of the other customers. I walked back to my car and drove off with my mind flying a million miles an hour.

Back in school, she had been from a poor family who for generations, had probably only graduated high school with the men going to work at the local factories and the women marrying and raising large families. Before our last couple years of school, I had seen a fire in her eyes and thought that she might break the cycle and get out into the world to do something greater. She talked about it and I knew that she could do it but a unplanned pregnancy changed that. She got married while still in high school and soon had two more children. The dreams of college or moving out of the area collapsed as poverty sucked her back into its powerful grip. The toll of so much of a burden began weighing on her. She lost weight and looked haggard during much of her senior year which is a look that I have come to attribute to those in poverty. By the time graduation had rolled around, the fire had all but flickered out in her eyes. That was the last I had seen of her until ten years later at the gas station.

Time had passed and so had many changes but I didn't know of them until I stopped by the gas station a month later with the intention of catching her at a slow time so that we could talk awhile. I found that she had gotten divorce and remarried. Life had obviously become better as she looked healthy, vibrant and very beautiful. She was leaving her job to move with her husband overseas for a couple years while he served in the military. I could see that fire burning in her eyes again and I was truly happy for her. We talked for ten minutes this time but even on a slow day, she had work to do and we parted ways. I haven't seen her since.

That incident got me to thinking about what changes had gone on in the lives of my other former classmates over the last twelve years. I have heard one is a registered sex offender, another almost died due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and a third works as a registered x-ray technician. The others have simply vanished off my radar. I think more often of trying to find all of them and arrange for some sort of class reunion just to catch up and relive our 'glory days.' Maybe after I get my new house fixed up, I will begin the search and invite them all over. Maybe they are just as curious to learn about me.

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