A Survivor of ’84

By Denese, 74. Adelaide, SA

Cathy disliked reunions intensely.

Under sufferance she’d gone to the art school reunion last year and was astonished that the only practicing artists making money from their work were those who’d shown absolutely no talent whatsoever during their four years of tuition.

But a school reunion? Ughh! The thought made her skin crawl. This was going to be a thousand times worse. To her mind, eleven years of one’s life spent with bitchy girls and useless teachers was best left imbedded deep in the school oval turf.

Depression descended as she scanned the invitation to attend the gathering with a request for a screed on what had transpired over the twenty years since she had gleefully stepped through those ornate gates and onto perceived freedom.  

What had she accomplished in twenty years? Fifteen different jobs, three husbands, and two children, who only now were beginning to tolerate each other. She managed a smile at the thought of the children. Perhaps getting them to like each other stood out as her major accomplishment as it’d taken a mighty sixteen years to achieve.

Her mind turned back to the reunion. Sandra, her lifelong friend from school days, had already rung, her voice brimming with excitement at receiving her invitation. She couldn’t wait to see everyone again and had reeled off long forgotten nicknames like Manny, Li-Li, Tash and Mere. Cathy had made up her own set of unspoken nicknames for all of them. The nearest Cathy had got to a moniker was ‘Cat’ but most times she was plain Cathy. Lacking a truly absurd name was a sure sign of non-acceptance. Her stomach tightened with that old feeling of not belonging.

At school, there were two distinct groups. One of outrageous girls, who smoked in the change rooms, talked incessantly about boys and sex and regularly skipped school. The others spent their time trying to be as ‘in’ as the in-group, but somehow not quite reaching that pedestal. Cathy had drifted between the two but always not fitting with either.

She plopped herself on the edge of her bed and pondered what to wear to the reunion. Her last husband had dropped hints that she’d enough clothes to start a fashion boutique and that perhaps she should share them with the poor as they were intruding into his space. Before parting with any of her clothes, she had parted with him. Clothes could come back into fashion but he’d passed his use-by-date. Besides, there might be a time when the excess weight she carried would shift on its own accord.

She reached forward and slid the wardrobe door closed. Big mistake! The mirrored reflection revealed a body that had changed so much, even she wondered who it belonged to. Even sitting up straight, the bulges lingered. She stood and scrutinised her face in the mirror. Crevices were etched so deep into her ‘laugh lines’ that no amount of exotic potions could help the skin spring back to its youthful look. A minor miracle was needed to revive her ageing dial.

How on earth could she face those critical girls that in the past, she had never quite measured up to?

When the day came, Cathy had to admit, there were a few fond memories creeping back. At each table place setting was a blue covered folder titled: The Anniversary Luncheon for the Class of ’84. Reading the first few chronicles she found most day-girls had married doctors, solicitors or dentists and the boarders mostly farmers. Nearly all had produced the obligatory average of 2.4 children.

Betty Big Ears had those ears fixed and was now a hostie with an international carrier. Freaky Fran had fostered twelve children and was still doing good as a missionary in Nepal. But then, Cathy read with surprise that all Sally Monkhouse had written for her screed was: “I am unable to relive my misery by facing my classmates again!

How on earth could she face those critical girls that in the past, she had never quite measured up to?

“My God! And I worried about coming here today,” Cathy said with surprise to Sandra. “What on earth did we do to her? I can’t remember anyone picking on her, can you?”

“No,” Sandra shrugged. “In fact, I think we ignored her completely.”

A sharp tap on a microphone signalled the commencement of the formal proceedings. The short welcome speech was followed by lunch accompanied by carafes of reasonably drinkable wine. Cathy smiled to herself as the Head Mistress of their time had been a staunch Methodist and would be turning in her grave if she knew there was alcohol being consumed on the school grounds.

Cathy picked up her folder again and went to the last page titled: “Obituaries”.

Lucy Mann … Annie Campbell … Mary Adams … the list went on. Eleven girls’ names in total, mostly from the “in” group. Cathy was shocked. She turned to the woman on her left. Livvy had been the leader of the in-group and as expected, she knew everything as she had been the gossip queen. Lucy had lived in a hippy commune and died of an overdose; Annie looked the wrong way on a busy street down near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and got squashed by a bus; Mary had breast cancer, then the dreaded disease slowly overtook her whole body. Livvy reeled off the tales of sickness and woe as if she had told it a thousand times, which she probably had.

Once lunch was over, they were huddled together for a class photo and then it was time to go, everyone vowing to keep in touch. Of course they wouldn’t. If they had wanted to, it would have happened before now.

Sandra nattered all the way home. For her, it had been a truly exhilarating experience.

Oblivious to Sandra’s conversation, Cathy thought of past mischievous behaviours, the girls she had always envied and those who had since departed this life.

It may have taken thirty years, but today, one thing had finally sunk in: We are all made equal … and all equally vulnerable.

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