There we were, both of us, four decades later, in the bottom of the lost and found bin in my high school cafeteria. Weathered by the ravages of the paths we’d chosen, we were the oldest survivors in attendance and certainly the most thankful, at least in our own eyes.
It’s one thing to find a lost friend and entirely another to be found by one.
She’d no idea how many times I’d thought about her over the past 40 years as she made her way across the maze of tiny chairs and unsuspecting classmates in the festive room. She reintroduced herself with the only five words I will most clearly remember from that evening and perhaps for the remainder of my life.
“You probably don’t remember me.”
I cut her off at the fourth, said her name, and hugged her like she was my best friend. Truth is, she never really was, but she’d been a long lost acquaintance in the truest sense and I was relieved to find we’d both survived.
It was the 40th anniversary of the opening of our high school with alumni of all years in attendance. And despite the event being prepaid, ticketed and on my calendar for two months, I’d spent most of the day attempting convincing excuses in the mirror on why I was unable to go. Once the social king who wooed factions and cliques for my candidacy as student body president, I’d met her many times, during most of which she was never completely there.
She was 23 years smarter than me, having surrendered her addiction twenty eight against my small handful but what mattered most was that we’d both been lost, but now were found and we both were there to meet again and share our stories, if only briefly.
By her own admission last night, she was high as a kite during all of high school and probably many years prior. I know nothing of the precipitating events which had led her to such an empty young existence but then again, she knew nothing of mine, and it really didn’t matter. That’s the way it is with addicts. Looking back isn’t the way we roll.
A master of disguise at an early age, I had all the makings of an unrealized addict nesting unknown secrets for the sake of popularity, acceptance and political gain. In high school, you don’t see how or when it will all come together, but it inevitably does, and did, at least once each for the two of us and likely for dozens more who were there still in hiding with secrets of their own last night. Sadly so, also for some who couldn’t make it for the sheer fact they simply didn’t make it this far in life. Addiction has an indiscriminate way of taking friends and soulmates to the great beyond well before their years and maturities can catch up.
At my table, the conversation of the dead rattled off the names of countless classmate victims. Two shared their very personal stories of close friends and lovers who found sobriety too late. To my amazement, they shared having read my many testimonies recounting a miserable eight years on meth during their lowest times and the spark of hope and understanding my stories had ignited for their own healing. We made promises to continue the discussion first hand over the upcoming holidays.
And it was at that moment that no one there knew the joy I felt when our two names were not among the casualties.
The lost and found bin of high school is the possessor of both heartbreaks and joys. But as we say in recovery, “Keep coming back and you’ll find it.” And I suspect that’s why we both were there last night, found and intact forty years later.