diane phs.jpgOkay, the first thing I want to know is, how the heck did I ever get my hair so straight? I must have worked on it for hours and hours with the ol’ iron, ironing board, and soda can rollers.

Last night was my high school reunion, and I couldn’t go. I really, really wanted to, especially because I was going to spend some extra time with two of my closest high school friends, one of whom I haven’t seen in decades. But John had surgery last week, and my place was most definitely with him.

I know a lot of people never go to their high school reunions. The woman organizing ours, the amazing Gwen Crews, told me some people–many of them seemingly happy and popular back in the day–actually get angry when she tries to track them down. I guess that’s really a case of our “insides looking at their outsides,” as I discussed a few blog posts ago. There’s such pain in adolescence, and it’s not always visible. That’s one reason why I love writing about teenaged characters. Soooo much going on inside those heads and bodies.

What was I like in high school? In my memory, I was two different people. In school, I was extremely quiet and anxious because I was agoraphobic. I had panic attacks in the classroom, and longed for the bell to ring marking the end of each class so I could walk into the hallway and breathe. I had, what I now recognize as, selective mutism. I never volunteered an answer in a class–not even in college. Not until graduate school, when I went through a radical, self-directed transformation. Outside of school, I loved partying (despite being a teetotaler), dating, and hanging out with my friends. Outside of school, I was comfortable in my own skin. 

But actually, I didn’t set out to write this post about me. I set out to write about my high school, Plainfield High School in Plainfield, NJ. Even though my tenure there was difficult, I loved my school because it was incredibly diverse. In the midst of the civil rights era, it was half white, half black, and embodied a fairly phenomenal mixture of religions. It was a microcosm of the world that shaped me into the person I am and that no doubt led me to be a social worker, and later a writer. I still have a paper from an English class in which my teacher wrote in the margin “I think you should be a writter (sic)!”  My parents wanted to take me out of PHS and send me to a Catholic girls’ school. Despite my discomfort in school, I said “no way.” I had no desire for homogeneity.

PHS was not without problems, however. As a matter of fact, the problems were huge. My mother graduated from PHS in 1933, and parts of the school–the second oldest in NJ–were condemned even at that time. I recall holes in the walls in which my friends and I could hide notes to one another. On a more profound level, we were “tracked” into our classes according to culturally biased IQ tests, which resulted in a racial divide that continues today in so many schools and in our society as a whole. There was unrest, distrust, and anger. But there was also tolerance, understanding and compassion that led to friendships that crossed the color and religious divides–and that is so in evidence at the joyful reunions. I learned so much more at PHS than what was taught in the classrooms.  

I’m not the only writer who came out of my class at PHS. Gale Goldberg wrote about bamboo. Gloria Bussell Koster writes children’s books. Our most famous class member is probably Ken Druse, who’s a household name in garden writing. I bet there are others, and I hope they’ll let me know who they are so I can include them.

Thanks for allowing me the time to revisit my high school in my own little private reunion here. Hopefully, I’ll make the next one in person.    

   

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. brenda on October 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Beautiful picture. When I returned-after 35 years-to live where I grew up-no family here-so I started working diligently and working on reunions-started two scholarships which we “did” for 7 years…I had our 35th reunion at a country club–did the l960’s instead of just our class–absolutely fantasitic…then in 2005-had the first all school reunion-so much fun…The first one-very formal-the second not so much…we had D.J., great food…auctions to raise money for the scholarships…tons and tons and tons of door prizes…folks are still asking me if I will do our 50th in 2010…Not…way too much work for me and those few who help…but so much fun…Almost everyone I found eager to come except for a couple… Hope you get to the next one…I am sure your classmates consider YOU the most famous-you are the only one of the ones you mentioned I HAVE HEARD OF…wow…they must have really missed you. Hope John is okay.

  2. Gina on October 12, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Diane, that’s a beautiful picture of you! Thanks so much for sharing your high school memories with us.

    • Anita Zinkin on February 1, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Diane,
      Just finished reading, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. Panic disorder runs in my family! My mother, some aunts, cousins and my son suffers with it, too. I’m sure some of my cousin’s children suffer from it, too. I don’t know that I agree with you that CeeCee had panic attacks because Eve was overprotective. I grew up in Brooklyn with a wild crowd. Used to hitch on back of city buses, walk home alone late at night by myself, participated in a few rumbles as they were called back then, etc. Never had a fear in the world. It all started when I was 18 years old. After years of therapy for my cousins and me, along with our own research, we’re convinced it’s the way our brains are wired. At least I’m my family. Many mothers are overprotective, yet their children do not develop this. One psychiatrist explained to me, the reason medication helps is, it changes the brain. No doctor I’ve ever been to has ever been able to answer the question of why it effects driving in particularly. Was your mother overprotective? My mother was fearful of many things, not overprotective. I had free rein to come and go as I pleased. My father’s only rule was to never be late for dinner. Other than that, I was on my own. I was never overprotective with my son. I pushed him to try everything. We sent him to France and Germany as an exchange student in high school and Semester at Sea when in college. His attacks began in his early twenties along with depression. That he got from my father’s side. My cousins and I suffer from that, too. We will be discussing the book this Monday the 3rd at our book group. I want to thank you for not describing all the awful symptoms one goes through while having these attacks or I never would have been able to read the book. I just don’t agree on your reason for causation.

      • Diane Chamberlain on February 2, 2020 at 3:22 pm

        I completely agree with you. My sister was also agoraphobic and while our parents WERE overprotective, I think genetics plays a huge role in that sort of anxiety. Corinne blamed her mother for her problems, but that doesn’t mean she was right. I’m so sorry you suffer from this type of anxiety. It can be so debilitating. Hope you have a good book discussion!

  3. Denise on October 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Wow, what a hottie, now and then!
    Diane, I suffered from panic attacks 15 years ago so you have my heartfelt sympathy. I am sure they were even less understood back then than they are now, particularly in teens. The only residual effect I have from them is my fear/inability to drive long distances on highways (had my first attacks while driving). You sure have come a long way from those days!
    I practically had to be handcuffed anddragged to my 20th reunion. I didn’t think anyone would remember me. Imagine how tickled I was that they did. I had a great time and was so glad I went. I hope your friends will send you some photos from the reunion. I know you were sorely missed by all!

  4. krysia on October 13, 2008 at 1:08 am

    I had my 10 yr reunion a month after Gunnar was born. I think its bad i would rather have gone to the car show instead. Most of the people hadnt changed. I only went because a few of my out of state friends would be there. I skipped out on the last day and went to a few other bars to dance. It was a lot more fun.

  5. Margo on October 13, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Diane, what a beautiful picture! I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you to suffer from agoraphobia. Whatever you did to overcome it has been a blessing…to be able to speak in front of huge crowds and answer questions is an amazing achievement. I’m sorry you missed your reunion but glad that you were there for John. I hope he’s doing ok after surgery and hope it isn’t too serious!
    From your last blog post I wanted to say, after reading all the comments it looks like I definitely need to read THE 19TH WIFE…and from the post before that, I made an error on BODY SURFING…I’ve never read Anita Shreve & was going to start this book but put it down after discovering it was in PRESENT tense, not 1st person. Are all her books present tense?

  6. brenda on October 13, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Margo-some of Anita Shreve’s books are the best…esp. The Pilot’s Wife…
    Krysia–I have a student named GUNNAR (my first)…he pronounces it as the GUN (the weapon)…the kids play around sometimes and say Goonar…but he doesn’t care…an unusual name.
    Sorry you did not enjoy your reunion, but I think l0 year is pretty soon. My daughter attended hers and felt the same…she was Valedictorian, Class Pres…Drum Major…etc…My son did not attend his-…he was Valedictorian and did so much in school-they left that behind them as we moved to an area they were not thrilled with…They still consider the town in which they grew up (until middle school) their home town-not where they went to high school)…They live pretty far from the high school area…However, I think reunions after 30 are so much more fun-no one cares what anyone has…we are just thankful to be alive…Diane-I am glad you were able to get over the A. also…I have had many students with panic attacks, and after my doctors took me off hormone patches, it has taken me over 2 years to get over symptoms of panic…horrible…horrible…I had the hyst. at age 25…went on hormones at 40…took me off at 59…not a pretty picture…I wonder if hormones are often the cause of panic attacks…could be…

  7. brenda on October 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Irony: My daughter, son, and I stay in Secaucus, NJ, yearly on our trips to NYC for his Marathon…that is only about 30 miles from where you lived…We are about l mile from port authority by bus. Diane, did you spend much time in NYC while growing up? Are you quite familiar with the city? I love the little bistros (similiar to the pubs in London)…SOHO, Greenwich…we have a great time…we meet at the airport on that Friday…spend the day “doing” NYC…Marathon details, theatre (getting in line for cheap tickets)…dinner, etc.
    He rests on Sat…she and I do the city…Sunday-the marathon, etc…Monday…home…this is how we celebrate our birthdays together…I LOVE NYC

  8. Diane Chamberlain on October 13, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Krysia, I went to my tenth reunion, and while it was fun, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as the later events when some people are absolutely unrecognizable and when the decades have softened the edges of that miserable adolescent social order. (How is Gunnar doing, by the way?)
    Margo, many of Shreve’s books ARE written in present tense. Sorry ’bout that!
    Brenda, as teenagers, my friends and I would take the hour-long bus ride into “the city” to hang out in the Village or chase whatever rock band we currently had a thing for. Such fun!

  9. Denise on October 13, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    I refused to attend my 10th reunion; I was 8 months pregnant. Lol Plus, I had sort of gone my own way and did not particularly care to revisit the same cliques 10 years later.
    I felt like I had entered the Twilight Zone at the 20th and 30th reunions, though. Like Diane said, some people were totally unrecognizable. It was pretty funny and definitely fun. People were more laid back and the old cliques were pretty much meaningless. How could the former prom king strut around when he was now bald and had gained 40 pounds? Lol

  10. brenda on October 14, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    I think the comment I liked best was, “Brenda, you have not only stayed pretty (doubtful) but really nice…That made me happy…nice…that’s who I am…

  11. Diane Chamberlain on October 14, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Nice is definitely underrated!

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