Sunday, February 7, 2010

Instamatic school memories come to life in technicoloured reality

It's déjà vu with a twist; it’s like seeing double, vision telescoped into now and then. It’s the high school reunion: an enterprising school mate has organised a reunion off her own bat. Just as well as our high school waved sayonara 20 years ago. Thank goodness for Facebook, and modern technology, which is how this all came together.

Arriving at the venue, there are pictures posted up from our years in high school. There are veld school photos in which one classmate urges another to put a spider on her face to earn extra points, pictures of us in our blue blazers and cheap blue dresses, captured on rinky compact cameras from the 1980s. It’s like looping back through a time warp. Add to that a video of the matric dance that has been unearthed. The colours are blown, the quality from the stretched tape is atrocious, and the dresses and hairstyles are enough to embarrass the hardiest of individuals. There are puffed skirts and equally puffy hairstyles, and who decided that Dynasty-era shoulder pads were flattering?

And then a flashback to the controversy of that matric dance. It was held at the Carlton Centre – back when the Carlton Centre signalled a certain larniness and our little old matric dance event made the Sunday newspapers. There was outrage that a school was spending so much on a venue. What was wrong with the school hall? Well, for starters, it was a school hall. Another sign of the times. Today matric dances are regularly held in fancy places and the dresses can be even more outrageously priced.

And so, one by one, the greetings, the whoops of recognition, and it’s like watching a split screen. In the same instant that you’re talking to an old classmate, you’re flashing back to the way you remember them in a not so innocent teen era. Girls with jerseys wrapped around their waists, boys who once sported blazers now slouching in T-shirts. This weird kind of here and there feeling carries on all night. You’ve stepped back in time, and yet, you also haven’t.

That is, of course, when you’re talking to those you remember. It’s even more disconcerting when you’re confronted with a familiar face and you know that you knew their name at some point, and here they are saying “Hello” and your mind’s a complete blank.

The questions are inevitable, predictable. After you’ve got what do you do out of the way, it’s time for “Are you married, do you have children?”

I’m surprised at how many singles there are, and also how many are divorced. I shouldn’t be, divorce is a ubiquitous part of modern life, but there you are. You know these people as teenagers – how could they have done such an adult thing as divorce?

Sadly, and also inevitably, the class has been thinned out by emigration. Two thirds have left the country for one or another reason, and two have already passed on. It’s an evening of fun and jocularity but we remember them.

Time warp continues: looking at the sea of faces we’re lily white. We’re talking of a government school in the 1980s, the only difference between us lay in religion; you were either Jewish or Christian. Other races didn’t, seemingly, exist.

You reconnect with a friend and spend hours reminiscing about the conversations you used to have at break on philosophy and psychology and wonder why you ever lost contact. You reconnect with others, and find yourself reaching across time to engage in conversation with those you never spoke to while at school.

“Don’t let’s leave it another 20 years!” says a class mate with an infectious laugh that you’ve never forgotten. The next day the photos are already up on Facebook, there’s talk of converting the old matric dance video to a DVD, and as you click through the old photos posted online, you feel, once again, as though you’re peering through a time vortex.

First published January 31 2010 The Sunday Independent

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