A couple of days have gone past since we have come home. A few suitcases still lie at the corner of my bedroom awaiting attention. The toys we picked up from vendors along the pavements in Pondy Bazaar are scattered in the living room. The breakfast table is claimed by wrapped packages. One blue box catches my attention, a reed diffuser smelling mildly of lavender. I pause, pick it up and put it back. It is a souvenir from my school reunion.
The Sunday before I left Chennai, I walked into the lobby of a hotel, three children in tow, my heart beating a tad too fast. I scanned the plush sofas and the sparsely populated room for signs of people I went to school with. People who were faint memories in my head recently replaced by Facebook profile pictures. Even as I despaired that I was the first to reach there, I noticed a group of men stand up and walk toward me.
The anxiety gave way to a rush of affection. The rest of the afternoon was a blur. Riding back home in an auto, my daughters holding on to the tokens, a keychain with our class picture, a frame with thumbnail pictures of the attendees and this blue reed diffuser I was focused on all the things I had missed. I was miffed at myself for having taken my children with me. I hated that my children’s potty needs came ahead of whatever else was happening around me.
The memories come rushing back with the blue box. This time, they seem out of order, jumbled and out of focus. More than images, there are feelings and impressions my brain seems to have tucked inside knowing I will pull them out later.
I remember the confidence. Each time I spied someone new, the first thing that hit me was how confidently they carried themselves. As we shook hands and exchanged notes on 20 plus years, I struggled to reconcile the idea of the person I had in my head with the person in front of me. Each one of these people I sat in class with for over seven years are now working professionals, parents, individuals with a map in hand for the life ahead. As we traded notes on career paths and parenting choices, I realized the shadow of our past selves hovered behind us.
If we all exuded contentment and confidence now, I remember our past interactions shaped by stereotypes and fear. I remember teachers cluelessly (mis)guiding us on friendships and gender roles. I remember the raging hormones and the silly teasing. I remember trying too hard, overcompensating and being everything I am not. For a moment I wish I could have had the confidence I have today, then.
Amid friendly backslapping and good natured teasing, the one thing that struck out was the smiles. Every single face broke out in a grin as person after person walked in. As we crowded around tables, shared cake and joked, we unhooked those strings that pulled us apart after the final exams and for a moment returned to the days before our identities were cemented the way they are now.
In the days that followed the reunion, my phone pinged with messages and pictures and nascent conversations about the big 25th year reunion. As friend after friend pledged to make it, I did too, knowing I would go, this time sans kids.