August 13, 2004

a bit of my past

Today was Damian's graduation day. Seems silly, making a big fuss about graduating from preschool, but in this case it was a whole lot more and well worthy of the tears and hugs. Iíd like to write about it but not yet. Still processing. Feeling drained, honestly.

Instead, an odd moment today: I gave my phone # to the father of one of Damianís buddies from school, a child whoís never been in class with him but who has had simultaneous floor time sessions and joint speech sessions. They have certain similarities, I think theyíre a good match. So I suggested a play date over this break, wrote down my phone number and full name to the dad, handed it through the bars of the front gate (they were outside on the sidewalk, we were still inside in the yard), and trotted off to socialize with people on my side of the fence while his son was saying goodbye to his speech therapist.

A few minutes the man called me over. To ask me if Iíd gone to Calhoun. Itís a small progressive private school on the Upper West Side in New York. I attended for the three years of middle school. How did he know? He went there too! A year behind me. His name was familiar, his face Ė well, Iíd seen him around preschool for the past few years, of course it was familiar. And he hadnít recognized me either until he saw my name. It was, after all, a while ago. A world away, too. Snow and ice and concrete canyons and Riverside Park and the boat basin and a small, idiosyncratic school where I found a niche in the drama department when I was eleven years old. So long ago. So far away. And now this unexpected link.

I went digging tonight. Turns out Calhoun has a website (duh, of course) and is still a thriving operation. Even though I didnít completely embrace the schooling there (a little too unstructured), Iím glad the place is alive.

Part of the site is a scrapbook from the hundred years of its history. I clicked on the Ď70ís, when I was there. It was like stepping into a time warp looking at those pictures. They look so old, the clothes like a time-period movie. It looked normal back then. My eyes have changed, clearly.

When I entered Calhoun, the middle school was upstairs from a synogogue somewhere around 92nd (90th?) street. The arts annex (drama, music, etc) was in the basement of a Greek Orthodox church across the street. A tiny diner on the corner between the two had amazing French fries, especially good when eaten still hot while walking down the wind-blown winter street on your way to chorus practice. The school was in the process of building a permanent home on 81st Street. Somewhere we could all be together, no drifting across the street at odd times, no sneaking around behind religious ceremonies.

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This is a picture of the groundbreaking ceremony in 1974 (why they saved it in gif format, Iíll never understand). See the small face of the girl slipping through the crowd on the lower right corner of the image? Thatís my best friend Emily. Which means, if memory serves, that I was just out of frame, a little further to the right.

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This is a picture, taken a year later, of our march down West End Avenue, the entire school walking from the old rented warren of rooms to the sparkling, just-painted wide open newness of the building on 81st Street. Iím not in the picture Ė at least, I think Iím not, though who can tell with the image degradation of a photo-turned-gif? Ė but I vividly remember that walk. For some reason, I decided to go barefoot. Eleven blocks or so on cement. It felt like the right thing to do, I guess. I do remember it felt like a celebration, like making history. And I guess in a way it was. After all, the images are on their website nearly thirty years later.

I think about Damianís graduation, about closing that chapter and beginning another. Somehow it feels fitting tonight to look back at part of my own school saga, now faded in contrasty black and white and almost quaintly old fashioned. It all shapes you, though. Those years at Calhoun as much as my time at Harvard, as much as my time at Music & Art, as much as my time in editing, as much as my time in LA. It all blends, you take bits from here and scraps from there and incorporate them into your own personal mythology.

I wonder how Damian will feel looking back at the videotape I shot today. How will he remember this time, that school? I look forward to finding out.

Posted by Tamar at August 13, 2004 10:19 PM