You know you are getting old when you attend your 45th year high school class reunion. How did so much time go by? If I live another twenty years and become elderly, that time is going to whiz by faster than the rest. Knowing this I fill my life with as much as I can, never thinking I am too old. It’s easy think we are to old do things or it’s too risky. We wonder, “What will people think?” I have a motto I live by, (actually I have several of these) “If you don’t like what I’m doing, then don’t watch me do it.” I don’t care what people think about what I do. It’s my life and I’ll do what I want to do. If the fear is all in your head you’ll end up with regrets. Trying and failing isn’t nearly as bad as not trying at all.
It had been twenty five years since I went to a class reunion because I lived too far away. I moved closer to home in 2010 when I was sick and decided a few years ago I wasn’t going to miss this one. It wasn’t because I was such great friends with these classmates and we stayed in touch over the years – it was quite the opposite. I was a loner. I had a couple friends I hung around with and made no attempt to fit in. I suffered from low self esteem. If I didn’t make friends they couldn’t reject me.
As a very young child, music was the only thing important to me. It was the only music I listened to – the only albums I collected. A stack of classical piano albums was put on my record player at night and it played through the night. I was enthralled with Van Clyburn and Andre Previn. I knew current music because it was played on car radios when my boyfriend and I drove up and down the main street through town in the evenings, but I could rarely identify a song with the name of the band. I still can’t, even though I know all the songs.
In school I took every music class and sung in the chorus and yearly musicals but I never joined any other club. I think every school has their cliques and they are often divided by what part of town you live in and if your parents could buy you the latest fashions. I definitely wasn’t part of those groups of kids. I was part of the ARchie Bunker style streets. I always had what I needed, but what I wanted I didn’t ask for. My parents were young, struggling to raise three children.
We were not taught racism. Nothing negative was said, but neither was anything positive. We understood there was a clear line down the middle of town and black people lived on one side and whites on the other. Realtors wouldn’t sell a house to a black family on the white side of town because it brought down property values. That changed after I left home when homes were bought by realtors and broken up into apartments. Black people didn’t go to our church. I remember wanting to touch a black person and see if their skin felt different. The elementary schools weren’t mixed. Kids went to the school in their own neighborhood. It wasn’t until Jr High that classes mixed because there were only two jr high schools, and only one high school. But even though we all went to the same school, black and white students generally stayed with those they grew up with. But still there was no racism. No name calling because someone was a negro, because the word black wasn’t used. Kids weren’t taught to hate. Were there problems – yes, sometimes – but not like today. Still, white kids didn’t walk through black neighborhoods. I did that – once. Children threw stones at me. There was an underlying fear. That is a story for another day.
There was bullying and I was on the receiving end. I honestly don’t know why. I was cornered in the restrooms, stairwells and the auditorium. I was threatened. I ran out the back door in the music room because I was afraid. That is yet another story. But kids have it much worse today with bullying because of the use of social media.
In many homes, kids today are not taught respect. Why? What happened? Suicides by kids who feel threatened are common. Kids in the 70’s still had respect for teachers and staff. The thought of cussing at a teacher was unheard of. It is much different today, and it shows in the behavior of the kids. We also had no cops at our school ready to handcuff us on school property and take us in the back of a police car and lock us up. The principal was the law. Black kids weren’t filling up juvenile detention facilities the way they do now. Now there is a lot of profit for locking up kids and preparing them for prison by destroying their education. It is so wrong – and that is another story.
Today, in 2017, I was now more than twice as old as I was when I graduated. I knew I was not the same person I was in the early 1970’s and I knew the students weren’t, either. Starting a few years ago I began connecting with people in my class through facebook. There can be a lot of drama and other crap on fb but the positive aspect is being able to connect with people. Some of these students I graduated with I also went to Kindergarten with as well.
If I was going to the reunion I didn’t want to walk into a large room with a lot of people who were strangers, so I used my time getting to know many of them. We “talked” about the things that separated us. It taught me a valuable lesson.
What we think about people – what we think is the truth – often isn’t. People put on faces of what we want others to believe. We hide things about ourselves we don’t want other people to know.
We continue to do that even as adults. When someone asks us how we are, we say “fine” even when we aren’t. We assume people really don’t want to know so we don’t tell them. We don’t show people what is really going on in our lives. We think they will judge us. We don’t get to know other people, either. Sometimes we also choose to not do things we want to do because, “What will people think?”
What I found over about three years is – all these kids grew up. I’m not the same kid and neither are they. They had their own mountains to climb, kids to raise, careers grew and some were destroyed. Spouses died, kids died, health problems destroyed dreams. People moved. Some had wonderful experiences and some didn’t. No one had a perfect life with no problems. Our experiences shaped us. I enjoyed getting to know these same kids, now all around 63 years old.
Our reunion was over two evenings. Our class president and other students who stayed local put a lot of time into preparations so we could enjoy our time together. I saw many people who looked familiar but I had to look at their name tags to remember who they were. I honestly thought I had been so insignificant in school I didn’t think anyone would remember who I was. But they did. Part of me was dumbfounded. We hadn’t been “friends” in school so why? That was my low self esteem surfacing. Growing up I had to put on a tough exterior. I put on a face of confidence that wasn’t real, until I made it real. One student I didn’t remember walked up to me and said, “You always did dance to the beat of a different drummer.” What did she know about me that i didn’t? I have no idea what made her say that – but it was true. I always bucked the system.
One of the tables at the reunion held the pictures of all the classmates who had died since we graduated. Today that number is 39. About a half dozen of us stood there looking at those pictures and reading about how they died. A few died very soon after graduation, and the most recent one was in March of 2017. Looking at these pictures of people knowing I was still alive was overwhelming. I had come very close to dying of liver disease and cancer in 2012 but a liver became available in the nick of time.
“The Pain That Unites Us All” a book being published right now, has twenty-seven authors contributing their story – in short story or poetry. My story about my liver transplant and the emotional pain of being ignored by my immediate family while going through something so traumatic is published in that book. I had come home thinking they would support me. I was dead wrong. That is also a story for another day. I’ll be posting a link to the book soon if you are interested.
We all have stories. Some people change for the good and some don’t. I have more new/old friends because I took the time to listen and not judge. We can have value in other lives and they can have value in ours, but if we think we know it all and don’t need to take the time to listen, we lose that person in our life. It has taken a long time for me to find a place in my head to put the knowledge, realizing that coming home was a mistake. Except for patching it up with my mother, I have no value in the lives of the family I grew up with. I can’t even try anymore. But I have children and seven grandchildren and I am the head of my own family. When I moved home, extremely sick, and was treated badly – I’m done with them and that is just the way it is. I had to teach myself to not care any more
I could have been in one of those photos of people who passed away. Anyone of us could have been up on that wall. At 63 we aren’t elderly, but more and more of us are reaching the end of our life. Many die due to illness. Some give up. My mother had her class reunion the week before mine. She graduated from the same high school. Her list of students who have died was a double column, front and back of two pages.
It is hard to look at your own mortality. When I didn’t die of liver failure I had to make a choice. Wallow in my illness and give up – or push past it. I could say I’m getting too old to begin again. I live in a senior community and I see it all around me – those that give up and those that force themselves to live their lives completely until the end. I chose to give my live everything I can. It wasn’t time to give up.
That is when I started the blog My Name is Jamie – and everything else that followed – the writing of the book “Inside The Forbidden Outside” which I am still rewriting. I am heading to Texas next week to go to the Allred prison where Jamie is, and to complete the stories that tie the chapters of the book together. I started writing the ITFO Newsletter which focuses on different issues concerning our prisons because many people really do not know the real reason for why we have more prisons than any other country. I also write about different people in prison with a story to tell. If you have one – contact me. My focus is to educate people and teach them there is no race that is better than another, no matter what mainstream media teaches you. We all need to work together to save our planet and our humanity.
This gives me the reason to write music as the soundtrack for the book. Helping others makes the cause to help my own life. I never sit around bored wondering what to do next. I spent most of my life creating music. Why stop when I am better at it now than I ever was in my life. Our senior years are when we have the most experience and wisdom to give the world. The youth has nice skin – but they lack life experience. We should strive to find a way to utilize it.
After I returned from my class reunion I sat at my piano and recorded a piece of music for all of the students who were no longer here – to honor them. When I play it I will think of them. They will not be forgotten. I’m hoping my friends – these past classmates will listen and remember and remember them, too.
I have a new album coming out that will soon be at CDBaby and Spotify named “Stories without Words”. This music will be part of that. I often give music as a gift. Writing music is a part of me I can give. It is all improvised. I feel, I play and record it. I can never play anything twice because I let it play me, not the other way around. I’ll be posting a link to the album soon.
Thanks for reading and thanks for listening. It is for everyone who graduated from Pottstown High in Pennsylvania in 1972. It is my gift to you.
If you know an inmate who writes poetry or is an artist or has a story you’d like to tell you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie Life in Prison at Facebook . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world
Piano Improv Music of Sonni Quick . . . New facebook page of the past and present
ReverbNation . . . Website of Indie music not on traditional radio stations. Sonni’s featured page.
SkunkRadioLive . . . Indie radio station out of London playing music composed for the book being written for Jamie. If you can, help support. It will all help Jamie in the end.
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