Looking back and seeing differently

This is a true story, but of course, the identities of the people involved – apart from me, have been disguised!

Livia couldn’t say she was actually excited about the school reunion for her year group, intrigued would be a better word, interested to see how people had changed, and hopeful that she might meet people she was very close to when she was at school with them rather a long time ago. She had moved away from the town when she was sixteen and her school friends had gone into the sixth form without her, or had gone to college or to work. This was before the days of the internet and friendships were maintained by letter, and the telephone, except Livia’s family didn’t have a phone.
So who was she looking forward to meeting? Well she knew from messages she had received that one of her two closest friends, Win that she wouldn’t be coming, currently living in Canada; however she really hoped the other, Glynis would be there. Livia had known Glynis longer – been in the same juniors, and had seen her more often away from school. She remembered a cycling trip they had gone on, and Glynis had made a small fire, produced a frying pan and a knob of lard wrapped in grease-proof, and a flask of pancake mixture! She had also brought a small pan, Nescafé and in a little bottle, some milk. Livia’s Marmite sandwiches had seemed a bit ordinary in comparison!
She was also looking forward to seeing other friends who she had known since junior school, Cheryl and Christina, who had been best friends with each other just about all their lives, and Dorothy who had married a famous writer and now lived in New York and in London. Another person who had been in her class and so had been a sort of friend was Thelma; Thelma from the age of eleven had been the tallest in the class and the biggest, rather ungainly, very enthusiastic but for some reason Livia thought she detected an inner loneliness. Livia had often thought of Thelma over the years and hoped she was happy.

***

As Livia walked up the drive she caught up with a small, round woman, bundled up in a mac and headscarf, and greeted her cheerfully. It had been a shock to see this older person and realise that she must be someone Livia was at school with – but she looked so old! And Livia didn’t feel old, but of course she actually was. As they conversed Livia suddenly had the strange experience of seeing a younger, unlined, rosy face appear from the pale, plump face of the woman – of course, she was Lilian Palmer! Lily Palmer! Not in the same class, but in the same year. Lily didn’t seem to remember her, but Livia often thought she herself wasn’t very memorable.
They entered the vestibule and then climbed the wide staircase and were greeted at the top by an attractive and enthusiastic woman in a very smart but not ostentatious suit. She had a name label which said ‘Maxine’ – Livia couldn’t remember any Maxines, but the woman, an old school friend remembered her and was delighted to see her. She and Lily were given name labels and they went across the broad landing and through the double glass doors and into the hall crowded with women. At first sight they looked of every age from forty to seventy, but of course in actual fact they were all born within twelve months of each other.
Suddenly Livia found herself embraced and recognised who it was immediately – Stephanie! Steph had been in her class since they joined the school aged eleven and Livia had always thought she would have been a great friend, a really nice person, funny, intelligent, and a kind character, but although they had been in the same groups, they were friendly rather than friends. Now Steph was saying how delighted she was to see her, how she’d often thought of her over the years, and when at school had wanted to be a closer friend! They had to laugh that they had both thought the same thing, and immediately exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so they could see each other again in the future.
They began to gossip about the others who were milling about and Livia learned some extraordinary things which she’d never guessed. Cheryl and Christine, the forever best friends had had a more complicated relationship; Cheryl had bullied Christine all the time they were at school, telling her that everyone else hated her secretly so Christina had thought Cheryl was the only one who was her friend, even though she was so beastly. How extraordinary There were other stories about other people, some wonderful, some surprising, some shocking.
Steph went to organise the special anniversary cake which had been ordered and Livia spotted her best friend, Glynis. She had the same dark hair, the same rather rakish style, was the centre of a group of others. Livia hurried over, excited to meet her old friend… except when she said hello, Glynis didn’t recognise her (even though everyone else had exclaimed how Livia hadn’t changed one bit) and then didn’t really seem to remember much about her, and definitely didn’t remember the pancake picnic. She was pleasant enough, and friendly in a way, but Livia felt a little sad and disappointed.
Glynis turned to speak to someone else and Livia thought she would go and look at the anniversary cake. The door to the hall opened and a late arrival stalked in, a most dashing woman, tall, dark, with a confident smile and flashing eyes – surely – surely this couldn’t be Thelma? Yes it was! Livia hurried over and greeted her. Thelma couldn’t stay long she had another engagement but she’d just had to come and say hello to old friends. All these years Livia had been worried about Thelma, for no real reason, and in fact the woman had had a marvellous life. She had taken over her parents’ garage, married the chief mechanic, had dogs not children, now had two other garages and retired from the grease pit to work behind a desk. Her husband and she travelled to every corner of the world and couldn’t be happier. Livia’s more modest life seemed simple in comparison, but she didn’t care – just pleased that Thelma was happy.
Thelma dashed round seeing others, then after embracing Livia quickly but crushingly, swept out. Steph reappeared with plates of cake and a couple of glasses of champagne, and they toasted each other.
“I see Rita is over there,” Steph remarked nodding towards a small woman with a lined face, and greying hair styled in a way more reminiscent of a previous generation, back-combed into a beehive.
“Rita… I don’t remember her, was she in a different class?” Livia tried to summon up some memory of Rita, but no-one came to mind.
“She tried to bully you – don’t you remember she pretended to accidentally knock a water jug over you? You were soaked!”
A vague memory returned to Livia, and now she could just about remember a pale girl with a pinched face.
“She was always saying things to you, mean things.”
“Was she? Did she?”
“To be honest you never paid any attention – I think being mean was so removed from your character that you didn’t realise – and with the water jug you just laughed and said you were used to getting wet because of being in the swimming club!”
Well, Livia didn’t remember any of it, and now found it rather sad that Rita had tried to bully her, rather sad but rather nasty.
“She was jealous of you,” said Steph as they clinked glasses. “You were happy, and she envied that.”
“In that case I feel very sorry for her, but I am so glad I never realised at the time. Now are you free to come and visit the weekend of the 20th – it’s my birthday and I’m having a party and I’d love you to come!”
As Steph looked at her diary, Livia looked round… how strange life is, Glynis who had thought of as a best friend but wasn’t, Cheryl and Christina and the sad and cruel relationship between them, Thelma who had made such a brilliant and happy success of her life, Unhappy Rita who had tried to bully someone who didn’t even notice, and Steph a close friend in waiting.
Yes interesting to see how people had changed, changed in her memory as well as in reality.

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