Friday, August 15, 2008

High school, 20 years later

When I walked into my 20-year high school reunion over the weekend, I almost immediately saw one of my best friends from the era. He's rail thin and (maybe) comes up to my shoulder. He ignored my delighted hello and took my purse away from me and tossed it on a nearby table. While I was asking about my purse, he snatched me into his arms, whipped my protesting body down into a dramatic dip, aaaaand ... he slipped and dropped me on the floor.

Deirdre McGruder, welcome to your reunion!!

The accident happened early enough in the evening that not many people saw it, and even so, I wasn't really upset. In a perverse sort of way, it wouldn't have been my reunion if something potentially horrific hadn't occurred.

The rest of the night went well, big crowd. (True confession time: I had hoped that one guy in particular would show up, but he didn't. It was probably for the best.) My class turned out interestingly enough -- we had a pro football player who played in a Super Bowl, a Navy deep-sea diver, a guy who moved to New Orleans to help with Katrina recovery, at least one recovering drug addict, a former stripper, and one dude who came out after college and brought his partner with him. (They wore matching shirts and by the end of the evening I was doing the bump with the partner out on the dance floor.) The women aged remarkably well; the men, not so much. People milled about, high school cliques for the most part ignored.

Here's the weird thing: I was at the bar when the guy voted "still the class clown" that night came up with the guy who was voted "cutest" back in high school (he held up fabulously, BTW -- still cute). Turns out I was standing next to the cute guy's wife. They both joked about how the wife had to be careful with me, because I was mean -- I was painfully shy in high school and cold indifference was my defense mechanism, but I was still surprised that's how they remembered me. We were all laughing when the cutie leaned in to his wife.

"Here's the weird thing," he said as put he put a hand on my shoulder. "We never spoke in high school. I knew her name, I knew who she was, but we never said a word to each other."

"That was your fault!" I protested, still laughing.

His smile faded as he straightened and looked into my eyes. "It was both our faults."

I opened my mouth for a smart-aleck retort, and closed it just as quickly. "You're right," I finally said, because it was true. A simple "hi" from either of us back then and we might've been friends.

Later, I was talking to the chick voted "best looking" 20 years ago. We weren't in the same social circle then, but we chatted easily now. When I mentioned her class title, she shook her head and said, "I don't know what people saw back then." She was beautiful then and is just as beautiful now, but didn't seem to believe it. Isn't it amazing that we sometimes see ourselves so differently than others see us?

When the reunion went more than an hour past its scheduled time, I decided to skip the after-parties and opted for late-night eats back in my hotel room. While I enjoyed seeing everyone, I'd had my fill. I also knew nothing good would come of more alcohol and memories.

Turns out I was correct. My friend -- the one who dropped me at the beginning of the evening -- called me in the morning to fill me in. The party crowd moved on to a bar, closed it down, then transferred to a dance club. As the night wore on, people grew maudlin and wistful. The girl voted most likely to succeed in high school had repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) hit on the guy voted "most changed" that night; he was a former geek who'd morphed into a laid-back, good looking man comfortable in his own skin. She was later seen crying on a street corner, reluctant to say goodbye to old friends. The (ex) stripper, surgically altered, deeply tanned and obviously high, kept referring to a former band nerd as her "reunion boyfriend." The ex-band nerd was married, but didn't bring his wife. They were walked to their respective cars to make sure they didn't leave together. As my friend put it: "maybe you don't want to throw away 10 years of a marriage for a shot at the girl you couldn't have in high school."

Or maybe you do and need to be saved from yourself.

People at the reunion were at different stages in their lives, and some needed it more than others. Many were curious and just wanted to see how we'd all turned out. I count myself in that group. It was nice to visit the past for an evening ... but even nicer to return to the life I have now!


James Hogan said...

Your post reminded me of a poem by Dana Gioia entitled "Summer Storm." Here's an excerpt that I thought fit well with this:

"Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm–
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different."

Anonymous said...

wow high school must have been rough

BigMikey said...

Thanks for sharing, D. I'm skipping my 20th this year, after much thought.

I've kept a few people close over the years. Aside from 2 or 3 buddies I haven't seen and would love to run into, there's no one there that I will even know, even if I remember and knew who they were. And based on the stories I heard from my class' 10th and 15th reunions, it sounds as if your reunion was very typical.

Gotta feel sorry for the girl crying on the corner. Chin up, babe, your life is now.

Anonymous said...

i hope you used fictious titles for these people .. it was kinda gossip-y..

Anonymous said...

I went to my 10th a number of years back and had a decent time. As always, the friendly, secure people were the great ones to be around, and the obnoxious, loud, bragging and drunk ones, not so much.

I agree with Deirdre in that it's nice to briefly re-visit that time in one's life, but life now sure beats high school. When you're a late bloomer, age is on your side. ;-)

Nameless said...

i didn't want to hang out with these people in high school, why would i want to now? I've met hundreds of more meaningful people since then.