There are things in life that we simply do not want to do. We avoid them, with full knowledge that one day there will be no getting out of the way. Well, one of those events happened this year, and I didn't see any way around it. This year I faced my past and embraced my fears.
I attended my high school reunion.
It wasn't just a high school reunion, it was our fortieth. First of all, how the hell did forty years go by since I graduated? You may wonder what changed, why go to this reunion and not the others? Simple. Peer pressure (I warn you, that shit never goes away). With FACEBOOK it's harder to say "no" when notifications show up on your homepage every other day. In hindsight, it would have been easier to see my high school friends every few years; watch as they gradually grew older. Instead, it was the end of Dorian Gray as my classmates aged from seventeen to their late fifties right before my eyes.
There was one selfish reason; I recently lost forty-five pounds and looked better than I have in years. Prior to that, I looked like Mrs. Doubtfire's older, fatter brother. Once I decided to go, I went about this like it was a first date. Initially, I had my car washed; I only wash my car when I go on a first date. With that said, my car was filthy. Next, got my hair cut, and then went with my ex-wife to buy some new clothes. I have terrible taste and never trust myself with the choices I make (hence, ex-wife).
The day of the event, I packed my new clothes in a bag, grabbed a bottle of scotch (in case things went south quickly), and headed to my reunion.
The people who planned this event had a brilliant idea. Instead of renting the local firehouse and have everyone bring their own beer (as I heard our rival high school did) they rented an absolutely stunning house in Long Beach Island (New Jersey). I won't even try to describe it but know it cost twenty-thousand-dollars a week to rent during the summer.
Well done, event planners; very well done, indeed.
After I settled in at the hotel, I walked the two blocks to the house. It was then that I noticed something odd. Normally, a shore town in October is a pretty desolate place. But as I moved closer to the house I noticed about a dozen people all around me, coming from every direction. It was my classmates, and they looked like the cast from COCCOON as they shuffled to the swimming pool in search of the fountain of youth. (Okay, we're not that old, but you get the picture)
The pit in the middle of my stomach dissolved as soon as I stepped on the porch. Within seconds, people I haven't seen since graduation hugged me. I moved through the porch crowd and made my way into the house.
One thing that I had promised myself before going was that I would not drink (too much). My blog is called Conflict and Scotch and I didn't want either of them to ruin this night. A bottle of Red Label called out amongst the alcohol. Along with some ice and water (and restraint) I poured myself a glass of courage and began to mingle.
Some faces were as familiar to me as my family, others seemed to seep through the years until I finally recognized them. There were a few that, even after being told who they were, I could not put name-to-face. Once I established a comfortable group of friends I would point out various people that I didn't recognize and ask who they were. Sometimes I was startled by the response I received; forty years is a long time. There were a lot of bald heads in that room (mine included).
Funny, some people came up to me and just started to talk, as if we were completing a conversation begun in high school. Others moved in slowly, like an animal, trying to figure out if this new prey was friendly or not. The best were the ones that just stepped up, stated their name, hugged, and moved on. Like ordering soup from the Soup Nazi.
After a while, and a few more scotch and waters, I made my way up to the outdoor deck on the third floor. There I met a woman whom I openly confessed that I did not remember her from high school. Which was fine since she did not remember me, either. We talked on and off during the night, and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. When she was about to leave we had the following conversation:
ME: "Can I ask you a question?"
ME: "Are you married?"
HER: "Yes, twenty-five years."
ME: "Oh, so it's almost over..."
No need to wonder why I barely ever dated in high school.
One nice surprise was to see my old history teacher appear in the living room later that night. Amazingly, he was tall when we were in school, but I'm six-foot-two-inches, and I still strained my neck looking up at him. I think he's still growing.
Before the scotch could beat up my restraint and make a fool of myself, I headed back to my hotel room. The next morning I returned to the house for breakfast; pleased to see how many people stayed the night. Stacks of bacon and eggs and pork roll appeared thanks to the volunteer chef and many helpers. Short of Motown playing and spontaneous dance outbreaks, it did remind me of The Big Chill. After a general cleanup of the house, I lingered around long enough to be one of the last people to leave.
Overall, I had a great time. Sometimes peer pressure is just old friends that would like to see you again. It was nice to catch up with people that I have a shared history with, even if I haven't visited that history in a very long time. Like so many other things in life, I regret not attending any of the earlier reunions.
How does the saying go, you only regret the things you didn't do. With that said, I have one more thought.
Janice, let me know if you-know-who ever gets divorced. (Insert smiley face here)