I never went to my high school reunion. High school wasn’t fond memories of my misspent youth and friends I wouldn’t ever forget. They were years of awkwardness, neurosis and inadequacy culminating into the following two decades trying to unravel what was done in those four. I don’t foster the desire to see what happened to those people. I am sure I wouldn’t recognize most of them (and in truth, I have been trying to forget).
Natalie and I are opposites in so many ways. She doesn’t know this but I live vicariously through her. Her intelligence, confidence and ethics. Natalie graduated Salutatorian which she attributes on a ‘B’ that appeared one quarter and the damning trickery of Chemistry II in general. I am sure she has a box somewhere of high school pictures she treasures. Her best friends were the ones from the Gifted classes she took. For months leading up to the reunion she complained about the lack of preparation and threatened she was going to take it over and plan the damn thing herself. These threats come often. She’s threatened to fix health care and the adoption system many times also. I just agree and keep playing Xbox.
The events planned took place over three days. Friday night was a tour of the school followed by attending the football game that evening. The kick in the ass here is the school has, to my understanding, been demolished and rebuilt. The brick Natalie bought with her name in it? Gone. Her locker? Gone. I think about John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank going to his childhood home and finding it’s become a convenience store. In my head, I can hear the Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun.” I never understood high school football (or college or pro football for that matter). I worked with a woman who told me she had trouble rooting for her cheerleader daughter’s school when they played her alma mater. Really? That was like, thirty years ago. It’s a bunch of seventeen year olds gawky boys. You have shoes older than that. You might want to let that go.
Natalie elected to skip those events and I was grateful. I have been to one high school football game in my life when because the planets aligned and in some freak series of events I dated Tamsin Grant who was a cheerleader and came to support her. Instead we showed up for the Saturday events which included a lunch at Barney’s Steakhouse on Colonial and mixer somewhere downtown.
I feel I have secret information when I am around people significantly younger than I. Like they’re watching a movie for the first time and I know exactly who Keyser Soze is. It’s that first ten years filled with exciting things like college and marriage. It’s the next ten years realizing nobody pays you for your degree in Elizabethan poetry and if your marriage has been reduced to feeding and bathing three kids, laundry and going to bed at 10:00p after So You Think You Can Dance?
At the front they had a table with the pictures of the six students who’d died since graduation. Another table was the enlisted students and where they were serving. Natalie knew some of them. The circumstances of their deaths were in question. I have been here before and it’s those initial deaths that really put your life into perspective and make you wonder what you’ve done with your decade. I once saw Sylvester Stallone deliver a nugget of wisdom in an interview that you do little your first twenty-five years and most people are retired for the last twenty five which leave a very small two or three decades in between to accomplish whatever you have to get done.
And I’m a procrastinator.
A girl approached Natalie and immediately began to gush over her and when I was introduced, she told me how lucky I was.
Hello, my name is Jim, and I am the choir. Nice to meet you.
She began to apologize to Natalie for how she treated her. Borderlining on tears, she told me Nat was a genuine person who deserved better. She also looked like she used both her drink coupons and maybe some she found abandoned on the table. Her life probably hadn’t gone according to plan. Most of ours don’t otherwise I would have moved to California in 1989, directed the last three Star Wars films and be married to Winona Ryder. She graduated college and was teaching. Lost her job and was now a cashier at Publix living with her parents and was quick to point out her long time boyfriend who wouldn’t marry her. Her words, not mine. The entire confession left me a little uncomfortable so I slowly turned and abandoned Natalie to listen to her friends reminisce about people I don’t know.
After lunch, people made their way to the tables. Some people who never talked to us and none of us knew, took pictures of every single table and I imagine years from now they’ll look at them and wonder who the hell we are.
That evening was a mixer at the Wall Street Cantina, a bar with a pirate theme… I love irony. Natalie’s strategy is given the state of the economy, there are probably people who weren’t willing to pay the money for the lunch but would show for the free mixer. There were a few people she hoped to see. Some people who made conversation with her now that she recognized but never spoke to in high school. I wonder in ten years when they are thirty-eight will there be this much unabashed cleavage and tight pants? After an hour, we left for dinner realizing we’re too old dark bars and loud music.
Footnote: Natalie will be quick to point out that I am too old for dark bars and loud music… keep in mind this is the one who falls asleep every night at 9:00p if left to her own devices.
Sunday there was a family picnic. Anticipating fields of twentysomethings playing “My Kid’s Better Than Your Kid,” we skipped this. In retrospect, I should have found a white precocious six year old that won’t grow and tell people he was the son of our maid who died and we adopted him. Hilarity ensues. It’s Natalie that prevents me from doing such things as changing my occupation every time we met someone new.
What do I do?
I work for the Gallup Poll. It’s a good gig. We only work six months every four years.
I’m independently wealthy. You know that little plastic table in pizza boxes that keeps the cheese from sticking? I invented that.
I’m a photographer. That picture of Britney Spears with her junk hanging out… that was me.
I make up titles for adult films. Have you seen Strokedown Palace with Claire Dames?
Instead, Natalie and her friends had arranged a lunch. This was the real reason we were here. It was just her friends. The people she’d spent the most time with. Tara and Sean married each other and are expecting their first kid. She teaches elementary school. He’s an engineer for NASA. Having someone throw down a business card with the NASA logo is very, very cool especially since all boys want to be either astronauts or superheroes when they grow up. Debbie is still in college. Heather manages a Ben & Jerrys and going on nine years of marriage. My apologies to Maggie but I never heard what she does but in my defense she was sitting on the far end of the table and appeared as a series of eye expressions and hand gestures.
We sat there, ate and talked for three hours and when we were asked to leave, we stood outside for another hour.
It’s here that I realized high school reunions are about maybe ten people. The ten people that are important to you. The others are curiosities and people will exchange contact information and may even use it but you can’t go forward with one foot firmly planted in history. Natalie told me she was so glad she had something going on in her life and that the best parts were just now happening, not wasted on her youth.
You can go home again. It’s a nice place to visit…
“Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight and I’m going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it but I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”
Born In The USA (1984)