I was a bright autumn day when I made my way south towards Massachusetts, towards my high school reunion. It had been almost 31 years since I had graduated high school. Most people dread the idea of attending their high school reunion. It’s bothersome and dull, they claim. It’s not worth talking to people they don’t know well, or don’t want to speak with at all.
For some, high school was a nightmare. My Daughter feels this way. Although very bright, academics were a struggle for her. She was exasperated by the petty jealousies and behind-the-back gossipping. It certainly wasn’t the “best years of her life” as we are often told. I sometimes wish I could turn back the clock and make those years more pleasant for her. My high school experience was better than hers. Although not one of the popular kids, I had friends. I played basketball, managed the soccer team, sang in the chorus, acted badly in drama, and saw a possibility to travel through American Field Services. I had my crushes, fell in love and had my heart broken. I never thought the world would come tumbling down upon me, but the pain was real, if not shortlived.
I have pondered the years I spent in high school in the days since the reunion. It generated some strong feelings and thoughts about my classmates. Since leaving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1981, the times I have seen fellow classmates can be counted on one hand. Okay, two fingers. One was my ten year reunion. The other was when my friend Chris gave me a surprise visit on my 25th birthday. It was six days before Christmas and we went out bar-hopping. I won 25 bucks singing a Kareoke version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, but only after several pints of Shipyard Export. Mel Torme has nothing to worry about.
Most of the people who attended had connected on Facebook, so that made conversation much easier. We had taken the awkward piece out of the equation. Chris wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to the reunion. Actually, it was his wife who didn’t want to go. There were only a few people he wanted to see. I wanted to see everybody. A high school reunion is an opportunity for classmates to celebrate the unique bond we share. We are the Class of ’79. We have a common experience. Our past is only the basis of who we are. Too many people at reunions focus on the past and not on the present. We all know can identify our classmates, but we don’t know WHO they are. Where are they in their lives? What are their joys and frustrations, their hopes and expectations? There were some who, through the course of the converstation, sounded like they were reading a laundry list of their accomplishments. There was no passion in their voice. Others were enthused about where they were in their life and the passion could be heard in their voices. Some folks just wanted to talk, talk as if they’d found someone to sit and just listen to them.
I am happy to say that, compared to the other men in my class, I have aged well. I still have my hair and I look better than my yearbook photo. I was reminded of this when I arrived and found that the name badges all had our yearbook photo. Everyone got these, so no one was immune from embarrasment. Some of the women in my class have aged VERY WELL indeed. One in particular, a slender, raven-haired beauty (not the owner of the Little Black Dress), who I thought was the biggest snot of our class. She turned out to be a sweetheart with a similar sense of humor. She is retired as a nurse, and is taking care of her housebound father, who suffers from dimentia. I danced only one dance that night and it was with her. It was a slow dance that caused a few heads to turn towards the dance floor – we were the only couple out there, of course people would look. I felt good to take a woman in my arms again. Where was the owner of the Little Black Dress? She had opted not to attend the reunion, a last minute change of plans. Her loss.
I can recall the words of Rick Nelson – the lyrics of “Garden Party”,
“If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”
Reunions are not a place to go find yourself. They are places where you can show off the person that you’ve become, warts and all.