I went to my high school reunion so you don’t have to. You can thank me later.
The air felt hot, dry, and dirty as we stepped out of the car into the claustrophobic parking lot. A small marquee declared, “YCHS 1993 20 YEAR REUNION” in vinyl squares almost toy-like in their tininess. I glanced back at my partner, Charles. He looked slightly green. I understood. I was sure I was too.
We were a few minutes late, but some of the first to walk inside. I located my name tag. On it was a scanned image of my yearbook photo. How very Grosse Pointe Blank.
When I returned to my hometown of Yuba City after spending my freshman and sophomore years in Oregon, my classmates had gone on without me. New alliances had been formed during those very important, formative years in an intimidating environment. High school has never been for the weak. It’s a place for the strong, the social, not the timid, the shy. I looked around and realized that while people might've known me since elementary school, I wasn’t exactly welcome in anyone’s group anymore. For the first two weeks of my junior year, I sat silent. Then Allen, the guy who sat behind me in English class, spoke to me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so invisible. Suddenly, I had a friend.
Charles and I both got plastic cups full of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and went to find a place to sit down. Former classmates would walk into the room and then out, not finding whom they sought. As awkwardness began to settle around my shoulders like a ratty, moth-eaten stole, I heard my name shouted from across the room. There was Allen, once again the first person to speak to me. My class reunion had begun.
It was a lot like that first, junior high dance, where everyone stayed on the periphery, no one really brave enough to Cabbage Patch out on the wooden floor. Like then, interactions seemed to be slightly strained. Unlike our first social event at Cal Skate so many evenings ago, this one was lubricated by our old pal alcohol. As I ponied up to the bar for a second beer, the gal beside me ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. I guessed I wasn’t the only one feeling ill at ease. I gave her an understanding grin and walked away, wishing that instead of the tacky conference room in which we found ourselves that we were back at the roller rink, lights dimmed, cheesy 80s tunes thickening the air.
Then glory be, it was time for grub. As I filled my plate with zucchini cooked in rancid grease and salad that still contained a hint of pesticide, I watched the other attendees file into the room, fill plates, and sit down. The odors of cheap food and nervous sweat settled over the throng of 38 year olds like eau de school cafeteria, and our evening’s entertainment began.
Our emcee broke the ice by handing out a few prizes. First up, raise your hand if you have a kid … the room gazed up at him in amazement. Come on, you guys, our emcee joked, I know a lot of you were having sex in high school. Crickets. But hands began to rise. Alright, keep them up if you have two, then three, then four … really, you’re going
to hand out a prize for breeding in a town full of Mormons? What a contest!
Trivia followed, all of us straining to remember what exactly was going on in the entertainment world in that fantastic year for art, 1993. As I’m not really a joiner, I stayed silent, enjoying the enthusiastic yells of “Beverly Hills 90210!” “Paula Abdul!” and more. Soon enough, many were sporting extraordinary brown and gold memorabilia, and the bad 90s pop music began to blare once again, giving everyone permission to seek out more booze.
After three hours, Charles and I decided to call it a night. It was fascinating and entertaining and totally surreal, and somewhere during the evening, I realized that it had actually been good being a loner in high school. There were no expectations for me 20 years later, so there wasn’t any pressure, and sitting back, alone with Charles while people came and went felt like the right thing to do. I think I had it more figured out back then than I ever gave myself credit for, and it was worth an evening of awkwardness to figure that out. You can’t go home again. You can’t go back to high school either, thank God!
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