I was prepared for my high school reunion to be disappointing. I had expected that I’d have nothing in common with these people after 20 long years. I went to high school in Seattle, at Garfield High, in the 1980s. Now I live on the other side of the country. Instead of the central city, I live in a homogenous suburb. I’ve been married, had kids, moved thousands of miles away, had nothing to do with my high school or anyone associated with my classmates. I hadn’t been in contact with anyone from my graduating class since 1989, and even the people I was in contact with then wouldn’t be at the reunion.
But, on the other hand, I did enjoy the social aspects of high school. I liked going to the dances, the football games, hanging out in crappy diners with my friends. I even liked some of my teachers. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. There were some people who I knew would be there that I really wanted to see. My locker partner, who had written me hilarious letters in college and then somehow fallen out of touch. Of course, I wanted to see all the girls I had dated, and others I had had crushes on.
The reunion took place in a swanky catering joint on Seattle’s Lake Union, with stunning views of the downtown skyline — not that anyone noticed. We were all much too busy scoping out our former classmates. My old locker partner looked the same as ever — except that he, like I, had sprouted a beard. Unlike me, he hadn’t lost any hair elsewhere to make up for it.
I was expecting everyone to have declined a bit in looks, but as it turned out, few of us had. Perhaps this effect was due to the subdued lighting of the setting, or to our inaccurate memories of how good we looked back then. But I suspect it mainly had to do with our changing tastes — we spend most of our time looking at people our own age, and so now that’s who we find attractive. Regardless of the cause, I spent the evening steeped in the illusion that, with very few exceptions, we had all miraculously improved with age. It was almost a disappointment — how could it be that so many of us had done so well?
Then it hit me: most of “us” weren’t actually there. Out of 450 in our graduating class, perhaps 100 managed to show up. Maybe some of those people were simply so successful that they couldn’t take any time out of their busy lives to meet up with their old friends, but isn’t it also possible that a lot of my classmates were more than a bit embarrassed at how they turned out? Or maybe that’s just a vain assumption on my part, and it really is true that most of us are doing much better than we were back then.
The most surreal moment of the evening came when a woman approached me and told me how I kissed her under the mistletoe at a New Year’s party the year after we graduated, telling her “I always wanted to do that.” I told her (honestly) I had no recollection of ever kissing her. Which is quite surprising to me, because I can probably count the number of girls I actually kissed in high school on one hand. Later that evening, I wondered what she thought I’d meant by it. Did she think I’d always wanted to kiss her, or just to do the mistletoe thing? I can almost imagine the latter as an explanation for the whole incident, but I still can’t remember it happening.
Later in the evening, we all danced to the music of the ’80s. I’m sure the music we listened to back then is no better than whatever trash the kids are listening to these days, but it sure seemed like great music. I wonder if we’ll still like that stuff at our fiftieth reunion. I wonder if we’ll still think we look better than we did back then.
The next day was the other reunion event — the “family picnic.” The same people from the night before showed up, this time wearing jeans and t-shirts, and toting babies in baskets and toddlers in strollers. Now, under the harsh light of the Seattle afternoon, we began to show our age. The kids clung to their parents legs and tugged at their wrinkled shirts. Without wine to lubricate them, our conversations stagnated. We all had lives we’d soon be getting back to, and the children were an ever-present reminder of that fact. My kids were still in North Carolina, but I had dinner planned with my sister and nephew. I had closed the reunion the night before, but this day, I slipped away early. Maybe we weren’t any better than we had been. Maybe we were just regular folks who knew how to get dolled up for an evening. Maybe. In another ten years or so, maybe I’ll find out.