Saturday, October 22, 2011
The Class of '71
I went to my first-ever high school reunion last weekend. It was my husband’s. Forty years ago he and The Class of ‘71 graduated high school, never to hear from one another again. Then came Facebook. Social networking arrived, baby boomers took it over, and all those seniors who were going to change the world showed up on the web last year with gray hair and grandkids.
I met some of the crowd Saturday morning for breakfast and a tour of the old high school building. They were a nice group of people and I could see why Rob wanted to connect with them again. We walked the hallowed halls —now in a spooky state of decline—while the nostalgic seniors laughed and reminisced in the shadows of their alma mater. Standing near open, empty lockers covered in the dusty graffiti of generations of students, Rob’s classmates peered at my name tag and tried to place my face. Wish I’d been gutsy enough to make something up and see where it went. Something like, “I’m Rob’s twin sister, Elva, remember me?” After 35 years of marriage, ten of them spent here in his hometown, I know a lot of his childhood stories better than he does. To this day, every time we go down Siesta Drive, I beat Rob to the punch and point out Kenny Hipp’s old house. I’ve never even met Kenny Hipp.
Saturday night was “the dinner.” We walked into the banquet room of a local hotel and I had the sensation of stepping into a time capsule. Or a cliché. I couldn’t help it—as the DJ spun that timeless 70’s hit, “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog”, I was transported back to the insecurity of my own high school years and immediately began dieting.
Nametags in place, drinks in hand, we quickly absorbed into an American oddity known as The High School Reunion. “Hi, how are you?” became our mantra as we worked our way through the crowded room.
A slender gal with a self-conscious smile and familiar first name entered stage left on the arm of a man who looked like he’d rather be in a dentist chair than this room of strangers.
“Isn’t that your tenth grade crush?” I quipped to my husband, Rob, as I pointed out the attractive woman.
“I don’t know,” he said, squinting. “It could be.”
I knew it was. Sheesh. Maybe I did attend school with him—I spotted her before he did. Then again, that’s a good thing, right?
Settling in at a table away from the blaring music, I began sorting the guests into two categories: alumni and spouses. It was pretty easy to spot the spouses—they all wore the same uncomfortable look on their faces.
Across from me, an abandoned husband sat in gloom, giving short answers to my persistent questions as I looked for some common ground or interesting tidbit to run with. We planned to be here late partying with all the other 50 Somethings—Rob’s parents said to have fun and not to worry about knocking on their door when we got in—so I jumped right in to acting social and making friends.
“You said you have three children?” I asked. “Do you have any grandkids?” It seemed like a safe question.
“No grandchildren,” he replied. “And I don’t want any.”
Guess I won’t be bragging to you about mine then, I thought. Okey, dokee. I grabbed a piece of cake and stuffed my face so I’d quit making small talk. It killed five minutes.
An auburn haired lady on my right sat in silence with a yearbook in front of her. My husband’s yearbooks had long ago been eaten for lunch by termites—sad story—so I asked if I could look through the one she guarded.
“Well,” she answered slowly, “it’s not really mine. It belongs to a dead woman.”
Hmm, I thought to myself, it’ll be pretty hard to ask her permission to look at it.
“But you can read it,” she continued cautiously, “a friend of mine found it at an antique store.” Her eyes widened. “I guess that means we’re all antiques!” she exclaimed, and sobered at her own realization.
This was going to be a long night.
I looked around the room in desperation to locate my husband. Across the crowd we made eye contact. He nodded happily, raised his beer in a cheerful salute and returned to his conversation. I should have brought my knitting, I thought dryly.
With my dessert gone, I began to look for more uncomfortable spouses to interrogate. It was either that or start head banging to the music. A woman with dark hair and an expression to match had taken a seat next to me. She picked at her food while avoiding eye contact with the rest of the table, especially me. But I’m no quitter.
“Hi,” I said boldly. She looked at me in surprise, nodded and turned her attention back to her plate.
I leaned towards her and confided, “I’ve never been to one of these before.” I struck a chord there and she brightened.
“Neither have I,” she replied. “In high school I only had two friends.” Nibbling her sandwich absentmindedly, she turned away to gaze wistfully at the door. I began to gaze wistfully at it, too.
“This is not going well,” I muttered. With no other lonely people to annoy with my unappreciated wit, I made a mental note to take up drinking before the next reunion.
Striking out in the friendship department, I left the table of martyrs to search for the restroom. That killed another five minutes. I looped back into the noisy room full of inebriated laughter, wove my way through clusters of cheerleaders and thespians, and wandered out through the door the dark haired woman was memorizing. I figured three more loops like that and I could eat another piece of cake. In the hotel foyer I picked up a tourist guide with things to do in Sarasota. If I left now, I knew I could get in some shopping at the outlet mall and pick up Rob when the party wound down.
Instead I got that second cake slice and sat down next to the grandchild-less man. He stared, knowing I’d already eaten a piece. I didn’t care anymore. I’d already stopped dieting. As the last bit of icing disappeared from my plate, from out of nowhere a familiar voice whispered in my ear, “Can I get you anything?”
I turned around to face my husband, my own high school sweetheart. The love of my life for the last 37 years, I knew I could count on him to get me anything, anything at all. And at that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted—the very thing that would make this day complete. I’d had dinner. I’d had two desserts. I took a nice walk. I’d visited the facilities. There was only one more thing I still needed.
“Yes. Can you get me a cab?” I begged.