I went to a large public co-ed high school in northern California. I didn't play sports and I did just enough extracurricular stuff to satisfy that part of the honor society requirements. I had a small but mighty group of friends, most of whom I am still in touch with nearly 30 years later. We tackled homework together, played Trivial Pursuit together, solved murder-mysteries-in-a-box together, went to dances together. From the standpoint of finding a group I fit in with, I liked high school much better than college.
|Class of 1986|
|Class of 1984|
Therefore I was a bit surprised several months ago when Rob didn't immediately toss the announcement for his 30th high school reunion. I seized on his moment of curiosity and repression and proclaimed, "We should go!"
Because, well, I dragged him to my 20th reunion and he had more fun than I did. Apparently it is quite entertaining to watch a group of 38 year olds morph back into teenagers with all the cliques and drama and insecurity that entails. I desperately wanted Rob to return the favor.
Using my 20th reunion as a guide, I envisioned what last Saturday night would be.
It would be a large, dimly lit ballroom filled with a bunch of 48-year-old men wearing Those Nametags screaming Hair of 1984 (see above). The guys would all stand around punching each other's shoulders while the wives-in-tow would chit chat lightly about the weather and kids and purses. I would wear heels, red lipstick, and a fabulous cocktail dress in an attempt to be the best Arm Candy I could muster. We would eat dinner around a table with people squinting at Those Nametags. We would listen to the DJ play hits by Prince and Phil Collins and Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen. I would know better than to ask Rob to dance so instead I would just enjoy the flood of memories from the year I got my driver's license. I would take lots of pictures of Rob and his newly rediscovered friends. On the way back to the hotel, if it wasn't too late, we might stop for dessert or a glass of wine to dish on the evening. The end.
Yeah, ummm, not quite.
When we arrived at the tennis club fashionably late (about 15 minutes was all we could handle; we aren't very fashionable), there were about a dozen nametags left on the table undistributed. We were directed inside to the venue -- a very warm, stuffy, dimly lit, small room surrounding the bar overlooking some tennis courts.
Rob said hello to one of the Fathers (he went to a Catholic high school) who is a friend on Facebook. Apparently Facebook answers all questions because Father Michael said no more than five words to us before heading off to greet another alum. He never spoke to us again.
Two more steps into the room, Rob glanced around and whispered, "I'm taking off my coat."
"Do you want me to take it back to the car for you?" I asked, thinking that would give him time to find some folks without worrying what to do with me.
"No, I don't want to stand here by myself. I'll take it out."
"I don't want to stand here by myself either. Let's go together."
As we momentarily escaped the awkwardness, I thanked Rob for talking me out of wearing the fancy cocktail dress. Yes, it was too dressy after all. Instead I was wearing a fun but far more casual dress that was sooooo much longer than what I glimpsed on the females inside. And my heels were far too low, too, as far as all their outfits suggested. Myself, I was happy with my ensemble until the blister developed on my left baby toe. Oh, that's right...I rarely wear heels.
I also apologized for thinking Rob needed to wear a tie. He wisely didn't even pack one. It turned out that the mere fact that his shirt was tucked in made him raise the dress code bar. It was like Vegas all over again.
Back inside, I surveyed the group. Rob's graduating class was about 200. There were two sister all-girl schools that combined in with their reunions. Between all three schools and accompanying spouses, there were maybe 90 people at the reunion. With so few people and so little space, I couldn't even take stealthy pictures. My camera never left Rob's pocket. Dang it!
As we stood there munching on toothpicked meatballs, I smiled at the realization that all the guys were talking together on one side of the room and all the women were together on the other side. Just like a junior high dance, there was very little mingling. One of the organizers slurred hello. The party had started for him well before we got there. A few women came over to see who I was but upon discovering I was merely a wife, they somewhat politely moved on in search of Those Nametags.
I was flabbergasted and disappointed to discover there were very few spouses. There were lots and lots at my reunion. Although the RSVP list indicated about 15 "guests" I didn't see any other obvious spouse. I started looking for wedding rings. Not a lot of those, either. Huh. Is atttending a 30th high school reunion actually a mid-life dating tactic??
At one point, we were standing near an older man. Turns out he was the long-retired principal. He was chatting with a woman who whispered to me as she excused herself from the conversation, "He left the priesthood and is really interesting now!" She obviously hadn't noticed I wasn't wearing a nametag.
"Father" Charles was a funny, charming, authentic man with a great story about falling in love with a woman who was confessing her sins to him. A cuddly softy married for 22 years, he covertly shared how he first accidentally earned and then craftily maintained a scary reputation among a school of teenage boys.
"They called me 'The Boxer,'" he revealed with a proud twinkle in his eye.
I asked if he attended a lot of the reunions.
"All of them. I like to haunt them." More twinkling.
About this time, one of the other organizers -- the lone woman of the threesome -- came teetering over with the requisite yearbook in hand.
"He hasn't changed a bit!" she flirted as she held Charles's yearbook photo up next to his face.
Since I was in the presence of what was once a Man of the Cloth...and since he didn't know my humor...and since I didn't want to add yet more awkwardness to the evening...I commendably caught myself before exclaiming, "WOW! You were a hottie!!"
|I'm thinking it was a good thing he wasn't the principal at one of the girls' schools.|
His office would have been very crowded.
Still searching for someone familiar, Rob and I positioned ourselves just on the fringe of the conversations happening at the bar. While observeing the shoulder punching (I was right about that part), Rob explained that as small as his class was, there were many students he really didn't know.
About 60 of his classmates were with him in the "Accelerated" group. They took advanced classes together throughout the four years and didn't have much classroom interaction with the rest of the students. Rob couldn't remember the name of that group until we overheard one of the guys say to an alum who looked decidedly lawyerish, "Ooooh! Here's one from the ACCELERATED group!" And yes, there was something of a taunting, mocking tone to it. Ugh.
Far as we could tell, it was only that lawyer guy and Rob representing the fast movers. Was that why nobody other than the principal and the organizers were talking to us?
Desperately staring at the clock, we agreed that 90 minutes was good enough and decided a nice dinner just the two of us sounded like a much better way to spend the evening.
I told Rob we should at least take the long route to the exit, just in case someone new and familiar had arrived. Showing football skillz I had never before seen in action, Rob cut his way around the dance floor, the tables, and the waiters and was almost in the end zone when we were tackled by the third and final organizer, Joe.
Joe artfully blocked the exit and explained how he enjoyed organizing reunions because it forced him to talk to people and not just be a homebody and hey, where do you live and what was your name again and hey, great reunion, huh?
Once safely in our rental car, Rob and I decided to escape to a fancy wine bar for some tapas and fresh air. It was a lovely evening after all.
As I reflected later on Rob's reunion, I was finally able to name the emotion I was feeling while we were standing there largely ignored while clumps of laughter surrounded us.
Protective. That's what I felt.
I was incredulous and then annoyed that these people didn't recognize the opportunity they had right in front of them. The opportunity to re-meet and re-discover the kindhearted, intelligent, witty, reflective man standing next to me. The opportunity to hear a pretty darn interesting and inspiring story of a 30-year path of life. The opportunity to drop adolescent assumptions and experience life and people as an adult.
Sigh. High school reunions. I think we might be done.
|My hottie and my red lipstick|