When my old boyfriend came through the door of the hotel where my 40th high school reunion was being held, three girls, wait, three 58-year old women scurried over to quick give me the 411. "Clark's here." "He's right over there." Shushing and fluttering like starlings after the same bug, they gathered round waiting for my reaction. My reaction?
Clark had broken up with me in 9th grade. Apparently, it was no secret that I'd carried a torch all through high school. And I thought it was so well-concealed. Ah, like so many things about high school, the reunion left me exposed, mute, and hapless.
I'd only gone to the reunion in the first place because I'd reconnected with my high school best friend, well, my best friend until about 10th grade when she dumped me because I'd gotten strange. I went the rest of high school fairly friendless except for the stunning hunk of a strange boyfriend I snared in senior year. Still, despite the rupture in our relationship, I wanted to see her. And I did, coming out of the hotel elevator as I was going in. Thirty-five years, five husbands between us, four kids, several college degrees, careers, hobbies and a shared love of hot cars (some things don't change) - that's what we had to work with. It would have to be enough for the next 24 hours.
She thought we should drive to the reunion together. This was against my better judgement because I always want to have my own getaway car. But it seemed unsporting and unfriendly to say so. At least this way, I would have an escort.
Successful, accomplished, not bad looking, I was a wreck walking into the reunion, finding my name tag with my high school picture on it, and trying to figure out how to have a conversation with anyone besides my friend. She remembered everyone, I remembered no one. There were times during the evening that I wondered if we'd gone to the same school. The girls who were 'in' in high school still were, wearing white pants and trim tops, doing the Electric Slide, and tossing their hair while I sat glued to a chair talking to a not even remotely remembered woman who had married a movie producer and was living happily in L.A. She remembered high school as a nightmare. We had that in common.
After a long hour where the 'in' girls shot me little looks with raised eyebrows indicating his current location, the now pretty old and very beat-up looking boyfriend, #84, the tight end of the Bloomfield Badgers, he of slow dances in the gym and long summer letters sent from his uncle's Iowa farm, the infidel who left and never came back but never stopped hinting and suggesting oh maybebaby, yes, that one, he strode over and sat down beside me. On my bad side. The side with no hearing.
He talked. I nodded. That's what hearing impaired people do when they have no clue what anyone is saying. They nod a lot.
He told me the story of his life. I heard the words tools, moving around, and it didn't work out five or six times in the course of a 20-minute conversation the whole while of which I kept glancing at his nose - big and red with huge pores - the same nose I'd seen on the alcoholic building inspector I'd worked for during one college summer whose nose after lunch blinked like Rudolph's with the words "I drank an amazing amount of alcohol before coming here."
By then I was sweaty and tired and incredulous at how 40 years had dissolved and I was once again the slightly off, not cool enough to be quirky, complete misfit, grateful for the attention of a man who himself could probably be considered a tool. That is, if I could actually hear what he was saying. Even without hearing 90% of what he was saying, I knew 9th grade had been a lucky year.
It's probably wrong to generalize but I will. If you were awkward and unsure of yourself in high school, you'll probably revert to that feeling at the reunion. The cool kids still will be and you won't. And now matter how much you've done, how clever and competent you may have become, you'll do what you remember. You won't be able to help it. Seriously. Yuck.