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She was the first to greet me as I approached the banner hung over the room reserved for our group, smaller now, after so many years. Her lovely face, crinkled with many summers of smiling in the sun, was a bit different, but her voice and demeanor were unchanged. She was always meant to cheerfully organize these things. “I got on Facebook” she said, “And had my daughter check to make sure I did it right.” I told her that was smart and that Facebook events are perfect for us older folks. Then, I cringed.
I wandered about, struggling to recognize people. A guy approached and asked if I remembered him. I glanced at his name tag and thought I did. Wasn’t he the quiet one, who was always talking about sic-fi? He was bald now, but he sort of looked familiar. Yes, I did recognize him! Laughing, he told me that he came with his buddy, and was not a classmate of mine after all. Okay, now it feels like high school again.
Looking past him, I saw an old friend, a girl who had competed with me for leads in the plays we did every year. The separation of time melted away, and we smiled at each other, embraced, and quickly caught up with each others lives. More people filtered into the restaurant event room, and as I made the rounds, I noticed that the vast majority were currently divorced. A notable exception was a friend who had lived in my neighborhood; she said that she and her husband had “not coped well with empty-nest syndrome,” so they had adopted two children after raising four. The kids were currently under ten, so they had to leave early.
The smartest boy in class became a physician, and the girl voted most likely to succeed wasn’t able to attend because her daughter-in-law was winning Olympic medals last week. The skinny, shy boy who was really smart and sensitive, stood quietly, even though it looked painful. The girls who were popular were still popular, and got a little more buzzed and a bit louder as the night wore on. The tall, friendly guy who was a natural born salesman, had become…a salesman, and asked after my sister.
Somewhere inside, an irrational part of me pouted that I still towered over most of the boys. By nine o’clock, as conversations of the long-forgotten-and-now-remembered Past began to circulate the room, the peculiar magic of reminiscence began to work its spell and, suddenly, I was in the high school cafeteria again, looking for a place to sit.
I don’t have unhappy memories of high school; quite the opposite, in fact. My classmates were — and remain — good people. I was fortunate to have many friends and was busy with theater, speech and art. I was a good student and my teachers liked me. But for four years, I wasn’t involved in the social sphere of drinking parties and dating. For one thing, I started my senior year at 16, and was emotionally out-of-sync (to put it politely) with my classmates. So, really, it wasn’t my fault. [butterflies flapping in stomach].
By 9:30 PM, the disquietude in my heart directed me to college, er, the door, and I said goodbye. With jangling nerves and emotions I still can’t identify, I drove four hours to my happy little cottage in northern Michigan to recuperate. I added several classmates to my friends list on Facebook, and it remains to be seen if we will connect meaningfully there. A few may join Ricochet, since no one talks to me without hearing about the best place on the web (you’re welcome, Rob Long & Peter Robinson).
Am I the only one who occasionally goes to these things with high hopes that, at last, now that I’m a confident grown-up, I might be comfortable examining my awkward youth?