Be Kind, Don't Rewind
By Tom "class of '93" Waters
December 16, 2003
Just last weekend, I avoided a real foul up. I side-stepped a tragedy greater than the Hindenberg disaster. I barely escaped with my life intact.
I avoided my ten year high school reunion.
Whew, but that was close. A few friends hounded after me to go, but there was nothing doing. I had my mind (what's left of it) set on not attending. Jen, one of my old flames, fantasized about the two of us waltzing into the heart of it like a fairy tale. I informed her that even if she drugged me with horse tranquilizers and beat me over the head with a rusty metal object I would still find a way to slither out of it. Jefferson, my literary brother in arms, the guy I used to piss off to the town park with during study halls to smoke pot and write poetry with, was in on the whole conspiracy as well. "It'll be fun!" No thanks.
What is it with these high school reunion nuts? Was it growing up with "Romy and Michelle," "Grosse Point Blanke" and "90210" that cooked this into their heads? Is it the MTV, with it's accent and worship of youth? What could possibly drive you back to your teen years, or a celebration of such? I know people who obsess about their days in high school. As the years drag, gallop and whinny on, the memory of their former selves inflates to even more heroic proportions. Their happiness becomes mythic. What is it about those four years that causes such a tumult? I don't understand the obsession. And I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that I was also a little afraid. Afraid of what I'd see, who I'd see, and of what they'd see, as well.
I'm certain of one thing. We've all gotten soft around the edges. After the freshman five, we put on the 20's twenty. I'm a good twenty pounds fatter than I was in high school. What can I say? The hormones stopped firing like pistons in a Nascar racer and when I was 17, I walked. Everywhere. And often while reading a book. And I like eating. And drinking. I gargle with fudge before I go to sleep. Just kidding. I used to be forty pounds heavier than my prime weight, but I lost it. Half of it found it's way back home. I've seen other school chums in the interim, and they've packed on their fair share, too. Pumping out a litter of children like a vaginal gatling gun will do that to you. Or continuing to eat like a varsity quarterback when all you catch in the afternoons is your breath.
Don't think me bitter, though. I had fun during high school. If I had grudges with anyone, they've drifted off into senility. I tried my best to get along with every clique. I was the editor of the newspaper, I won a few awards, and had my share of accomplishments. My best friend was a dumpy geek with coke bottle glasses who wore his striped shirts tucked into Wrangler jeans. I played volleyball for half a season. I cracked a lot of jokes during class. I don't hoarde the memories away in some ivory tower, but I don't use them to fuel a quest for world domination, either.
It does make me feel ancient, though. What sort of cruel prank is this: ten years? In another six or seven maybe, but you're putting me on. I found some gray hairs in the mirror the other day. The bastard looking back didn't seem to pleased about it. Could it possibly be a whole decade has gone by? All of us fit, funny, and clamoring to take the world by the horns or the balls or whatever we could grab it by. Life was a vast expanse with millions of possibilities. It would take us far and wide and off to rewarding jobs, fulfilling relationships and mountains of riches. Only youth can afford to be that stupid. That optimistic. We grabbed the world, all right. With trembling fingers, we set out and held onto it for dear life. So much choice. So little shelter. And where did it drop us off? Where did we land?
I kept a few tabs and bumped into some of the fellow go-getters between the decade. Jen landed into my arms for a while. It took longer than our young adulthood to finally get around to each other, but we did. Fireworks went off and some of the fuses led back to us, and we broke up. Jen had a baby boy (before we met). She pinballed through a few different jobs and last I heard she's becoming a teacher. Jeff jettisoned off to college and pissed away to Rochester. College pulsed through his veins and the roots took hold out there. He had a child but he and the mother decided not to stay together. Forever a painter and a poet, Jeff remains a scholar even after the degree. Jason, my buddy since preschool, somehow wound up in Rochester, too. He almost got married to an unholy bitch but escaped. He's running trucks for Budweiser or something now. Kevin got married, just had a kid, and has somehow managed to hang onto a sense of humor that reminds me of Seinfeld. Dan had a very long relationship with a girl, broke it off, did the friend thing, and has something to do with Perry's ice cream. He still kicks my ass in pool. Brian knocked up the whale he met off the internet and started raising a small army of myopic piss pots in a split level out in Akron while his mother in law lived in the other half. So some of us took the family route. Not many, though. Brian Eckel, another kid I knew, turned into a successful crackhead. I've got to hand it to him, he put a lot of effort into that career early on. It's all like a Billy Joel song, isn't it? Small town idealism, romance, tragedy, and success in three acts. What of the rest of them?
I don't know. I hear whisperings down the pike. Run-ins at the bar and awkward stand offs in malls or restaurants or grocery stores. Near as I can tell, the bulk of us are torn between getting our shit together or staving off that adulthood bug a little bit longer. I haven't heard of one of the flock going on to greatness or bursting out of a rainbow crapping happiness. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. What's sad is that most of us stuck around like homing pigeons coming back to roost. We're scattered throughout Western New York like buckshot.
And all the yearbook questions get sucked inside out through the funhouse mirror now. Youth looks back and sneers with questions for us codgers. Where do you see yourself in ten years? I'd like to know who made off with my ten years! I think it was the man with a hook for a hand. As to the next ten, I see myself sitting in a chair that needs to be replaced writing little love notes to myself, like I am now. I have no concrete plans. Once upon a time I wanted to be a celebrated writer. And for a while there, I was. I did what I set out to do so what now? More money, more prestige, a bigger audience? Who cares. I'll keep dreaming and see what happens.
What of our dreams? How many of you kept to yours? I remember that one in every three girls wanted to be a school teacher. And that one in three girls was named Sara, or Sarah, or a permutation thereof. Did the dreams take you where you wanted to go? If you gave up on them, why? And how does it feel afterwards? What do you put in the spot where you stored away those dreams?
What did you do over the last ten years? Don't be so pushy. You get to be my age, and you don't like to be rushed. Quite a bit, actually. I went to university. I loved and lost and loved again. I saw South Carolina through a haze of spring. I toyed around with cell phones before they dropped down from the sky and affixed themselves to everyone's ear but mine. I pretended to be an artist, and got very bohemian. I cut my hair. I know it doesn't sound important to you, but it was a big step, getting rid of that massive curly mane. I turned twenty one and celebrated until I was around twenty three. I smashed up a car really good once. I walked into a strip club and didn't come out for a year and a half. I fooled a lot of people and wrote for the newspapers. I befriended a cartoonist. I met a few radio djs and toasted with them during a festival that would make Sodom and Gomorrah look like a Sunday brunch. I met David Byrne. I saw a lot of great concerts. I lost a grandmother. I lost a grandfather. I lost my mind. I got it back. I lost some friends. I made some new ones. I figured things out. No, I'm lying. I thought I had them figured out, and I went back to the drawing board. I laughed. I cried. I wept with great, heart wrenching sobs. I tried to find myself. Actually, I'm still working on that. I gave up the really bad pop and took up listening to country music on the radio. I wrote a book and was pretty proud of it. Where do I start? When do I stop?
How can you cram it all into one weekend? Okay, I'm a coward. Even the writer in me can sniff out the b.s. I dodged the reunion. I dodged my prom, too, but I don't regret that either. I've kept in touch with the friends that matter. Look at the bunch of us. Love handles and all, I think we'll be all right. I didn't do everything I wanted to do since high school, but goddamnit, I'm not done yet. I'm not where I thought I'd be, but it's a comfortable fit. I'll make the twenty year, and that you can count on. We can compare notes and prostate exams for that cotillion, does that sound like a decent compromise? I don't want to give up the way I saw all of you back then just yet. Life doesn't work out like The Big Chill. Give me another ten years to bring a sensible report card. Then you can shake hands with the mad, opinionated bastard you remember from the high school picture.
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