Last weekend I joined The Wife at her 20 yr. high school reunion. I knew one other attendee but was still forced to wear a name tag. At least I was given the option of writing my own name, so I made one up. The rest of the night I wore the label “Random Spouse”, and insisted that people call me by that. Because really, it saved people the embarrassment of pretending to remember me from Algebra, when in truth I’d never met these people in all my life. It was quite the ice breaker, and I was glad to have a starting point in meeting people. See, I don’t really like strangers, but once we’ve talked, we’re not strangers, we’re friends. So I made lots of friends that night. And I watched with detached amusement as all these former soul mates waltzed around awkward conversations involving hair loss, kids and just what in the hell happened over these last 20 years.
It was a night to enjoy, at least from my perspective.
How can an occurrence of just four years have such a stranglehold on the next twenty years? No matter how successful these people had become, no matter how far they’d moved away, when all parties were in the room, everyone fell back into the roles they remembered back then. You could tell who the popular folks were, just as you could tell who was geeky and awkward back in the day. Add some wrinkles and a belly or two, and nothing’s changed. I really loved listening to people’s stories about how they knew The Wife, where they’d been since graduating Kickapoo High in 1990 and how it felt to reconnect with those who’d been their whole realm of social connection way back when.
And it got me to thinking; in two short years I’ll be back in California, seeing my former classmates, doing the same klutzy dance of rekindling our connections. Facebook has been great as a medium by which to completely bullshit about where you are in life. I mean, no one is going to put as an update: “uggghhh. just don’t know how I’ll pay the water bill this month. Stupid real estate bubble!” No, you’re required to post things like “Another shitty day in paradise as I catch smooth lefts on Bali. THIS is living!” Or “Martha’s Vineyard ROCKS MY FACE OFF!” So, as an aside, don’t go believing my updates, as I’m apt to lie just to sound like my life is much more fabulous than its mundane reality. But in actuality, I’m starting to get really stoked to meet up with people with whom I’d lived for four years.
That’s right: lived. I went to boarding school (“Hi, I’m John, I went to boarding school and developed an unhealthy love of Led Zepplin and Ramen Noodle soup”… “HI JOHN!”). It was by choice, it was co-ed and no, it wasn’t a punishment. Quite the opposite from where I was sitting – going away to school meant freedom for me. It was academically rigorous, to be sure, but I’ve proved that you can waste all that in one career move into civil service. But it was so much more than academics to me. It was (limited) independence, it was first loves, it was the introduction to hitchhiking (sorry, ma), it was the introduction to activities illicit in nature (again sorry, ma) off-campus in a ditch, it was learning to play bass and lacrosse and how to take a punch. Formative? That’s an understatement at best.
And I sucked at it.
I was terrible at high school. I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t a hit with the ladies, nor was I outstanding academically. Mostly, I was good at being pissed off. I carried an entitled chip on my shoulder, irked at the notion that I wouldn’t be joining my classmates in Aspen because I would be busy digging ditches or working in Cayucos’ only surf shop over break. That was really, really stupid on my part. I spent time actively torching bridges instead of finding ways to finance a ski trip (hello, prostitution? Duh.) Yeah, so I scowled and glared and was, in general, a fool. Isn’t that what high school is really all about? Acting like you’re much smarter than you are and pissing off anyone older than 28?
Nervously, I anticipate the opportunity to make an ass of myself once again in a couple of years. I hope everyone shows up. I hope the cool kids aren’t too cool to make an appearance, I hope the fantabulous folks can take a break from whipping their help in The Hamptons to take the Lear Jet out west. I hope that I can just spend time catching up with people who ignored me and who I ignored and we can discus kids, receding hair lines and first loves.
And I’ll be glad to go as just Uli as opposed to Random Spouse. I heard that guy was a real asshole at his wife’s reunion.