It took me until about an hour into my high school reunion to realize that the evening was commemorating our twentieth year since graduation, not our fifteenth.
Math's never really been my thing. And apparently, they don't even have reunions to celebrate the passage of only fifteen years.
I hadn't really kept in close touch with my high school friends -- odd, since I'm one of those people who actually really liked high school. I went to a school that celebrated Art and Theatre, a school that offered students a lot of electives and a lot of freedom. Put it this way: I never once took an actual Gym class; I took Dance. And back then, if a teacher didn't show up on time, we were allowed to just leave the classroom. Even while I was in it, even while it was all happening, high school felt like four years of having to wake up far too early, but the rest of it just seemed about a time allotted to playing with my friends and leaving the school for lunch to go to a really good deli.
I know I must have done some work because I got into a good college, but I never remember that part. The only thing I remember in that area was writing my college admission essay, which finally happened after my mother basically threw herself across the threshold of the front door and told me I was not leaving the house until I sat at the kitchen table and wrote the fucking thing already.
I could have, I suppose, slipped out the back door, but I was not into being nastily rebellious like that. Plus, she was a Dean of a college. To her, that action would have been grounds for shooting me -- or at least heaving a vegetable peeler my way with supreme force like the mother did in the movie Carrie.
(To this day -- because of that movie -- I am haunted by how dangerous kitchen utensils can be. God only knows the damage that could be inflicted with a melon baller. Oh, the horror!)
Those were the days before cell phones. My friends and I used to write notes and pass them subtly to one another before class, and so there I would be, sitting in Science class, and I'd open up my looseleaf binder and pretend to be focusing intently on something like pine barrens while what I was really doing was quietly unfolding the note, the shreds of curly paper at the edges that had been torn quickly from another notebook looking like an errant unbraiding braid, and I'd read the deep contemplations written by one of the people I loved while she had sat in Social Studies just one period prior.
I still have some of those notes. I keep a folder in one of the drawers in my office that holds things like letters friends sent to me in high school or while I worked at sleepaway camp and Valentine's Day cards from the boys who I once adored and a lot of letters I wrote that I never actually sent.
A fun fact about me: I also have a few copies of letters I did send because I used to write a draft of those scrawled feelings that always ended up with tons of words and lines crossed out as I was trying so hard to get my thoughts to be both linear and articulate. And so, when it came time to actually send my verbal vulnerability forward, I'd rewrite the letter, trying so hard to make my handwriting look free of pain and stress -- and also feminine, wishing so badly that I could construct consonants and vowels that looked puffy and swirly, but I could never pull that off. My handwriting is messy, and my lowercase g's never look right, and I have never -- but not ever -- dotted an i with a heart.
I'm just not that girl.
When I moved two years ago I found that folder, the one that still holds remnants of the person I was at sixteen and seventeen. I sat cross-legged on the floor, rifling through the memories, remembering how it felt -- remembering even what I was wearing -- on the days I wrote or read each letter for the first time back in the 90s.
Look: some people can recite the names of all the Presidents in order of who held office when. Others can run through every book of the Bible. I can tell you what bra I wore on the day my friend slipped me a card with a poem written by Maya Angelou because she saw something in my face on that day that told her I needed a boost of strength.
One of the things I found nestled into one of the pockets of that folder was a mini leather notebook, way smaller than any of my other journals. Only a few pages of it were written in, and the book was so small that there were only a few lines written on each page. When I opened it, I saw that what was recorded in it for posterity's sake was the story of the night I lost my virginity.
(Just to be consistent, on that night -- during the time I was dressed -- I was wearing jean shorts and a white v-neck tee with a bunch of beaded necklaces, one of which had a dangling crystal off of it. My bra was white lace; I didn't yet know that you were supposed to wear nude-colored bras under white back then.)
Whatever. Fashion faux pas aside, I still scored.
The events of the moment are not worth rehashing because it's something that happened so long ago, but after reading it -- the awkwardness, the excitement of that awkwardness -- I texted the boy involved and told him I'd just found a journal that had recorded it all. He asked if I'd share it with him, writing that he understood if I was hesitant because it was very personal stuff.
I had no problem sharing it with him. One, he was there when it happened. Two, so many years have raced by since then that I no longer felt embarrassed or inhibited about any of it. It had become just a story to me, and I sent him a copy of what I had written about that night and the days that had lead up to the moment. That was quite the trip down memory lane, and taking the stroll was sweet and hilarious all at the same time. And I'm lucky that he's still a dear friend.
The reunion felt that way, too. I hadn't gone to my ten year reunion. I'd had no desire to go, and I can't quite articulate why, but it maybe was that there simply hadn't been enough of a passage of time for me to feel the pull of nostalgia. And when I got the email about the upcoming new reunion, I was hesitant to go to that one too.
It's hard to admit why I didn't want to go because doing so is embarrassing, but I was uncomfortable that I'd probably be the only person there who wasn't married. That made me feel like I had failed at achieving what society had told me I was supposed to have achieved by a certain age.
I texted a guy friend of mine who lived across the country and wouldn't be attending, admitting to him that very real sentiment.
"Yeah, that might be true. But you'll also be the only person there who wrote a book."
That's a good friend.
I received -- the very next day -- a Facebook message from someone who had been one of my very closest high school friends. We had fallen out of touch when we were around twenty or so for reasons neither of us can fully remember, but I'm guessing that the fault mostly was mine and due to that mistake some people make to devote every millisecond to their boyfriend, tossing true friends aside during years when you find yourself caught up in an absolute total devotion to a person and you just can't seem to figure out how to ration your love and your attention. I've only made that mistake once in my life, and I guess I'm grateful it happened in order to teach me a valuable lesson, but I turned away from good people in the process. I regret that.
Annmarie messaged me. It was so nice to hear from her and to learn what had gone on in her life in all of those gaping years. We emailed back and forth a few times, feeling each other out a bit, recalling who each of us had been to one another, and then we spoke on the phone. She laughed as soon as she heard my voice, telling me I sounded exactly the same. So did she, and after all those missed years, our conversation flowed in the way that happens when you speak to someone who has a place nestled in both your heart and your memory, even if the places haven't been explored in a good long while.
It came down to this, she said: I'll go to the reunion if you go.
I think the night we were seventeen and went skulking into a stranger's backyard to go pool-hopping, the same barter was made, but I'm pretty sure it was me who said it to her on that long-ago evening. But just like the night we then ran, dripping with chlorine and adrenaline down a suburban cul-de-sac after doing tandem swan dives, we also agreed to hit up the reunion together.
Annmarie was still friends with a lot of our girlfriends from high school — close friends, like, had-been-her-bridesmaids friends — and I hadn't seen them in decades, but she invited me to our friend Jen's home to meet up beforehand, and there was something seriously bizarre about parking my car outside of a house purchased by a girl who had stayed frozen in my mind at eighteen years old.
They opened the door, Annmarie and Jen together, and they were both gorgeous and warm and looked truly happy. It felt weird for about four seconds. And then, well, it just didn't. We went up to Jen's large bedroom to fix our makeup and it felt like it used to, but we all used different perfume now, not the peach oil we once all bought at a small boutique in town or the citrus-smelling Calyx. But I fixed my black eyeliner with a q-tip and Jen fluffed her perfect hair and Annmarie turned in in the mirror to see how her pretty dress looked from the back, and it felt normal.
It felt right.
We soon left to go to the reunion, Jen in a beautiful blue dress, Annmarie stunning in burgundy, and me, shockingly, in black. The drive to Huntington was quick, and there was a table downstairs where we had to check in with older women who worked for the reunion company. They gave us name tags. I don't do name tags; they ruin outfits and compete with carefully-chosen accessories, so I declined mine with a smile to the stunned ladies who looked at me like I was Kramer, refusing the red ribbon at the AIDS walk.
Thank goodness, though, that everyone else wore those tags because, while I recognized many of my former friends immediately, I also found myself being hugged by people I wouldn't have been able to identify by name if there had been a loaded Uzi pointed at my head. That said, none of it felt weird. It felt fantastic to see those people. I noticed that the women looked almost uniformly beautiful and that they had aged better than many of the men. It's not that the men looked bad -- but they looked older.
I found myself in a long, intense conversation with a person who had once been a truly treasured presence in what had been a fulfilling part of my life. She had been around me after my father died. I had slept at her home -- in her bed, on her floor, once on a pool table. She was someone who once knew close to everything about me, and there was an immediate comfort that came right back in a manner that I had not expected.
As I talked to her, I stared at her face as we were deep in conversation, and it morphed almost, like a reverse time-lapse photography, and I witnessed her transform back into the girl she had been at seventeen before my eyes.
It was wild.
It was wonderful.
I texted my west coast friend when I went into the bathroom to check my hair, telling him about the night. He wished he could have been there, and I wanted him to sort of share the experience, but those were quick texts I sent, things like, "Holy shit! the guy I had a crush in in 10th grade is here and he looks 50!!!" I promised I'd give him a full rundown in the morning though, which I did in a long email.
I told him who was doing what with their lives.
I mentioned who was currently rocking bangs.
I told him who I had found essentially unrecognizable.
Something I noticed that breezy, star-filled night: all of us have lines around our eyes now. Some were deep and on some there were just traces, but there was an innate beauty to them. I saw those slight eye wrinkles on others like I notice them now after I wash my face at night on myself, but for the first time, mine didn't bother me anymore. Years have passed. We have grown. Some of us have found lasting happiness and some only a fleeting joy. But we have lived our lives, and we came together for a night in a room with good lighting and bad appetizers to celebrate those days -- and these days too.