High School reunions are supposed to be a horror. Is anyone really comfortable with name tags? I don't know where to put them, above the boobs or below? Besides, large groups make my feet hurt. I don't remember anyone's name, even before they're horribly disfigured by the cruel glacier of life traveling across the continent of their face. All that, and its just a little too Then vs. Now for my taste. I'm typically better with incremental change.
You can get worked up before a reunion over things like Spanx. Do you run out and buy a girdle? Or just let the good times roll over the top of your pants? But even greater than concerns born of vanity, is the scary potential for some person, having gone completely off the rails in their own life, to come hurtling toward you, gasoline soaked and sparking, looking for some recognition of their former selves, as reflected in your terrified eyes.
For these and other reasons, my high school has never had particularly well-attended reunions. As students of a liberal arts boarding school whose academic focus was, almost pathologically so, the cultivating of the individual, we are not, as a result, joiners. This quality makes it hard to get a group of us free-thinkers to gather under our laminated badges when called to do so. We have a fuck-that-shit kind of attitude, in the nicest possible way.
But something happened this year, 25 years after, with the explosion of Facebook, and maybe just a little well-honed nostalgia, and dare I say it, a meaningful handful of us showed up to make it happen.
It took about an hour for all of us to gather our courage in the form of cold brews and snacks, to find ourselves collected in an ever more hilarious tangle of memories and one-liners. It was delightfully casual doings. Burgers, beers and suprises pulled from rental cars in the form of smokey treats, photo albums and The Cure. At one point, as two of our friends accidentally turned an adironack bench into a pile of kindling using only the weight of happy times, our friend, nervous about getting in trouble asked, "Where are the grown-ups?" and it was with genuine surprise and not a little concern that she received the news, "Jules, we are the grown-ups."
It was then that the official golf cart silently arrived, and sure that we would all be called before the Judicial Board, we stiffened. That is until we realized that it was our host, arriving with a quiet cart full of additional wine and beer...and give-away hats!
For ten hours I laughed so hard that my cheeks cramped and my voice dropped an octave. There is something about that kind of laughter - when you realize you are with people who are not only like you, but are actually formed from the same stuff. Its not the same as finding someone of similar tastes and humor, its better. The realization that you are beating the drum with your tribe - that these people became the people they are, at the same time you became the person you are - its a simple but sweet revelation.
We're each different now. Fatter, balder, more scarred, more emboldened, or mellowed. Some of us are found, some only more lost - all of us happily embedded with an entirely different cast of characters. But none of that changes the fundamental fact that we grew wings in cocoons of the same fiber. What we are now, we became then, in each other's company, groping, stumbling, flinging our way outward from that delicately dangling pod, until this weekend, when we all came fluttering toward the porch light and hurled ourselves indelicately into its warm glow.
We burned that adirondack bench in a roaring fire bowl and many of us spent the night on bunkbeds in the dorm, cackling into the wee hours, gasping for breath and creaking on our rubberized mattresses. We laughed, reminded so vividly, from so many angles, about how silly it is to be us, how wonderful and bizarre and unique. If only name tags could convey all that, we'd have burned them too.