Friday, July 23, 2010

And It Felt So Good...

...in a "Peaches & Herb" kind of way.

I headed home to Michigan this month for my twentieth high school reunion. Yep, do that quick math: I graduated when I was 13.

Reunions are awash in various emotions: excitement, fear, nervousness, nostalgia, and a desire to make a good impression. Let's be honest: most people, including me, try to put on their game face for a reunion; July was not the month for "Doughnut Fest 2010."

The reunion was comprised of two events: Friday night was a family event at the local "A" level professional baseball diamond. My kids are too young to be reliably bribable trophy children, so they stayed home with my folks; I saw no need to take the whole "family" theme literally, especially when I had smiling, perfectly behaved facsimiles of my kids in my wallet. The second night was a formal event for classmates and spouses.

The reunion was surprisingly fun.
After twenty years, the nonsense falls away. Everyone was kind and happy to reminisce. I had interesting, enjoyable conversations with people I thought I didn't like, or who I thought didn't like me.

In thinking about high school, I usually remember the best of times and the worst of times, and I tend to forget that the "middle" was pretty good too. At the reunion I caught up with fantastic people that I had somehow been missing without realizing it. (Is that the beauty of Facebook? We keep in touch with our closest friends via phone, email, and visits, but Facebook helps us keep up with people just out of arms' reach.)

It was great to talk to the people who are actually in the stories I tell from high school, and to hear them color in my hazy memories. ("Do you remember that whopper we told?" "Of course; I was standing right next to you, and it was my brother we blamed it on!") These people know exactly what it was like to grow up in the eighties in a small town in Michigan, with Guns & Roses on the tape deck and an eleven o'clock curfew.

Not that it was all rosy; twenty years have gone by. Friends have divorced, and lost loved ones. Some friends were absent and some are painfully, cruelly, permanently gone.

Old rivalries bubbled up. but they seemed to have lost their venom. Doug joked with Marvin about a tenth grade sucker punch. Paul proposed a rematch of an epic 100 yard dash. A father of five once again brought up his rage at my kindergarten reading prowess.

"You!" he accused with a pointed (and hammered) finger. "Erin H., the 'great reader.' Always going up to second grade from kindergarten for reading class. But I was just as good a reader as you were!!!"

At least this time -- unlike at our last reunion -- my accuser was half joking. He also declared his sloppy approval for SJ, who shares his name. "I love this guy," he said, kissing SJ on the cheek and thus initiating the only documented reunion hook-up. I'm so proud that my husband could be a part of it.

High comfort levels and the open bar also left time to create new and embarrassing stories to be retold at our next reunion. As a friend said the day after, "It's not a reunion until the drunk girl gets her boobs out. And then vomits." And no, that was not me.

We were all in good form. After the group picture, I heard a familiar voice yell, "Here's the first guy who ever felt me up!"

I turned around to see two friends, Kimber and Brian. I joined their circle.

The woman, Kimber, was telling the story of their first fumble, long years ago. I laughed along, mentioning that my absent BFF Jane had warned me, "don't get drunk like I did at the tenth reunion and confess to Brian that you had a crush on him like I did!"

Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up, but Jane made her confession ten years ago, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind.

They all laughed and Brian said "Oh, yeah. I remember when you did that."

Tires screeched in my mind.

ME? That was Jane? I didn't say that!

Too late; it was already out there. Realizing that to deny my "crush" now might hurt his feelings, I joined Jane under the bus.

"Yep. We all had a crush on Brian."

"Too bad," I continued. "We could have had little redheaded babies. At this point I'm pretty sure this thing with Steve will last for at least another few years, and by then" -- I circled a hand over my abdominal area -- "all of this will be all dried up."

In retrospect, I think this was my first sign that the wine that I swore I "couldn't feel at all" that night may have had an effect on me.

Then again, Brian knew I was kidding. Really.

Right?

My second sign may have been that I got more than one "stare...pause...blink" responses from people as I said something I intended as a joke. Like referring repeatedly to SJ as my "Man Candy" and "Trophy Husband" to people that I barely knew. It seemed funny at the time...

The reunion provided redemption as well as embarrassment. I introduced to SJ to my sixth grade boyfriend, Brad. Brad and I "dated" over the summer but literally never met up or spoke one word to each other during the three months of our relationship. Nonetheless it was true love until the day that Brad had his best friend dump me the first week of seventh grade. My heart was broken and my pride was deeply bruised.

25 years later, it turns out that Brad has grown into an extremely nice man who lives in my hometown with his lovely wife. As Brad, SJ, and I joked about our romance, having what might be the longest conversation (five minutes) that Brad and I ever shared, Brad exclaimed, "and you don't even know!" It was true, I didn't know, so Brad went on.

"I rode my bike by your house every day for a month and a half that summer, and I even gave up a family vacation because I couldn't miss a day. I stayed with my aunt for a week so I wouldn't miss a day." He had also paid his friend fifty cents to let me down easily and had no idea that my heart had been broken with the phrase "Hey Erin - you're dumped!" yelled across the room in Mr. Winter's Geography class.

That story was now about two kids not much older than my own, but also vaguely about me.
My adult self was touched and the 12-year old somewhere deep inside me was comforted by that sweet revelation.

That's the wonderful and peculiar thing about a reunion. You're at once a self-assured, content, Spanx-wrapped grown-up and an awkward adolescent.

Both of us were happy to be home again.

1 comment:

Mike Thomas said...

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