Across the room I see a girl I went to high school with. She looks good; she must have put in some effort for the night. She looks a bit older; lines at the corners of her eyes are an endearing mark of lots of laughter. It seems that her nose has gotten bigger, which is unfortunate considering the nose and ears never stop growing. Poor thing, the 20-year reunion could be rough.
Tonight was a long time coming, ten years in fact. After I finally decided to attend two weeks ago, the real preparation started. Other than finding a fabulous outfit and crafting a witty response for the evite, what took the most time was getting over the fear that I wouldn’t measure up. Was I ready to put my life on display to a group of people I had spent four years trying to get to like me?
Like many other high school parties, the evening started at Emily’s house, in her room drinking red wine and making decisions about accessories. She pulled out two copies of our Freshman yearbook from the top shelf of her closet and we read in tandem. The faces on the page were baby fresh. Still, they all look exactly as I remember them.
“Ohmigod! Page 107. Third row, two over. Do you think he’ll show up?”
The doorbell rang and two more friends arrived. Time started to pick up its pace and soon we were posing for photographs in front of the fireplace. I felt like we were going stag to the homecoming dance.
When we arrive, I looked past the registration table into the bar and in an instant time rewinded 10 years. There were the baby faces from the yearbook. Some were little puffier, others with less hair but there was no mistaking the familiar faces. I stepped into the bar and it becomes a flurry of smiles, hugs, howareyou?s. The yearbook refresher course was valuable; I recognized most everyone and knew their names. I resented the people who say “Hiiiiyah” while throwing a short glance at my nametag.
The opening dialogue became a chorus. “Where ‘da ya live?” “Whattya do?” “Are you married with kids?” The night would’ve been easier if our nametags included a bulleted list of these three facts. Still, in all honesty, I knew most of the answers. Googling classmates was another essential step in preparation. It was an effort to imbue my responses with surprise.
“UW Law School? I would’ve never guessed!”
I was not alone in my cyber stalking. Someone asks if I am doing another marathon before I tell her about the first. Another, bless her heart, reads my blog. Joy, oh joy! This boosted my confidence enough to truncate my career description to one word for the rest of the night. I am a writer.
In the beginning, I tried to branch out, make new friends. Perhaps my doppelganger is simply someone I paid no attention to in high school. I found another writer sitting at the bar, wearing a narrow tie with the cuffs on his white Oxford rolled up. He has a full-time writing gig and asked me how I get assignments as a freelancer.
“I write a lot of queries,” I said.
“And people read them?” he responded, utterly deadpan. I walked away reminding myself that the time to shamelessly promote my own writing may have arrived.
On another corner of the bar, I asked an old friend his favorite moment of the past ten years. Without hesitation he responded, “having my son.” He threw the question back at me and I was at a loss, my mind blank. Can one really compare a self-indulgent decade of travel to the perpetuation of the species? I started mumbling self-deprecating comments, and he kindly reminded me it’s not a competition. It is hard to kick the habit of trying to make it to the top 10% of the class.
A group of people, aligned in time and space by fate, who spent four years together in the crowded hallways of Wauwatosa East High School. Some fell in love, others held grudges, but my guess is that the majority simply ignored each other. We were, after all, self-involved teenagers whose days could be ruined by not having a spot at the right lunch table.
We’ve certainly grown up, but it struck me how much the same our essential selves are. The comedian makes my abs hurt with laughter; the pundits debate loudly in the corner; the shy make time move slowly in conversation; the storytellers have an audience in a semi-circle around them; the charming are hitting on the wait staff; the insecure are talking smack about people they barely know; the drunks teeter and slur through the crowd.
The night goes too quickly. I see people leaving that I didn’t even know were here. The bar has become the Raider Room, each corner housing groups of people that I won’t talk to before going home.
I know it is time to leave and I look across at that familiar girl, moving towards her. Ten years have treated her well. The nose has grown, but at least her ass has shrunk. Her social anxiety has lessened, her self-confidence improved. If I could rewind time 10 years, I’d assure her that it will be connections among friends from high school that stay bright, while the moments of embarrassment and insecurity fade with time. That her own approval is the only one she should be trying to win.
I smile at her and my reflection in the bathroom mirror smiles back. With embarrassment, I realize that red wine has dyed the corners of my mouth. I scrape off scarlet flakes of skin with my fingernail and wish I could’ve also told her to develop a taste for white wine.
* * *
Today, I am grateful for Dan, Lynn and Katie who did a wonderful job planning the reunion.