Though we’ve just plunged into 2021, I’m already musing about an unwelcome milestone coming in ’22: my fiftieth high school class reunion. I have no intention of going, yet it’s looming on my mental horizon like a lake freighter with a cargo of memories, most of which I’d just as soon forget.
That period wasn’t terrible, since I learned a lot and went on to a great university. It wasn’t “Happy Days” or “The Wonder Years” either. My father died during my last semester of junior high (the 1960s-70s version of middle school), and I began high school depressed and shaken, always waiting for the next catastrophe to strike. Those emotions must have been written on my face because some wiseass in gym started calling me “Smiley.” All this was on top of adjusting to a new place and starting to think seriously about college. (I know I’m dating myself: today they probably hand out Harvard brochures with the apple juice in preschool.)
Eventually the black dog left my side, but I was still light years from being a cool kid or BMOC. Naturally shy, bookish, and hopeless at sports, I would’ve been a nerd or a geek if those words had been invented yet. I was even in the chess club (second from right, with more hair than I’ve had since).
Instead of a Hollywood fairy tale where the ugly ducklings soar, high school was a slog, like a visit to the DMV or a stomach virus. Once I got to college, though, the bad vibes faded fast. At freshman orientation I partied, played Frisbee on the football field, and began to find my new self. I kept in touch with a couple of old friends for a while, but we soon went separate ways. I never made it to the tenth, twentieth, or any other reunions.
So why am I preoccupied by this one? I’m on the far side of 65, when we tend to think about the past and our mortality, especially now. I’m also reminded of those I’ve lost, including three classmates who died long ago, one from HIV, two by suicide. I realize that this reunion is my last chance to be with those who are left. I also know that some of them would look at my name tag and still see only the geek. I’m not going halfway across the country for that.
The best thing I took from high school was “Our Town,” and its message about life: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” and, “Once in a thousand times, it’s interesting.” I won’t waste a minute reliving a past I never wanted anyway. I wish everyone a happy time; I just won’t be there. Take care and be safe.