Some time ago I promised to report out on my high school reunion [‘Time Machine’ below]. Sadly, it’s taken me this long to recover.
I’m kidding. Sort of.
I’m not sure what I expected, having been gone so long. A band? The Welcome Wagon? Headlines? ‘PRODIGAL SON RETURNS.’ ‘MYSTERY SOLVED: CONNECTICUT MAN REAPPEARS AFTER 40-YEAR ABSENCE.’
Better than that, I got a hug from classmate Eddie Janicki, who recognized me as soon as I walked in. Encouraged, I resolved to work the reunion like a PR pro, dredging memory banks, greeting all. Promising to hide my surprise at the discrepancy between photos on name tags and the old people wearing them. Speed-dating the past.
First stop, my hunting and fishing buddy, John – an utterly amoral but deeply talented and charismatic kid cursed by weird and vaguely neglectful parents. Someone whom I’d predicted even then would end up in prison or as President. He fell somewhere in between, like the rest of us. He hasn’t aged a day, and was 6” taller than I’d remembered.
Observation: Dude, I hate how good you look.
My sailing buddy, Mark, with whom I built boats, cruised Long Island Sound, made applejack, wine and rum, and drank gin in the woods on soft summer nights. He wondered if I’d ever done anything with that writing thing.
…Janet, my eighth-grade girlfriend, who has utterly avoided the imprint of time and remains as lovely, curious and gracious as she was in junior high. Eager to hear about my kids, too.
Private comment: Still vaguely annoyed at you two by that marriage thing.
Michael, my theatre buddy, who took our high school drama hobby to the big leagues, performing with the Capitol Steps for decades. Except… this Michael was enormous, bearded, booming, twinkly. Like an off-season Santa. The antithesis of that goofy, gangly kid from high school.
Question/verdict: Can someone change that much? No. Body occupied by aliens.
Grace, next to whom I sat in Mrs. Harvey’s 7th grade class. Five-foot-ten (to my then-five-foot-nothing), elegant, wealthy and indefinably mysterious. Eponymous Grace, in twin-set and pearls. Grace, did you ever have any idea how fierce was my crush?
Drink in hand, exonerated by time, I steeled my nerve and slowly worked up the courage to confess to her – only to be interrupted by Susan, Peter and others come to join the party. The moment gone, the compliment forever unpaid.
Note to self: Carpe diem, big guy. Zero downside!
And in time, I circled around to Janice, a member of our senior-year clique. Someone I’d always considered a friend. Surprisingly, her greeting after all these years was curiously cool.
I mentioned Sarah, my high school sweetheart, to her. They’d been close friends, and I’d desperately hoped Janice would know if she’d be coming. Had they been in touch?
“Sarah,” she said simply, her face lighting up. “She is so beautiful, with that lovely blonde hair of hers. And so smart.” She paused. “I haven’t seen her in years. I miss her.”
Then I realized with a start that Janice had always been distant with me. I’d just missed it.
And I understood, in those brief words, the extent to which her affection surpassed even my own.
The party motored on. I yucked it up with each new arrival, dined on cheese doodles and hot dog coins, and steered clear of the bar – in vino veritas. But my vague discomfort grew with each new encounter. Some of these people were virtual strangers, or had become so, but others were friends who’d shaped the arc of my life as surely as genetics. Even so, we ran out of words after the platitudes and updates, the conversations stalled in one dimension. Maybe that’s as far as we could go. Disappointing, too, their disinterest in my life – a journey I selfishly thought held at least a few nuggets of exotica and intrigue.
Personal Post-It: Get over it, sob sister!
When the function room closed at 11:00 and the word went round for everyone to reconvene down at the marina, I put on my best party face and promised to appear. After all, I hadn’t caught up properly with Peter, and was still holding out distant and pitiful hope for Sarah’s cameo.
Instead, I slipped out quietly to the parking lot, found my car, and drove back up Route 1 to my motel. Early Sunday morning I packed up my suitcase, threw it in the trunk, and headed northeast on I-95 for Boston, through a pink and opalescent dawn so nearly perfect it almost succeeded in lifting my gray mood. A mood that lasted for weeks, baffling me, given that I’d just indulged in the nearest thing we have to time travel.
Until I finally figured out that the reason I’d gone home to see my classmates was not to say hello, but goodbye.
One thought on “The Rip Van Winkle Experiment”
As I always say, reunions occur at the intersection of memory and truth. You said it better.