By Alyce Wilson
October 30, 2003 - Catching Up
The big night arrived of my 15th high school class reunion. The Gryphon and I, after going shopping that afternoon for some last minute clothing purchases, drove down the road to the hotel where the reunion was being held, in a banquet room covered with mirrors.
We met the Flute Player in the parking lot, walked in with her and got a table with her and her husband.
Then we all headed to the bar, where everyone had piled up.
"I don't normally drink," the Flute Player confessed.
"It's a special occasion," I reminded her.
"Yeah, tonight I could use it."
I looked around the room, spying many faces I recognized, some of whom I couldn't name. This was a common problem throughout the evening. A couple of people had brought their yearbooks, which made it easier because we could surreptitiously page through, looking for similar faces, then try that name and see how they'd react.
A couple times I actually asked people their names, but it seemed to me like many people remembered mine.
I was initially happy to discover that I was about the average size of my classmates, until I realized that most of them had had at least one child. They had the excuse of "baby fat." But hey, if they could see how far I've come the last couple years, they'd appreciate the change. I did get a couple compliments from people telling me I looked great.
It wasn't long before the Class President, seeing my digital camera, asked me if I would mind taking a picture of the entire class. He explained that he'd contacted a photography studio and they decided it wasn't worth their time, considering the amount of money they'd be likely to get out of it.
The Gryphon agreed to help, so when the Class President was ready, we lined everybody up at one end of the room. I helped The Gryphon arrange it, then I got in it and he took the picture.
I think it turned out fairly well, especially after I touched up the red eye and adjusted the color balance in PhotoShop.
The Class President thanked me with a kiss on the cheek. A number of people gave me hugs when they saw me, which was a bit of a surprise.
We mingled a bit, and I said hi to the Trumpet Player, a friend of mine who had also attended my church. Currently, she and her husband run a Tae Kwon Do class in a nearby town. I asked her what belt rank she has now.
"Only second degree black belt," she said, with a smile. She wore a pink sequined top with a long black skirt. When I complimented her, she said that her son had picked it out for her.
Later on in the evening, talking to the Drummer, I complimented her black beaded number, and she also said, "My son picked it out for me."
Clothing styles varied from almost formal to dressy casual, with guys wearing everything from sweaters to jackets and ties. One classmates, the Business Student, was wearing a bright red suit and had her pouffy hair done up in the same hairstyle she'd had since we'd graduated.
She said, "People keep telling me I haven't changed a bit. I don't know if that's a compliment or not."
"Well, it means you look like you're 17," the Class President told her.
"I guess that's true," she said.
We all sat down to have some dinner. After being served salads, we filled our plates from a buffet. There was lasagna, stuffed chicken, broccoli, and baked potatoes.
She told me that her senior year, the guidance counselor called her into the office and told her she should have applied herself more. Apparently, her grades had tied with the class salutatorian, but since she'd only taken vocational and general classes, it wasn't weighted as highly.
"Maybe I'll become a teacher," she said. I told her that sounded like a good idea. Maybe she would be the teacher who would encourage students before it's too late.
"Maybe when the kids are older," she said. She told me she wasn't having any more, because she couldn't. A little more than a year ago, she was giving birth to a baby girl and the baby died. "I almost did, too," she said.
"My uterus exploded."
She explained it had already been weak from multiple births, and the baby had wide shoulders. "When I went to push, it just exploded."
"I think I'm going to go use the bathroom," I said. While in there, four or five women were gathered around the Homecoming Queen, who was regal in a black dress despite the obvious bulge of a late-term pregnancy. They were all sharing stories about giving birth.
I reapplied my lipstick and went back out, laughing under my breath. Later, I told the Class President that I was going to skip motherhood and go straight to being a grandmother. I figured that if my brother has kids, I'll be Aunt Alyce. I'll get to give them candy, encourage their silliness, and never change diapers.
As the evening wore on, the hired sound system began to play music. But they had a strange idea about what would be appropriate for us. They were playing primarily dance tunes from the '90s that few of us knew. The only one we recognized was "Baby Got Back." They did a few '80s song, but also played "YMCA." They were grasping at straws.
At one point, the Flute Player turned to me and said, "What's with all this nigger music?"
She repeated it.
"Um... I guess they consider it dance music," I said, inwardly kicking myself for the weak reply.
Later on, she apologized, telling me she meant it as a general term and not to offend any race. She insisted she had friends who were black. I remembered how, years ago, she'd told me that the worst thing about moving to Delaware was all the KKK people around, and I wondered if their ways had worked their way into her habits.
Her husband, a truck driver who had recently had gastric bypass surgery, was feeling ill and went out to the car, where he slept for awhile until she dragged him back in.
I drifted over to say hi to the Trumpet Player and the Drum Major, who were watching the World Series.
"Who are you rooting for?" I asked.
"New York, I guess," the Trumpet Player said. Her eyes were fixed to the screen as we talked about some friends we hadn't seen in awhile. In particular, I asked her about the French Horn Player who'd been a year ahead of us and who had dated one of our friends.
"Well," she said, a big grin on her face, "he's conducting a philharmonic."
"Good for him."
"And dating the nephew of Hugh Hefner," she said triumphantly.
"Yes. He's met Tom Cruise."
"I'm not surprised," I said.
She turned to look at me. "What?"
"I'm not surprised he'd be directing a philharmonic."
What I didn't say was, "Of course, he was gay. I had a crush on him!"
Rumors abounded as people looked through the yearbooks, talking about those who weren't there. "I heard they got divorced." "I heard he's in jail." Just goes to show if you're not going to make it to the reunion, you better have lived an exemplary life.
In the wee hours of the evening, I saw a frail looking blonde guy wobbling near the bar. He had a wide smile, reminding me of William DeFoe.
Was that....? It couldn't be. Yes, the Scapegoat! The Scapegoat, who had never hit a growth spurt, who was shy, who liked Prince, who hid behind his hair, who was poor and wore hand-me-downs, who was unkempt, and who later discovered some protective compadres in the arts classes.
Here he was, standing all alone, looking lost.
I strode over to him, said his name. "Is it really you?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, his grin getting even broader, which seemed impossible.
"So what have you been doing?" I asked.
"I have two kids," he said. "I'm working at a truck cap company."
"It's a living. What are you up to?"
I told him about being a freelance writer and editor. He said that sounded exciting. That's what people think when they don't have to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from. They also probably don't work 21 hours a day.
I gave him my Wild Violet business card, told him to e-mail me sometime. Shortly afterwards, he drifted quietly away.
Soon, the party was wearing down. People started drifting off, making loud comments about "the babysitter." We were among the last to leave. The Class President gave me a big hug and thanked me again for taking the picture.
As we walked out the door, I started thinking. For most everybody in the class, I could pick out one thing they did or one thing that stood out to characterize them, which made it easy to write this online journal without putting too much personal information online.
How did people see me, I wondered? Was it as Yearbook Editor? As Feature Editor for the School Paper? As First Chair Clarinet? Was it something else?
Then I thought back on all the people I'd spoken to throughout the evening. Whenever I told them what I did, almost every single one said, "Yes, that's what I thought you would do."
So maybe, if they'd been asked to describe me, they would have called me The Writer. Maybe I wasn't as misunderstood in high school as I thought I was.
More thoughts on my 15th reunion:
2003 by Alyce Wilson