CJ Kaplan drinks way too much at his high school reunion and has a great time anyway.
I guess you could say that the act of eating cold mashed potatoes with my hands at 2:30am was premeditated. In truth, I had been thinking about the potatoes in question from the time the cab picked us up at the local function hall where my 25th High School Reunion had taken place. My friend John and I had spent the time before, during and after the event doing something neither of us does very much anymore.
Drinking. A lot.
And so it came to pass after several beers, a few scotches and an ill-advised shot or two that I found myself in my darkened kitchen shoveling a leftover Thanksgiving side dish into my mouth and grinning like a fool.
High school reunions are a weird animal. Some people absolutely loathe them, preferring to put the awkwardness and insecurity of high school into a locked drawer in their subconscious. Other people, like me, love them. In my case, it’s because I never really left.
I should say by way of explanation that I currently live in the same town I grew up in. It wasn’t something that I planned. It just sort of happened and I couldn’t be happier about it. My adult house is about a mile from my childhood home and even though my parents moved away over twenty years ago, I still drive through the old neighborhood from time to time. Some of the places where I used to hang out as a kid are gone, but some are still there nearly unchanged. I see a lot of my old friends’ parents at the supermarket and the drugstore, which is kind of strange. But, I also see more and more of my former classmates, which is kind of awesome.
See, being a “townie” isn’t something that is unique to me. It seems that many of the people with whom I suffered through Algebra II have found their way back to our little burg. Our kids go to school together, play soccer and Little League together and suffer through Algebra II together. And it’s not just my class, either. I see my younger brother’s friends and their families everywhere I go. It’s as if the previous generation has been replaced by their offspring in a never-ending loop of people who have somehow morphed into their parents.
When I was growing up here, I thought it was kind of boring. Nothing ever really happened. Now, I relish the quiet. My wife, who is from another state, loves it even more than I do. When it looked for a while like we were going to move to Maine for my work, she was heartbroken. Ultimately, I left the job because I just couldn’t bring myself to uproot us from my hometown.
As much as my wife loves our town, she was thrilled when I told her that she didn’t have to go to the reunion. She had been to my 20th and spent the evening looking at her watch. Not that I can blame her. It’s hard to enter into conversations where so much is left unsaid. John’s wife had been given an identical reprieve, so he was my Plus One and I was his. Just like in high school.
We started the night at a local restaurant drinking beer and bemoaning the fact that the other two guys who made up our little group couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be there that evening. So, we called them and razzed them a bit while ordering a couple of stiffer drinks before heading off to a hotel bar for a little more fortification and then finally making our way to the reunion.
As we checked in at the door, we were all given nametags. It seemed silly at the time, but people change and memories occasionally fail. Walking into the hall, we saw groups of people congregating around the bar and on the dance floor where a DJ was pumping out the soundtrack to 1987. They were all there: The Popular Kids, The Jocks, The Geeks, The Goths, The Stoners, The Loners and The Honor Society. Except the cliques had been shed and only the individuals remained.
People who probably hadn’t said ten words to each other in high school were embracing, showing each other pictures of their kids and talking about how much they had in common besides a diploma from the same institution. John and I joined different conversations and worked our way around the room, intersecting often enough to buy each other a few more drinks. I spoke with old girlfriends, old rivals and old lab partners with equal enthusiasm. Gone were the social strata, the petty grudges, the overwhelming need to be perceived as cool. What was left was a group of people who genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and weren’t afraid to show it.
We hadn’t grown old after all. We had grown up.
Then, somebody suggested tequila shots and I was fucked.
The next morning, while nursing the worst hangover since my bachelor party, I dragged myself into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. As I studied my pale, clammy reflection in the mirror, I noticed that the crow’s feet around my eyes seemed to be etched a little deeper.
That’s okay, I reassured myself. Those are smile lines.
Photo ali_martin / flickr