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Lessons from a 45th High School Reunion - Part I

The mailbox contained no surprises except for one. Unlike the local advertisements, retirement literature, and latest Handyman magazine, the business-sized envelope, hand-addressed to me, was unusual. Not wanting to wait until I got back to the house, I tore the envelope open.

Earlier that morning I’d been in a wonderful mood, strolling through my spring garden, enjoying the sight of newly awakened plants, who, like loyal friends, had returned to say hello. As soon as I read the invitation to my forty-fifth high school reunion, I slipped into the past and a different state of mind. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I time traveled from one uncomfortable high school experience to another.

First came the memory of metal mouth discomfort. Sipping an icy orange drink to ease my pain, Mom drove me home after an orthodontist appointment. My teeth were throbbing and aching from freshly tightened braces and a new intruder, a rubber band, that connected my right upper molar to the lower one.

Next, I was dancing the east coast swing during a Friday night dance in the band room with Jimmy who must have said something that struck me funny. Laughing, mouth wide open, my rubber band snapped and landed on Jimmy’s shirt.

I quickly moved on to another memory.

Guten Morgen!” the German teacher shrilled. “Guten Morgen, Frau Wedeward!” we replied. Steve, sitting in the desk next to mine, nudged me with his elbow. Under his breath, snarly smile on his face, he whispered, “Why are your legs a different color than your arms and face?” I hadn’t checked the streaky results of the ‘quick tan’ lotion I’d put on my legs the night before nor had I thought to include my face and arms.

My time travel shifted to something even more painful.

I sat in the front seat of my boyfriend’s 1956 Chevy. A dark autumn night, radio playing, “Meet me at midnight Mary, …”, I stared down at the glow of the car’s dashboard lights, trying not to cry. My boy I thought was my Romeo was breaking up with me and I didn’t understand why. Whatever his reason, I wasn’t his Juliet and we wouldn’t be going to the “same place we always go.” As soon as I got home, I burst into tears.

My carousel of memories continued and ended with the school librarian reprimanding a group of unruly students who were complaining about school. She raised her voice and said, “Be quiet! You kids don’t realize that these are the best days of your lives!”

Boy, was she wrong.

I admit, there were some good times, proud times, exciting times. I was a leader, a good student and likeable. The caption under my senior picture in the yearbook said I was “Like a teakettle, always bubbling over.” I bubbled all right, I bubbled like any good actress can bubble and indeed, I put on a good show. The truth was that high school was often stressful for me.

I was tempted to ignore the reunion invitation and not go. Staying put in my cozy cocoon of comfortable surroundings, I could avoid the inevitable awkwardness of seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time and I wouldn't have to struggle with small talk.

Still, I was torn. I’d made many friends during high school and they were important to me. Undecided, I pinned the invitation to the kitchen bulletin board for future consideration. As the days went by, my resolve to stay home weakened under the peer pressure of old friends. I wavered and thought I should probably go.

The night after I considered the possibility, I had a nightmare in which I showed up at the reunion only partially clothed. Classmates kept staring at me as I searched for a place to hide. I couldn't talk either. My mouth would open, but no words were able to spill out. No one knew what I was trying to say.

The next morning, exhausted, feeling out of sorts, teenage angst reignited, I called one of my most reliable support people.

“Mom, “I said. “Last night I had a nightmare about the reunion. I don’t think I should go. That part of my life is over.” I continued with all sorts of rationale.

For a while, Mom just listened. She didn’t try to persuade me. She knew from experience that I usually did the opposite of what she advised. In the end, her only comment was, “Sounds like you don’t want to go. You’re probably tired after not sleeping well. Why not sleep on your decision one more night and see how you feel in the morning.”

I slept on it.

No nightmares…

I thought about the friends who would be attending and hoped to see me there. An ever-obedient student in high school, I completed my reunion assignment by sending in my money.

Nightmare gone, but not forgotten, I began to obsess on what to wear. I didn’t want to buy a new outfit. I didn’t want to stand out in the crowd. I didn’t want to try to dress like a twenty-year-old, but I didn’t want to appear matronly either. I wanted to look casual and totally self-assured as if going to a reunion was effortless and comfortable.. So what if I was a “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

Using the strategy of a sixteen year-old, I called upon an entourage of three trustworthy friends who sat patiently in my living room while I modeled different outfits. My friends had no trouble voicing their opinions.

“Nope, not that one. It washes you out.”

“That one’s not bad. It makes you seem taller.”

“No, definitely too old lady-ish.”

“Wow, I like that one!”

In the end, I narrowed my selection to two possible outfits that I would take with me.

Two days later, I left for the reunion. Rested and confident, relieved that I would at least be properly clothed, I grabbed my suitcase, kissed my husband good-bye, and began the four-hour drive.

My tension eased as I turned up the 60’s music on the radio. Singing along with Chubby Checker, I bounced and swayed in my seat.

“Shake it up, baby! Twist and shout!

Though swaying and bouncing, practically dancing, I hadn’t lost sight of the fact that I was still driving. I checked my side mirror to make sure the passing lane was clear, flipped on the turn signal, and double checked my rear view mirror for added safety. To my horror, I noticed a void in the backseat…


(To be continued in ‘Lessons from a High School Reunion Part II’)





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