Forty years since I last walked the halls of my high school, and last week I attended a reunion of classmates, in a bar in my hometown across the lake. I was ambivalent about going, as I haven't kept up with anyone from those years. I had an exit plan in case it was dreadful.
I ended up staying for hours.
Of course, we're all different people from who we were at 18. I was exceptionally shy then (my sons refuse to believe this) and decidedly in the "nerd" category. Awkward, bone-juttingly skinny, editor of the school literary magazine, captain of the girl's track team, sang alto in the jazz choir. I could barely utter a single syllable to a boy without verging on panic.
Trailing this history, and with my particular interest in social interactions, I navigated the crowd with none of the social anxiety I'd once experienced. But most of the faces were completely foreign. Who were these people? Strange to realize that everyone looked at the name tag before the face. A quick browse through the couple of annuals on a table was enough to call forth the younger versions.
I engaged in a handful of substantive conversations, but mostly I mingled and observed, taking note of the old cliques thrown together again, the surfeit of massive man-bellies at every bump of the elbow, the handful of women who seemed not to have aged more than a day or two. (How did they manage this?!)
I was surprised that I enjoyed myself so much. Grateful not to be that gawky teenager anymore.
At one point I was sitting alone at the bar waiting for some food, and a man struck up a conversation, the husband of a classmate I'd barely known.
"What do you remember about Mary?" He asked.
"I remember that in 7th grade she wore tiny round glasses and had a bowl haircut," I said.
"Yes! I can picture her like that! Tell me more!"
"Well, I don't really know anything else. We weren't friends."
"Oh come on! Tell me some things about her that I don't know. I know you can think of something."
"Um, not really. Like I said, I knew who she was, but we didn't hang out."
"COME ON! You gotta tell me something!"
He was starting to bug me, was leaning into me in a mildly threatening manner.
I didn't like his shirt, or the way his upper lip curled when he insisted I tell him something.
He kept at me, boorish and bullying, and I was waiting for my food and didn't want to leave, so I said,
"Okay then. I tell you what: I'll make some things up, okay? Like I said, I don't remember anything about her, but I can make up just about anything, if that's what you want."
"Yes! Yes! Tell me something!!"
Gah. The guy was a broken record, out for weird slumber-party girl secrets WHICH I DIDN'T HAVE.
And so my fiction commenced:
"In 9th grade, Mary wore pink footed pajamas to school, with a little fluffy white tail."
"Oh YEAH! I can see Mary in those! Did they have little ears too?"
"Yes. Little pink ears."
"Haha! I can just see her in those! That's great! Tell me more!"
"You sure? Remember, I'm making this up."
"Yeah, yeah. Just TELL ME MORE!"
"Alrighty then. In 10th grade, Mary started a food fight in the cafeteria, and no one could believe that she'd do such a thing."
"Really?" He looked confused.
"Okay. Tell me more."
I was beginning to enjoy this.
"In 11th grade, Mary had a sex-change operation, and then changed back to a girl."
His jaw dropped open at this, and nothing came out of his mouth.
"And in 12th grade, she joined a band of musical gypsies in Romania, but returned to school just in time to graduate."
At this point Mr. TELLMESOMETHING just stared at me, visibly confused, perhaps a little shaken, his mouth gaping open, his eyes bugging out.
I think he'd forgotten that this was all made-up.
Suddenly he seemed to come-to, shook his head a bit like he was exiting a trance, said, "NOW THAT'S ENOUGH!" in a scolding tone, and strode away.
HA! Finally got rid of him.
I felt more than a little smug.
Forty years ago I would've trembled and blushed at such an encounter, the words mumble-frozen on my tongue. Instead I came away grateful for these 40 years of living, with no desire to return to 1975.