I stared at the return address on the envelope. Was it that time again? And why didn’t they just leave me alone? I wasn’t interested. High school was 25 years ago, and I had no desire to ‘reminisce’ with people I no longer associated with. My husband was sitting in the stuffed chair across the living room. He was reading the paper, and looked over at me when he heard me sigh.
“What is it hon?"
“Nothing, my 25th high school reunion is coming up. Why do people bother with these things? High school is over for crying out loud. The only people that really care are the ‘beautiful people’, you know most popular, prettiest, etc., the ‘in crowd’."
“I think you should go.” I gave Joe my best ‘are you some kind of a nut?’ look.
“No, really, if nothing else, just for fun or maybe to see how these ‘beautiful’ people as you call them really turned out. What can it hurt? I’ll tag along, I’m sure they’ll think I was the star quarterback with my wonderful body!”
“Joe, you're 30 pounds overweight and gravity has gotten to your stomach, and then there’s your white hair…”
“Exactly, I’ve changed over the years, you think they haven’t? C’mon, be a sport, it’ll be fun."
“Oh..okay, but it’s still ridiculous.”
After a month of deciding what to wear, and not understand why I was going, I picked out a black and white dress with a red sash. I was very shy, had a few close friends, was the class nerd and loved to play chess. If my chess buddies were around, It might be worth it. People thought it very odd for a girl to play chess, let alone be on the Chess team. It was something I enjoyed and never much cared what people thought.
As we got ready to leave, I looked at Joe in his handsome blue suit. Even with all that white hair, he was still a fox.
We stepped into the high school gym where there was a huge banner in our high school colors of blue and white that said: ‘Welcome back, class of 1974!’ Wow, that was a long time ago. I went to a table where a girl was taking names and handing out badges.
“What’s this?" I asked her.
She looked up at me and smiled. “Look at it, it’s you!"
Oh, good grief, it was my high school picture from the senior year book! I was supposed to wear this horrid thing? Whatever. I pinned the badge to my collar.
“You look great, Michelle!” beamed the girl.
Did I know this person? Evidently she knew me. I slyly looked at her badge and knew this would be a long night. This was the Homecoming Queen. She wouldn’t even talk to me in high school, and acted like we were best friends.
My husband took my hand as we walked around the gym.
"I'm going over to the punch bowl so you can get re-acquainted without me hanging around."
"Joe, no, don't go, stay with me…" He had already left. He was throwing me to the wolves. I recognized absolutely no one. I talked to a few people but had to look at their badge to see their name. They did likewise to me. One boy that looked a bit familiar began talking to me.
“Unreal! Weren’t you that nerdy kid that sat in front of me in Algebra? I can’t believe how different you look. I remember you used to have those coke bottle glasses, and long stringy hair."
I had to think for a minute. I slyly glanced at his badge. No way, couldn’t be. This was the only boy in high school I had really fallen for. He ignored me and broke my heart. I stared him straight in the face and said, “Yes, Ed, I have changed. My coke bottle glasses are gone because I got my eyes fixed. You can’t take care of three children with long hair. And yes, I know I was a dog in high school, you really let me know. But by the way, I really love the way you died your hair gray. You always were a bit thin; the belly fits you to a tee."
I loved the shocked look on his face and his open mouth. I suppose that was a bit catty, but darn it, he deserved it. Although I was painfully shy back then, over the years I had changed dramatically. I took nothing from anyone and spoke my mind. But just because people hurt me when I was younger was no excuse for me to stoop to that level. Perhaps when feelings are bottled up for so long, your knee-jerk reaction is to act them out.
Okay, what was my next adventure? I looked over at a priest doling out punch to people. He looked so familiar, but the only priests I knew were at my parish, and I didn't recognize this one. That's when it hit me. Rainbow? This was the boy that was voted 'class freak' and was very proud of it. It seemed all he did was get high. He was the worst stoner I had ever seen. He sat in back of English class, feet propped up on the desk in front of him, wearing some sort of green army jacket. He had long black hair that looked like it had never been combed or washed and a very unkempt mustache. I never could understand why he was even there. But here was this older version of Rainbow, a priest??? What was his real name? I got closer and looked at the name tag, Chris. He looked at me with a flicker of recognition, and said, "Oh, hi Michelle, how has life been treating you?" I stared for a minute and the stupidest question came out my mouth.
"What happened to you?" I wanted to take that back so badly.
He noticed my embarrassment and laughed.
"Don't worry. I get that all the time. After all, how could a stoner like me become a priest? I thought about not wearing my 'uniform'. But maybe I could help someone else who was as low as I was. They'd realize maybe there was light at the end of the tunnel. I work for Prison Ministries now."
I was flabbergasted and very touched. Here was this immature boy that had nothing, pulling himself up to help other people.
Rainbow, that's absolutely wonderful, I'm proud of you. I'll admit none of us thought you'd get anywhere and now, well, I'm glad things worked out well for you. I have to go find my husband, take care."
"Okay, Michelle, it was nice seeing you again. Go with God."
After saying good-bye, I started wandering around the room to see the next surprise that awaited me. I looked over at a woman sitting along at a table. She looked very depressed…and old. She must have been one of our teachers. I sat at the chair across from her and couldn't believe my eyes. I gasped when I saw who it was.
"Yeah, who wants to know?
This woman was one of the best cheerleaders in high school. She was always so upbeat. Right now she was drunk out of her "Carolyn, you may not remember me, I'm Michelle, we were in the same…"
She held up her hand, "I know who you are. Michelle, you were always quiet as a mouse. You know, I was always jealous of you. You never pretended you were something you weren't. I loved cheerleading, I was very athletic, but as for the rest of that phony crap, I didn’t want to be part of it. I was a good actress, all peppy. I never thanked you for getting me through English. I wouldn't have graduated without you."
Carolyn had actually been a very nice person even if she was a cheerleader. We weren't the best of friends, but we did get along very well, and had some good times. She was always a happy person; what on earth happened. I stared at her and started to ask a question. But it was as if she read my mind.
“What, how did I turn into a drunk? I’ve been married three times, all of them horrible, I was beaten by one, cheated on by another, and the other was a plain bum. I have three children, one a piece from each of these losers. I made it through. My kids are grown now, and in another part of the country. I’m alone, except for my friend here.” She held up the bottle and patted it.
I really didn’t know what to say, so gave the old fake line, “Look, Carolyn, if any time you want to talk, I’m always... She interrupted me.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re always here for me. Thanks Michelle, but you know that after tonight, we’ll never see each other again. For one thing, I don’t even know where I’m going after this. Please go now, I want to be alone.”
I got up from the table and looked at her one last time. She waved me away. I had to find Joe. These emotional roller coasters were getting to me. It was time to leave, I saw no one I knew or wanted to talk to. I glanced around the room, and finally, someone I wanted to see! It was Freda, my best friend. Perhaps coming here was worth it. She was the only other girl in Chess Club. We had a group of four that always palled around together. A bit diverse group; and some may say strange. Freda was black, Jorge and Jose were Mexicans, and then there was me. Her back was turned away from me when I tapped her on the shoulder. She was holding hands with a man, obviously her husband. She turned around and I was ready to embrace her, when all of a suddenly was stabbed in the back. I couldn’t believe what happened next.
"Hey, Freda, it's been a long time!"
She looked at me with a blank stare on her face and said, "Who are you?" She and her husband walked away like I never even existed. They began talking to another group of people.
I was stunned. Not only was she rude but her happy demeanor was completely gone. Perhaps she was right, ‘who was I’. Then she came back, this time without her husband.
“Michelle, I am so, so sorry. Derek thinks black and white people shouldn’t mix. It’s unnatural.”
“And did you sell out, and are that narrow minded? You were always the one that put bigots down, and now you're married to one?!"
“You just don’t understand, I love Derek very much." I almost thought she was crying when she said,
“Besides if he knew I even had a white friend, no telling what he’d do, he has a bit of a temper. Hush, here he comes.”
Oh my God, I didn’t believe it. She had married a controller, or worse. How did she meet this monster? Her husband came back, took her by the hand, gave me a dirty look, and said,
“C’mon Freda, time to go."
What just happened here?! How could that wonderful person be turned into someone’s zombie?
It was then I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. The hand was definitely not Joe's. It was not quite so hairy and a little smaller. I turned and looked straight at Juan. Why hadn't I seen him before?
"Jorge, amigo, how have you been, I didn't see you!"
"I just got here, I only wanted to take a quick look around, I hate these things."
"Yeah, I'm with you there. Did you bring your wife, or didn't one hook you yet?"
He smiled. "Yes, I've been caught. She can't speak English so of course didn't want to come."
"Was some lucky man able to capture your heart?" said Jorge.
"Yes, I'm married to a very wonderful man; he's over by the punch bowl. He thought I needed to get my hard feelings out, so left me alone. Right now, he looks like he's having more fun than me!"
"Perhaps he met the adults of today instead of the children of yesterday."
That hit like a rock. It was so true . For better or worse, we were the adults of today; we were no longer children.
"Maybe your husband was right, you know, getting all the bad feelings out. We all had a little trouble dealing with other people.
"That's true , but we all made it to the reunion. Except Jose. Where is he anyway? He must have thought it wasn't worth the trouble."
"Oh, my God, Michelle, you didn't know?"
"Jose was killed by a drunk driver several years ago!"
I almost passed out on the floor, but instead just held onto Jorge. He held me and comforted me. I'm so sorry, Michelle, I thought you knew!"
"No, I didn't. Jorge, I think I'd better leave now. It was so wonderful seeing you again". I gave him a good-bye embrace.
This was too much. It was also an irony. I came here to find 'closure' as Joe put in, instead all I found were nightmares. I didn't care what happened so many years ago with strangers. This evening had been too much to take. I had to find Joe. We had to leave now before any more 'surprises' popped up.
He was still by the punch bowl laughing and having a good time. I went over to him and grabbed his hand. I looked at everyone and said,
"Excuse me, I need to borrow my husband." I grabbed his hand and pulled him behind me.
"Babe, what on earth…"
Shaking from the evening, I said, "Just get in the truck, I can't take this."
We hopped in the truck, he looked at me and said, "What on earth happened in there?"
"Everything. Just promise me, next time I get an invitation to come to one of these things, please make me throw it away!"
Mary E. Lacey