I didn't enjoy my affluent public high school in Marin. I worked like hell to graduate early from that cesspool of privilege and small-mindedness, and swore I'd never go back. But thirty years passed, and there I was last night, getting dressed for the thirty year reunion. Here are my impressions of the evening:
I thought about hiring a personal trainer, eating raw food for a month to clarify my skin, getting plastic surgery, and/or losing ten pounds but finally my friend M. and I decided, fuck it, we'd "go fat." I did buy a classy too-expensive dress and a new bra, got a pedicure and a much needed hair cut, and scooched myself into a pair of Spanx to smooth and tighten ye olde derriere. Twenty minutes before leaving, I threw on lipstick and borrowed some eye make-up from my teenage daughter. Not too shabby, I thought, and hoped I wasn't deluding myself. Would it be all boob jobs and botox there?
The Sidekick Fear:
In high school, my friend M. and I were a little bit wild, and a little bit wannbe wild, and a lot joined at the hip. When one of the reunion organizers emailed her that she had to "make Ericka come," I realized that he was still thinking of me as her sidekick. It's been three decades since I've been anybody's sidekick... and the idea of repeating that didn't thrill me at all. M. nicely shut him down ("Ericka will come if she wants to come, I can't and won't MAKE her come...") -- but the fear remained.
The Unintentional Twinsy/Sidekick Moment:
M. and I decided to eat early to calm ourselves down (and in case of rubber chicken at the banquet) so we met at a restaurant. I was wearing a long black dress with a dark red shawl. She was wearing a long black dress with a dark red sweater. Twinsies! ARGHHHHH!!! We laughed.
High-end BMWs and sports cars in the parking lot at the Marin Jewish Community Center. Lots of old people getting out of the cars. Wait! Am I at the right place? Yes, yes... oh my god. I'm the same age as these old people. Therefore, I must be ... old. Oh well, I paid my ninety nine bucks, better go in.
Two hundred fifty people, and five hours of mingling. The peer at the name tag and senior picture on the chest badge. "Oh ________! Oh my god, you look great!: Or, "Hi, did I know you?" And then the awkward conversation:
"I don't think we knew each other."
"Well, it was a big class."
"Big class. Six hundred twenty five people. So ... where do you live now?"
Or: "How have you been for the past 30 years?"
I got my update into one-sentence form: "I live in the East Bay, I'm a writer and on the faculty at Cal, I have a husband, one daughter, two stepkids, one step-granddaughter, two dogs and I'm really happy!"
Most people left their spouses at home. "My husband's in Madagascar," I got to say. That was fun.
None of the guys I'd had crushes on were there. Most of my old friends weren't there. Many walked around with pictures of their family, some walked around with old yearbooks. Some awkward and underdressed men wandered shellshocked and aimless through the crowd not talking to anybody. So many people: The one who was divorcing after twenty-one years (overheard: "And I wanted to tell her, Honey, you should have left sooner.") The one who won a lot of money and a boat -- I think it was a boat?-- on a TV game show. The one who writes for the New York Times. All four Black people from our class came. I was SO grateful M. came. If I had gone alone, it would have been just too weird.
Dinner was.... surprise.... RUBBER CHICKEN! I was so glad M. and I had eaten first.
The Snarky Physicality:
So here's the deal. There were five or six stunningly beautiful women there. There were five or six stunningly handsome men there. After thirty years, some of us look good, but a lot of us do not. That we are all so old is shocking. The wrinkles! The baldness! The lack of waistlines! (Okay, I know I'm still working on some vanity issues here, but I came away feeling like I'm holding up pretty well.... Spanx or no Spanx.)
Some people look .... bad. The class's most beautiful girl is now 80 pounds overweight and unrecognizable. Fallen faces, the beginnings of turkey necks, all of us with eye wrinkles. The class "movie star" looks like Aging Barbie and, while I noticed some lines around her eyes, had a remarkably smooth and unmoving forehead. We air hugged. We moved on.
As the Night Wore On:
As the evening went on, the group morphed from investment bankers, physicians, attorneys, real estate agents, plumbers, retired computer programmers, "moms," and moderately-successful theater/movie/television actors and producers to squealing seventeen-year-olds. "Oh my god!!!!! EEEEEEEEE!" The run across the room. The hug-and-jumping hug.
In high school many of these people were not so nice. Competitive, privileged, spoiled, and cliquish. But now, people were.... normal. Nice! Many smart, and others with "emotional intelligence." And some assholes were still assholes.
Favorite Asshole Moment #1:
Spoken to a very attractive female classmate by a dumpy male classmate with unfortunate hipster goatee and overheard by me: "Oh wow, you are still so cute! I saw you and I thought you looked familiar, but you looked so CUTE so I thought, you can't be from our class, you must be one of the wives!"
Me (totally offended and interrupting): "Excuse me, but what was that supposed to mean?"
Him: stammer stammer stammer....
Favorite Asshole Moment #2:
Tall ex-jock named Jim "Doe" to attractive, winning female classmate: "Wow, I would have recognized you anywhere, even with all that weight gain."
Favorite Skeezy Moment:
In bathroom overheard by M: Female Classmate A (dressed in unfortunate expensive slutty dress) to Female Classmate B (dressed in unfortunate expensive slutty dress) over bathroom stall: "Jim 'Doe' is SINGLE!!!!!!!!"
Most Pathetic Moment:
Female Classmates A, B, C, D, and E all dressed in unfortunate expensive slutty dresses dancing drunk and wildly to "She's a Brick House." (Reminder: These women are 48.)
Favorite Pompous Moment:
Ex-drama king to me: "I can sum up the last thirty years in one word: 'THEE-ah-ter.'"
Second Most Pompous Moment:
Same ex-drama king giving speech and saying that he never would have been able to open his "THEE-ah-ter" in New York without "garnering" the needed skills from high school. (Believe me, this was not a school where skills were "garnered").
Favorite People to See:
Barbi, now Barbara and an oncology surgeon, bloomed, wonderful, warm. Diana, talented and beautiful as always, no longer in Hollywood acting, now a body worker. Kathy, the most popular girl in junior high, now lovely, warm, human, raising three kids alone. Steve, who I kissed once in high school, and whose kisses I actually dreamed about post-reunion last night. The Sweethearts -- rarely seen un-entwined in high school, still happily (it looks like) married. The Other Sweethearts, who broke up for ten years after high school but have been happily together ever since.
Final Poignant Moment:
At the end of the night, the arm-clutching and eye-gazing and warmth with person after person, and getting through the snark to the real affection. These people I knew when we were all children. These battered and human Beings. "See you in ten years!"
Poignancy. Snarkiness. The cruel realities of aging. Am I glad I went? Sure. It only cost ninety nine dollars. I'll go again in another ten years... but not until then.