When we arrived at the hotel where my 20th high school reunion was held on Saturday, people about my age stood outside, smoking. I didn't recognize any of them, though they looked vaguely familiar. I nodded, and we walked inside.
Me and The Gryphon before the reunion
As we entered the lobby, I saw a few more people standing around. I recognized them as General students, meaning they hadn't taken the College Prep curriculum with me.
One of them called out, "Hi, Allison," and then immediately corrected himself. "I mean Alyce." For some reason, many people in my hometown still think my name is Allison. It might have been, except that my parents decided "Allison Wilson" sounded almost comical.
As soon as we entered the main ballroom, I recognized a couple who had been in my homeroom from fifth grade until senior year. She attended with her estranged husband, although I noticed they didn't tell anyone this. In fact, I only knew because she had contacted me via Classmates.com a few weeks ago.
I introduced them to my husband, and we searched the table for name tags. There were none, but there were tickets in different colors. I picked up the one for "Alyce Wilson and guest."
Someone called my name from across the room. I turned and saw a blonde woman who became more familiar as I got closer. It was The Trumpet Player, who had been in the marching band with me and attended my church. We hugged, and her shirt shed sparkles on me. Throughout the evening, she joked that you could tell who she'd hugged by the sparkles.
Her husband still runs a Tae Kwon Do studio, and she has been earning acclaim in the engineering field, as well as raising two sons.
Soon, The Trombone Player arrived. He had graduated first in our class, but I bet there's a lot of people who don't know that, since he didn't speak at graduation, which was almost assuredly a relief to him, as quiet as he is. That honor went to our Class President, who graduated second. I was third. We all sat together at lunchtime, with a couple other people, at the so-called "Brains Table."
The three of us and our spouses stood to one side and swiped Band Geek stories. We talked about some people who wouldn't be joining us, such as the friend who hadn't spoken to me since I refused his request to become a Born Again Christian.
The Field Hockey Player arrived, who is The Trumpet Player's best friend, and I only recently figured out why. Homerooms were assigned by last name, and since their last names started with the same letter, they would have met when the three separate elementary schools combined for the first time in fifth grade. That's when I met My BFF Pamela, who later left to go to Christian school, yet we've remained good friends. I imagine that The Trumpet Player and The Field Hockey Player hit it off in a similar way, starting each day together in a relaxed setting where they could socialize.
Not only that, but it became obvious to me, as they sat close to each other and chatted throughout dinner about their kids and the activities they both enjoy, they have a lot more in common than I ever did with The Trumpet Player. I don't know why it's taken 20 years to realize that; I spent far too much time being jealous of The Field Hockey Player.
I embarrassed myself slightly when I called out to The First Chair Flutist (not to be confused with The Flute Player I wrote about five years ago), having recognized her from behind. She looked exactly like she did in high school, not having gained a pound, except now she was wearing a tan suit rather than a neat sweater and a pair of jeans. The problem was, I got her nickname wrong. I was only one letter off, and she corrected me. I asked her if I got points for remembering her real name and how to spell it.
She was talking to the couple who were in homeroom with me. The conversation turned to raising children, with The Trumpet Player and The Field Hockey Player joining us. The First Chair Flutist said she didn't understand how somebody could both raise children and have a career (and here, she gestured to me), and still manage to take care of her house.
I believe that people in my hometown regard me as a career-oriented achiever, whereas the truth is, I simply didn't meet the right guy until recently. Hopefully, by the next reunion, I'll have parenting stories to share, as well.
On my way to the bar, I greeted the Class President, who gave me a hug and a kiss. He was looking great, as always, and was floating from group to group, greeting everyone.
I didn't have any hors d'oeuvres, because I wanted to wait for dinner, so the wine went to my head rather fast. When I found my words going a bit askew, I apologized, saying I was a lightweight. I'm sure this surprised no one. I was, after all, voted Most Studious.
At one point, after we sat down, The Trumpet Player and The Field Hockey Player were cracking jokes about some wild times they'd shared in high school. I admitted that I was really sheltered in high school. "But him, he was a wild man. Keg stands all the time," I said about The Trombone Player, who had always been quiet and reserved. That became a joke later in the evening, with The Trumpet Player lamenting that we didn't have pictures of "all those keg stands." The Trombone Player good-naturedly played along, telling his wife that he was a real party animal.
On my way to the restroom a bit later, I ran into a friend from elementary school, who told me she was attending with her second husband. I told her I was, too, and we swapped stories. She seemed surprised that I had married a hippie wanderer the first time. "Yes, everybody knew he was wrong for me but me," I said.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were sides of me that my high school classmates had never known. Only a few of them knew I took ballet classes for many years with a local dance teacher, or that I was involved in community theater and played the piano. Or that I was involved in a drum-and-bugle corps with my brother and that, during my senior year, I dated the drum major of said drum corps.
I had many revelations that evening. For one, I was comfortable talking to people from many groups in the school, because I was involved in organizations that brought me into contact with them, such as the yearbook coeditor and the feature page editor for the school newspaper. Therefore, many people knew my name and greeted me cheerfully, and as I took the slow walk over to them, I had to make a mental database check to obtain their name. Sometimes I had to look at who they were standing next to; other times, it took simply a long look in their eyes.
Only one woman gave me trouble, even though we'd worked on the yearbook together. She was one of a group of popular girls who all shared names: two of them surnames and two of them first names. I knew she wasn't the girl with the unique first name, so I should have guessed her first name immediately. At the previous reunion, she'd been very pregnant, and since then, she's gotten an updated hairstyle.
She seemed very happy to see me, giving me a hug, and she told me about how she'd been living in New York and then moved, when she had kids, to the suburbs. While we'd never hung out our high school days, she'd always been friendly. I think if I'd met her now, we might be friends. She was witty, with a wacky sense of humor, and I found her to be refreshingly laid back.
The invitation had called for "Casual" attire, which most people interpreted as "Dressy Casual." She wore a designer T-shirt with dark jeans, which looked sophisticated yet playful.
Most of the guys wore button-down shirts with pants, while the women wore something they might wear out on the town or a nice top with jeans. I had found a silk top with interlacing black and white bands, with a V in the front and the back, to show off my back and shoulder muscles. This I paired with dark wide leg jeans and a jacket with cap sleeves. But I digress.
Early in the evening, The Yearbook Photographer organized a group photo, which will no doubt turn out much better than the one The Gryphon snapped for us last time. Here are the best ones The Gryphon took with my camera: one without a flash and one with a flash.
A lot has changed in five years. Not only had everyone lost their pregnancy weight, but one woman had lost a lot more. She's undergone gastric bypass surgery, and since she'd always been full-figured, many people had trouble identifying her at first.
Two members of the class brought their same-sex partners, which I thought was great. I spent time talking to each of the couples. Of course, since it's a small town and I don't know how open either of them are, I won't share any further identifying information.
If there was one problem with the evening, it was that there wasn't enough time for in-depth conversations. It seemed I was always being tapped on the shoulder by somebody else or asked to come dance to the '80s and '90s songs the DJ was playing.
One person I was happy to see was the woman who'd been voted Most Talented. She spoke to our table for a while and seemed reluctant to confess that she had neither a husband nor a child and was working as a teacher. Her profession excited The Field Hockey Player, who has been a proud teacher for about 15 years. In fact, she told me something I'd never known before: her first-grade teacher had inspired her to be a teacher by asking her to help a learning disabled student in their class. Through teaching him, she learned the value of that profession.
I guess if you're voted Most Talented, you think everybody expects "bigger things." Perhaps teaching wasn't where she'd seen herself. But we all told her how great she looked, because she did. Her long glossy hair was even pulled back in a ponytail just like in high school. If I didn't know any better, I'd think she had time traveled.
When the music started, I told Most Talented that we should tell the DJ our real class song was "Happy Together" by The Turtles, instead of "I Won't Forget You" by Poison. Most Talented had campaigned for "Happy Together," which had enjoyed a brief resurgence in the late '80s. I told her that I'd voted for it, although we couldn't prevent the more popular song from winning.
She smiled and said, "You're so sweet; you remember everything."
I do have a pretty good memory, and The Trombone Player remembered one reason why. He asked me if I still kept a journal. Since I was a little surprised he knew about it, he explained that he used to see me writing in class and had asked me what I was doing. Some of those classes were terribly boring. I told him that I was still keeping one, and I gave him my card with a link to my online journal. So if you're reading this, hi!
As it turns out, The Field Hockey Player also has an excellent memory. Not only did she ask about both my siblings, but she remembered little details about other people's lives, as well. She wasn't always great with placing names, though, and I had to help her out a couple times, like with a woman who is married to one of our classmates but was a couple years behind us in school. She's currently raising an adopted child who suffers from autism, and she says it's very rewarding.
When the dinner was served, we figured out the purpose of the colored slips with our names on them. They indicated the entrees we had ordered. I had chicken served with half a baked potato and broccoli, which I found delicious. Dessert was chocolate cake, which was tasty but nothing terribly impressive.
Over the entire evening, I only had two glasses of wine, which didn't prevent me from making a scene. On my way back to the table from the dance floor, I crashed into a tray table filled with dirty dishes. When everyone looked I smiled graciously, and as I did my best to collect the dishes, a voice from a nearby table called out, "New contacts, Alyce?"
When I turned, I recognized another guy from my homeroom, whom I'll call The Gulf War Vet. I chatted with him for a while, and he told me about the rough road he's seen. After serving in the Army, he worked in a prison, a thankless and often dangerous job. He's a survivor of brain cancer, having had a tumor removed. Because of where it was located, he's battled depression ever since. But he told me he's been married 14 years and is on the road to recovering his health.
In school, he'd always been friendly and cheerful, if not someone who tended to get involved in extracurricular activities. I'd been on a friendly enough basis with him to occasionally call him on the phone. It was strange to see him with a high-tight hair cut, a thin white scar tracing through. But it was good to see him in person after so long.
Another guy I hadn't seen in a long time was voted Most Unusual. I didn't recognize him until The Trombone Player's wife told me. In high school, he'd been a skinny guy who wore artsy shirts, a trench coat, and had a very '80s haircut: long bangs with really short sides, along with black plastic glasses. Now, he was filled out, with a modern haircut, a short, well-kept beard, and was wearing a blue button-down shirt with khakis, sans glasses. He told me that he was working for a corporation in Colorado.
I did quite a bit of dancing, and I had to kick off my high-heeled shoes to do so. Another classmate, recently retired from the military, had worn a classy outfit of a modern top with black pants and heels, but pulled out some black flip-flops for dancing, which she called her dancing shoes.
Most of the people on the floor were women, although the Class President cut a rug with us. They scared another guy off by removing his jacket for him! We all had fun, dancing down a line together and cheering each other.
I thought, wouldn't it be nice if we could go back in time and reassure our younger selves that everything's OK. People probably don't view you the critical way you view yourself; they're too busy worrying about how they look. For example, The Field Hockey Player told me that she remembered always being the tallest, and even though I knew she was taller than me, that didn't define her for me. I wonder how many others were nursing their own private self-perceptions, unbeknownst to the rest of us.
I've learned, from attending three so far, that you shouldn't worry about attending your high school reunion because you're afraid of what people will think of you. We're all thinking that. It's called being human. As John Lennon put it, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."
Everybody grows, everybody changes, and it's all good.