For me, high school seemed like a welcome reprieve from the awkward misfit years of junior high. Finally, there were activities that matched my interests: newspaper, the literary magazine, an LGBT alliance, writing and directing two plays. In middle school, my body seemed to be too much: too tall, too thick, styled in “good clothes” from Kmart, not Abercrombie, and the rest of my wardrobe pieced together from thrift stores.
But in high school, I found a more intimate and accepting group of friends -- ones who didn’t make me feel self-conscious about my height or my weight or my single mom supporting four kids on an overstretched paycheck. My desire to spend every weekend at used bookstores and renting movies from Hollywood Video didn’t strike them as nerdy or pathetic because they liked doing those things, too. Just as importantly, they were also willing to share their particular pastimes with me. I learned about photography and ice hockey and the importance of a good eyebrow wax. I had a really good time. I wasn’t a social butterfly, but I felt comfortable being social in ways that stretched my introverted personality.
As the date of our ten year reunion approached, we were all feeling excited, anxious and a little uncertain about how the evening would play out. But we decided to approach the evening with a few DIY ideas, improvising our own cocktails (since it was a cash bar and none of us wanted to fork over even more money to drink), and getting together for hair and make-up.
I spent the weeks leading up to my ten year high school reunion listening to Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” on repeat. For clarification, I didn’t graduate from high school in the ‘80s, nor do I harbor an ironic appreciation of its “secretly horrifying” lyrics. It’s because of my wishful-thinking vision of the Class of 2004’s reunion: my friends and I surrounded by our high school peers, sharing free drinks and great stories, all of us bathed in the golden honey glow of nostalgia. In pop culture shorthand, we would be Romy and Michele without the bottle-blonde hair or Sandy Frink’s helicopter.
Dance hall days, love!
I’ve been told by outsiders -- more than a few times -- how unusual it is for our friendships to still be going strong, but these relationships have grown over time into so much more than classmates and cohorts in the Europe Crew. Two of my friends (Jillian and Justin) were high school sweethearts -- Jillian was also my roommate throughout our four years at Goucher College. In fact, Jillian was the reason I visited the campus and decided to apply. She is my honorary first spouse and my touchstone for all things related to creative writing and feminism. As for Justin, I was privileged to tag along when he chose an engagement ring for Jillian and he has taken on a brotherly role in my life, providing sound car advice and side-eyeing any of my less-than-worthy suitors.
Completing our circle of reunion attendees was another long-time friend (Krissy), now married to her prom date -- her husband just so happens to be my cousin, Barrett. Despite sharing mutual friends for the first three years of high school, I didn’t meet Krissy until we were both on the same school-organized summer trip to Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona. She never judged me for being the slacker in the group who always hung in the back on walking tours and despised the concept of sprinting at full speed through places like Versailles. We drank sangria and marveled over flamenco dancers.
When we got back home, we spent more time together at hockey games (she was the statistician for our school’s team) and keeping the local Starbucks and Chipotle in business. I introduced her to Barrett during the spring of our senior year; in 2012, as one of her bridesmaids, I witnessed their exchange of vows at Niagara Falls -- and my friendship with Krissy evolved into a familial bond. The giddy thrill of calling her “my cousin” has yet to wear off.
Who to Take?
Of course, it’s always a bit noticeable when you’re the single person in a group comprised of couples. In my case, there was no boyfriend or girlfriend or “partner shield” -- and I never seriously considered bringing a date to the reunion. This was a night to get the proverbial band back together. If I’m honest, I didn’t want to worry about whether someone else who didn’t share our history was having a good time.
What to Wear?
When Facebook notices were sent out declaring the event “business casual,” the women among my group cringed at the implied suggestion of sensible skirts, pantsuits and beige. Banish the beige. Instead, I decided to take my fashion cues from Lesley Knope and picked a black lace jacket and newsprint dress. This subconscious attraction to the fabric was probably in honor of the journalism award I won as a freshman for my review of Almost Famous. Or it’s because I (much like Emily McCombs) love Modcloth. Either way.
On the day of the reunion, we met at a dry bar for hair styling. I reveled in the chance to try something new: picking an up-do from Pinterest and seeing how it would look on me. I think the final results turned out well, though my styling took longer than Jillian’s or Krissy’s because of my hair’s length and thickness.
What to Drink?
In a nod to tasting the rainbow, I whipped up a batch of Skittles vodka. There are multiple variations on the recipe, but I would definitely recommend using regular bottles as opposed to flasks because of the glass staining likely to result from the mix of vodka and food coloring. Jillian actually took my idea one step further and brought out a snow-cone machine for frozen Skittles. Some of the flavors (cherry) tasted better than others (lemon -- otherwise known as the Cleaning Power of Pinesol).
By channeling my nervousness through the communal rituals of hair, make-up, and picture taking, I left myself at the utter mercy of the moment to moment fluctuations in perspective. If the pictures looked good, my nerves were flooded with relief. If they weren’t, I felt pangs of hopelessness for the evening’s outcome.
How to Interact?
There were several exchanges throughout the evening that stood out for me: the friend from journalism class who blushed while explaining, “I’m not ogling you, I’m trying to read the articles.” There was the misogynist cop who directed all of his responses for my questions to Justin, as if I weren’t even speaking (“It’s because you’re not married,” Justin explained. “He thinks small talk is flirting.”)
And there was the former mild crush who responded to my well-intentioned comment, “You haven’t aged a day since we graduated!” by squinting worriedly and asking, “Is that a good thing? I’m not sure that it is.”
It never occurred to me that the aging process could be aspirational. As a rule, I’m flattered when people assume I’m younger than I am -- but there it was: someone who wanted to be his exact age, someone who didn’t want to look precisely like the cute, confident guy I’d known as a teenager. He wanted to be more. I can respect that.
There was the one friend from junior high who had made me feel like I had the potential to fit in -- I still remember my first concert because it was with her: LFO, Vitamin C and Christina Aguilera. When she smiled widely at me, followed up with a hug and the words, “I was really looking forward to seeing you tonight,” I knew that she meant it. I didn’t have the words to thank her for every marathon phone call and the repeated acts of kindness she’d shown me all those years ago, but I hope that whatever I said conveyed some small part of the gratitude I’ve carried with me.
At the end of the night, the five of us crowded together in the photo booth. With our high school mascot backdrop behind us, we looked tired and a little dazed. Surrounded by some of my closest long-time friends, I didn’t care if I looked like I was eighteen or twenty-eight. I looked like I had always belonged with them.