When word began to spread on the interwebs about my 30-year high school reunion, I admit it: I felt underwhelmed by the prospect. I was not impressed with my social media blast invitation, or the outdoor beach shack venue - smack in the middle of Washington, DC’s late June humidity. The one drink ticket (would not be nearly enough) and buffet (gag me with a spoon) didn’t tempt me either. It just seemed bunk – like not cool and totally boring.
Just like any good high school party, you want to know who is going to be there before you decide to go. The registration process did not allow this, which left me wondering what a “yes” would get me into. I’d attended all my past reunions (5, 10, and 20) and even served on the planning committee for one.
Besides logistics, I could not put my finger on exactly why I was so reluctant to go. Maybe it was because I still live in my hometown, which sometimes feels lame, or because I keep in touch with so many people from my graduating class and can't help but read their Facebook diaries. Or was it something more personal? I decided to go and find an answer to my disinclination. I peer pressured my high school BFF into going with me, and we showed up, non-registrants, crashing the party. I had my husband drop us off. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it’s reminiscent of having your parents drop you off at a party, but in those days it was around the block to save face. This time not sneaking in, I proudly submerged from my minivan and made immediate use of my drink ticket. As I mingled my way around receiving and giving hugs, I was surprised at how immediately comfortable I felt and how eager I became to talk to more and more familiar faces. Until, suddenly, the room definitely became more personal. My one high school romance was stage left and unavoidable.
It had been 10 years since we last saw each other, so my curiosity was peaked (so was my buzz). He approached and I accepted a bear embrace from this now bearded mountain man, with his signature tie-dye shirt and Birkenstocks. Our first conversation was mostly small talk – kids, work, parents, etc.
Our second conversation mixed current and old gossip as we shared and speculated about the evening’s chats with others.
It was the third conversation where I finally got up the nerve to address what I can only describe as a longing look I had been experiencing from the get go when I asked, “What are you thinking when you look at me?” His response: “What if we would have ended up together.” This reply laid the foundation for our fourth conversation, which took place in three different locations and lasted late into the night. It traveled down a blurry memory lane – “I convinced myself I wasn’t right for you...” and “I never thought you wanted anything serious,” then moved into a romanticized “what if” we had stayed together, but then we never would have had the wonderful lives we have now debate.
Our talk ended with a laugh about “the one that got away” cliché, but that implies regret, which we both agreed neither of us had. Instead, we promised to keep in more frequent touch to fuel our friendship, or perhaps to hang on to the fantasy a little longer.
As we parted ways, he quietly said: “I wish I got to spend more time with you” and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was only referring to tonight, or his life in general.
Oddly my graduation theme song - Trukin’ by the Grateful Dead - began to play in my head. What a long strange trip it’s been – and continues to be – thanks to the high school reunion.
Gretchen Hendricks lives in a Washington, DC suburb and teaches professional skills courses for a local university. She is a self-described opportunity maker, still follows The Cure, and will watch any John Hughes film on repeat.