50th reunion full of angst and relief

nightengayles@aol.comNovember 16, 2010 

There it was in my e-mail: the invitation to my 50th high school reunion in Minneapolis in late September.

I faced a decision: Should I go? I hadn’t been to any reunions due to moving away at age 23 and no one being able to find me. With the advent of Google, a high school chum had found me, so now I was on the list.

I knew I needed to go to this one. It felt like unfinished business, that I needed to go back to face long-ago demons, to overcome the wallflower status I had felt consigned to at the time. But could I find the nerve?

I asked friends about their reunions.

Bette Presley of Arroyo Grande attended her 15th reunion, and agonized over what to wear. Once there, she saw in a mirror that she had her corsage on upside down. She laughed and decided to keep it that way.

An old boyfriend crashed the party just to see her.

Bette decided not to go to her 50th because a friend told her the last one had been “cliquish,” but later she heard it was lots of fun.

Meg Johnson of Arroyo Grande went to her 40th reunion.

“I felt like I was in another planet,” she recalled. She could hardly remember anyone. Meg’s graduating class was 1,000 students, so it was understandable that she mainly remembered her core group of dance and drama students.

If Nina Pink, now living in Palm Desert, would go, I would go, I decided. We would try to get another friend to go.

Time passes, and I did nothing. Several classmates in the Twin Cities area had masterminded the website, so that our yearbook would open up with all our graduation photos on it. You could see who was coming to the reunion and who had died, and read updated bios.

In June, bios started appearing on the website. I read them with great interest.

Many were mind-boggling. People I assumed had lived a rather ordinary life had done completely different things. Some I thought would take the world by storm had lived the more common life.

The deadline for paying was coming up in late July. Nina paid and put her bio up.

Still I dragged my feet. Would my husband come with me? He decided not to, causing me to reconsider.

What would I wear to each event? Would I buy new clothes? Did I want to wear a skirt or dress? What about shoes?

I finally paid in early August. Now the pressure increased. I made an appointment at the optometrist’s office for contacts, which I had not worn for 30 years. I started asking friends about anti-aging creams, skin products and getting a facial. I would lose 10 pounds.

In mid-August, I walked out of the eye doctor’s with my new contacts. Amazingly, they fit well and allowed me to see the world again without a constant frame around it.

On the website, a couple of friends who had indicated they were coming decided not to, causing more consternation.

Pressure increased as September began. Time to hit the stores. Nothing seemed right. Should I dress conservatively in dark colors, or wear the bright colors and prints that define the “arty me?”

I still hadn’t submitted a bio. Should I give them the bare bones of my existence in the past 50 years, or do a more honest and in-depth piece showing more of the person I’ve become?

I decided on the latter, but it was too late to go on the website. I went to the reunion with no one knowing anything about me.

I packed too many clothes in my suitcase, because I still couldn’t decide what to wear. I was nervous. I arrived at my hotel, and then decided this is absurd. These people are not going to be as judgmental as they seemed in high school. We are 50 years older.

I breathed a sigh of relief and went to bed, eager to see the folks I knew so long ago.

On Friday evening, I took 45 minutes to get my right contact in.

On the way into the hotel, I whacked my forehead on the revolving door. Nina rushed up to hug me, while I was reeling from pain and shock.

I recovered, and we walk in with one of the “popular” girls. I was quickly caught up in a whirlwind of “what have you been doing the past 50 years?” encounters.

All my stereotypes fell away. Several “popular” girls gained weight and got divorced. (I’m glad I lost my excess weight 10 years ago). Some of the quieter, less jock-type boys were better-looking now and interesting. Some live in Santa Barbara.

One fellow told me he noticed me in high school and thought I was sensitive. Several people had been in Berkeley/San Francisco the same years I was there (mid- to late 1960s), and were also caught up in the hippie era. One girl who I thought was popular said she hated high school.

My unfinished business felt finished, or at least released, because I would now like to get to know several of my old classmates better. I no longer felt like a wallflower.

A big highlight was that people I barely knew or thought much about turned into some interesting folks. Nina reported now that she was surprised to see me talking to everyone. “And you were popular!” she said. We are both waiting for the next reunion.

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