back to the Black Table

A friend has a theory about high school. Essentially, she says that the world divides into two distinct groups: Those who are desperately trying relive high school, and those who are desperately trying to forget it. I believe I understand both camps. On one hand, my memories of high school are fond ones; nobody ever dunked my head in the toilet before homeroom or tried to stuff me in my locker. On the other, the whole notion of talking to people I haven't seen in 10 years, a decade in which I've added countless bad habits and more weight than I'd care to admit, is so terrifying that I have a feeling I'll be looking for a locker to hide in.

This coming Saturday, the bleary warriors from the Mattoon High School Class of 1993 will congregate to the Time Theater in downtown Mattoon for our 10th year class reunion. Because of an ill-advised "hey, sure, I'll run for class office!" whim during sixth-period lunchtime of my senior year, I am our reigning class


president. (I'm really not sure what I was thinking with that; was I expecting to meet girls that way or something? If that's what was on my mind - and frankly, it probably was -- um, it didn't work. At all.) Because of this lofty status bestowed on me because no one else was foolish enough to sign up, the burden of organizing the class reunions turned out to be on me. If there ended up being no reunion, or if the reunion turns out to be a disaster, it is me that my class would blame. As if it weren't enough pressure worrying about my wasteline, or my hairline, or my inability to come through on my high-school prediction that by 2003 I'd be King of Siam with countless servants and concubines at my beck-and-call ("Carlos … Carlos … fetch me my moccasins, won't you?") … I now have to make sure everybody has a good time. Otherwise, it's the toilet for me!

It has been a long process putting this reunion together, and it hasn't been easy. You see, I live in New York City, which, even if you feel comfortable calling it a suburb of Mattoon, you must admit that the commute is cumbersome. (By the time you get to work, everyone has already gone home four hours beforehand. This does make for a rather breezy workday, but it's unwieldy on the pocketbook, let me tell you.) I have done what I can to organize a class reunion from 2,000 miles away, but let's just say I haven't been getting much face time with my classmates. Fortunately, I had ground troops in Mattoon to take care of the pesky details like, uh, where we were having the reunion, what time, which weekend, what food we were having, if we were having a DJ, so on, so forth. You know … all that reunion-y stuff. These tasks were taken care of by a quartet of lovely Mattoon women; I look forward to thanking them in person Saturday by having too much to drink and confessing to each of them how I had the biggest crush on them in high school while spilling beer on their nice clothes. Aren't they the lucky ones! Thanks ladies! (Fortunately, most of them now have husbands who are encouraged to punch me in the face. I won't pretend I don't deserve it.)

But all that is over now, and we face the reunion itself.

I think what's most frightening about a class reunion is not the physical deterioration, or the potential for drunken missteps or even the wistful memories of a youth long since past. The scary part is realizing that no matter what you do, no matter what you have or have not accomplished in your life, every single person in the room at your reunion is going to see you as the same schmuck you were 10 years ago. This is partly because that's the last time they saw you. It is mostly because you are the same schmuck you were 10 years ago.

We cannot hide from our true natures, and as much as we've all tried to reinvent ourselves over the last 10 years in different roles - The Family Man. The Corporate Professional. The Upwardly Mobile Soccer Mom. The Sensitive Artist Too Precious For This World. The Responsible Caretaker. Whichever, really. - class reunions force us to face up to what we are: Brats. Petty little children. Totally incapable of surviving in the outside world. We've made our little deals with ourselves, that we're adults now, with children of our own maybe, but that person you were in high school, who could live life however you wanted … that person is still there. He was just pretending he wasn't.

The same insecurities that paralyzed you in high school are still there, still as prominent as ever; it's just that now, as adults, we have other stuff to occupy our minds, and we force such thoughts to the background. What makes high school so important is the self-indulgency of it. At a time when you know the least about yourself, you really have only yourself to worry about. High school gives you time to figure yourself out. The clutter of adult life isn't on the horizon. Whatever you learned about yourself back then, you've been able to temporarily put it aside in your daily adult life. You can't put it aside at a reunion, though; it's back, staring you in the face. And everybody knows it, just like they did then.

I have experienced this with a Web site I set up to promote our class reunion. We have tried to contact everyone about the reunion, but since I live out of town and we're all busy adult people with busy adult lives, a few have slipped through the cracks and still might not know about Saturday. One person we missed heard about the reunion secondhand and was angry about it. She felt left out. She posted a fiery missive on our Web site's message board, essentially accusing the reunion organizers of "only inviting the cool people" and trying to make the reunion an "exclusive event." This woman likely has not worried about being "cool" in 10 years. But as soon as word of a reunion got out, she reverted immediately back to high school mode: The cool kids are picking on me. She, like the rest of us, cannot hide from high school.

(For the record, her notion would be false even if the organizers of the reunion were cool. We most certainly are not. We actually pick our nose … and eat it! Gross!)

And in spite of all this, I really do think the reunion will be fun. There are too many close friends whom I haven't seen in years. (Thus is the price of life in New York. Oh, and $1,200 a month for a room the size of your kitchen cabinet. That's also the price of life in New York.) There is the movie theater where I used to work, now hosting our gathering.

And, most of all, there is Mattoon, my home, everything I knew for the first 18 years of my life. Like high school, it's embedded in my marrow more deeply than I'll ever recognize. I have no problem with everyone reverting back to high school mode. After all … all things considered, I haven't seen the inside of a locker in a long time.



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