Just back from my 20th. It was nice, but I left feeling weird, wondering how far I’ve really come.
Alma mater is a suburban Detroit private school renowned for its architecture and hockey teams. I actually had a pretty good time this reunion, while it lasted, even though it was hot as a barber’s towel all weekend and my best linen sport jacket had apparently been Scotchgarded instead of cleaned - it felt like I was wearing the plastic bag it came in. Then again, I was suffering from a certain degree of psychosomatic hyperhydrosis ($20 words for “flop sweat” - why? Read on.)
The Class of 1985 definitely leads the pack in kids under 7 - we had something like 10 moppets in attendance, and by no means all of the class came out. We also have a surprising proportion of stay-at-home moms, perhaps because many of my classmates came from an affluent, conservative set (think car executives, and people who country-club with them). As for occupations, we have the expected doctors, lawyers (one guy’s a doctor AND a lawyer! top THAT!), plus a 747 pilot, a rabbi, four or five clothing retailers, a TV producer, a social worker, a pollster and an architect-turned-restaurateur. All in all, a much more interesting bunch than I remember from our callow, cliquy teenage years.
I was the only never-married male (kudos to me for showing up at all, I guess). There were two never-married females (one agonizingly anorectic, the other perhaps doubled in weight since I knew her), and four divorcees (two male, two female). One of the divorced guys had been a real fuck-up in school; now he’s had his life totally broken up, yet is so much more mature and insightful because of what he has been through. My hat’s off to him. I hope he does well.
The one cloud hanging over my reunion was the probability of running into Liz. Liz was a girl on whom I had developed a seriously toxic unrequited crush during our junior year. I didn’t approach “stalker” territory (too shy), but for a year I made a complete fool of myself in front of her, her friends, my friends and several of our teachers. My grades suffered; Liz suffered; I suffered. With the help of a great school counselor, I gradually got over her, but the damage was done. My first few breakups with real girlfriends were very slow to heal, and I wallowed in cynicism and self-hatred for months after each relationship.
I’d seen Liz briefly at our 10th, with her husband, a very decent-looking fellow. She spoke only curtly, and with some nervousness, to me. There really wasn’t any point, I didn’t think, in saying “I’m sorry” to someone who didn’t really want to talk, so I didn’t. At the afterglow at a classmate’s house that year, Liz drank so heavily that hubby had to carry her to the car. I wondered now and then whether I might have been the reason, then finally decided I was flattering myself to think so. I put her out of my mind.
Flash forward ten years. I’ve been having a pleasant time at the 20th, largely because of no Liz. She’s in the back of my mind and I’m trying to keep her there. That night is the class picture. Several more of us have shown up by now, and the sport jacket is really starting to soak. Nonetheless, I keep up my cheery aplomb, steeled by several gin tonics.
Then suddenly an ash-blonde head spins around on the steps below me and two huge, plaintive green eyes flash. It’s her. Damned if she doesn’t look a day over 18, either. Still. “Oh hi, Liz!” I beam. She beams back, her smile sort of taken-aback, fading quickly. Or am I flattering myself again?
Afterwards we knot up into little groups. I come to Liz’ side and tell her what I’d been thinking just then: “How is it you never get any older?” A nervous(???) laugh again: “Thank you, Doug. Thanks.” Then, like a shot, she whirls around to speak to someone else. I’m left holding the bag with her hubby, Rob, trying to be pleasant. “So, where you guys at these days?” He names a nondescript suburb. “Whatcha doing down there?” I’ve obviously made it sound a shade accusatory, because Rob takes a beat and says, “It’s near the office.” Some economic development whatchamacallit; they’re both economists. Ya da ya da, nice seeing you both again, catch you at the afterglow.
I do, too. We don’t talk again. But I get their picture. I get a whole lot of people’s pictures. I don’t know if I’ll keep theirs, but I don’t know why not.
That night, even after getting one of the divorcee gals’ emails, I can’t stop thinking of Liz and her damn beautiful green eyes, and all I put myself through because of them. You think you’re over something. And maybe you are. But in some ways, deep down, you never get over it.
Don’t get me wrong: Liz seems to have married well. She never had a romantic bone in her body, and I was a mooner, a dreamer, a heart-on-the-sleever, singing songs to a girl who didn’t want songs sung to her. Her dream guy is mild-mannered, clean-cut, and crunches numbers for a living. My dream girl is – no, it’s not Liz anymore. Or any of the others I hoped it would be. Maybe I don’t have one. Maybe I need one.
Anyway, I wish you love, Liz. And I’m sorry. Please know I’m sorry. Maybe I’ll see you at the 25th.