I almost missed it. I went to the hockey game with my cousin tonight (the Penguins destroyed the Flyers 7-2, which was nice), so I didn’t get the phone call from Sean telling me that everybody was meeting. I get the message after dropping my cousin off at my grandmother’s house, though, so I call him and find out that everyone is still there. I check in with my mom, and head out to Kings as fast as I can.
When I get there, one group of people is just leaving. Kate, Adreanne, Steve, Jessica, Lauren, Will, and Dean are all going to see a movie, so they just came to get dinner. I talk to them for about five minutes before they head out the door, but the conversation is nothing substantial.
Still, there is a nice big group of people left over, so I sit down at the table and start talking. The people who stayed are people I was closer with in high school anyway, so they’re the ones that I have the most to say to. It is the largest group of my friends that I’ve been with since we all left for college in August; there are about eight of us sitting around the same table. They’ve all been there for about an hour and a half already, but conversation is still going strong, since there’s a lot to talk about.
Kings was, of course, the logical choice for the meeting. I remember growing up and seeing all the sitcoms about kids in high school, and how there was always some juice bar or soda fountain where they’d hang out. I remember that I always wanted a place like that, a place where my friends and I would be “regulars,” and where we could go to talk about the moral of whatever particular story had just ended. Kings became that spot for us, though we never really realized it. It was always just the best choice for where to eat: close to school, central location, and really cheap ice cream. I now realize that hang-out spots never really seem like hang-out spots until you look at them in retrospect: nostalgia helps see the everyday things through a warm lens. And looking back, it’s quite apparent to me that Kings was the spot for my friends and I; we certainly began and ended enough adventures there over the four years of high school.
The first thing I notice is that everybody has changed in some subtle way. Erin’s change is the most obvious: her hair has magically turned from brunette to jet black over the last two months, and looks very pretty. Everyone else has changed as well, though. Kevin’s thinner, Reva’s bouncier, Sean’s more unshaven, Christina’s hair is a bit darker, etc. etc. Even more striking are the small character differences that I only start to notice after about 10 minutes of talking. Kevin seems a bit more down since the summer; he doesn’t like Northwestern very much and is thinking of transferring. Erin, on the other hand, is the happiest I’ve ever seen her; she is involved in campus ministry and is a picture-perfect Catholic. No one else has changed quite so much, but each person has their own new affectation, or smile, or hand gestures when they talk. I start to wonder how much I’ve changed, and am really afraid that I’ll say “y’all” when I talk, and thus betray my southern schooling.
Still, as much as things change, so much stays the same. Most of us fall almost immediately into our old roles: I start retelling all the weird things that happen to me, Sean is the jovial, off-the-wall guy that he always has been, Kevin and Reva spend most of the time talking to each other quietly. Christina and Erin assume their usual routine of being shocked and amused by our stories, and at the end of dinner Pat has to be forcibly stopped from paying for everyone’s meals. All in all, it could have been any dinner at all over the course of the last four years. The only real difference is that every new conversation starts with “How’s college treating you,” but that is gotten out of the way pretty quickly. We all pick and choose a few snippets of information to share about what’s “new” in our lives: Sean is transferring to a better film school, Christina’s joining a sorority, Erin goes to mass every other day, and Kevin is getting involved in theatre stuff again. My personal data is that I’m (trying) to write a play, I was just in a show, and the food at UVA is better than I expected. After that, we’re all back to our usual anecdotes, or at least new versions of the same old ones.
At the end of the dinner, we all say goodbye, and I start driving home. I’m happy. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to come to this dinner or not; I’ve managed to do fairly well in college so far socially, and have a good group of friends to hang out with through my theatre group. So I was really scared that once all of the “old gang” got together there’d be something that wouldn’t click, and I wouldn’t want to be friends with these people any more. I was terrified that suddenly I would realize out of the blue that I had nothing in common with any of them, and that I’d be hurt badly by coming to this conclusion.
Of course, it was a stupid fear. There’s a reason I was friends with this group of people for four years. And when it’s all over, I’m suddenly hit with this huge, overwhelming urge to be able to say “See you all on Monday.” I’m feel myself almost maniacally wanting to go take a class with them again, or have a rehearsal for a show, anything to connect with them one more time. I want stay in Kings eating cheap desserts for another ten or twenty years, let alone minutes. Basically, I want them to be my friends again. My new college group is forgotten in the blink of an eye.
Then, as I drive further, I realize that I’m being stupid. They still are my friends; my new friends haven’t replaced them in any way. Without thinking, I reflexively start heading back to my high school, but stop myself before I take the exit. There’s really no point in going back there at this time of night: the only remaining connection I have with high school now is the people, and nobody’s going to be there at 12:30 in the morning. So I take the exit to go home, and turn up the music as loud as it will go in order to fight off the growing sense of nostalgia.
There’s nobody out on the road, and for some reason I keep going faster and faster and faster, until I’m pushing 90 and have to force myself not to go any faster. The music plays and I keep going, leaving high school further and further behind me, but hopefully taking the stuff that matters along for the ride.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.