Very late last night, I was thinking about a former high school classmate, and I started googling her name. I found her on a reunion website: the reunion I failed to attend and have consistently failed to attend. I went to a large high school in the Washington, D.C. area, and I've taken flak for not going to these things. A D.C. hair salon owner (and high school classmate, but not the same year) goes to his reunions and would nag at me saying "What are you avoiding? They're FUN!" I told him I never saw it as avoidance, per se, but rather high school had been a prison sentence for me. I couldn't wait to be free of it. I also pointed out I had never attended one college reunion (and I attended several universities) again, just no interest in walking memory lane. Luckily, I don't have to hear that anymore. I stopped going to him after years of watching him focused on his own head in the mirror instead of mine. I remember stumbling in there one Saturday and he was doing a former cheerleader's hair, and then she started nagging at me, "You've got to go." Rah, rah...."no."
I am sure my high school friends for the most part would find this odd. I did have friends, quite a large circle, and expanding every year I was there. I didn't limit myself to "same age group" in getting to know people. Of course there were cliques. I made friends in every clique group. Still do. For this last reunion, I knew several of the people on the committee. They sent me the paperwork. I ignored it. A childhood friend, from babyhood really, had written on the back of the envelope, "I really want to see you." I thought, "Fine. Call."
In my own defense, I consider myself a very good friend, and I also sustain friendships. I have many that go back from the time of my birth. There is one photograph where my mother is holding me in her lap when I was six months old, and one of the little girls (who was then two or three) is looking at me, the baby, and I'm reaching out to her. We are still friends. The other little girl in the picture, I've lost touch with, but I'm still in contact with her brother, who was even older.
Insomnia had set in, and I was immersed in this website, and all 194 images from the reunion. It was...disturbing. It was frightening how few faces I recognized. I had to really study their features and usually I could pick out "something" in the eyes or a smile that seemed familiar, but it was appalling how much I had blocked out. I am not talking about strangers. Some people portrayed grew up on the same street with me. We had known each other since birth.
I saw Helen, a quiet, shy girl and I thought, "She still has a sweet face." There was the captain of the cheerleaders, another neighborhood girl. Unlike most of us, she got pregnant right out of high school, married a twin, gave birth to twins, then (and I heard this later) started up an affair with her also married ex-boyfriend from back in middle school days, and that was the last I heard. There she was with an even different name from birth, husband number one and ex-boyfriend. "Still a tramp," I thought. JOKING! Not.
One girl's picture I saw amazed me. She was painfully plain, awkward, speechless with shyness, and I have a distinct memory of her being tortured by a gang of girls in gym class. There she was smiling, sophisticated, polished, and I thought, "Wow." Seemingly no psyche damage done. All is forgiven." There was Janet, another neighborhood girl, but with crappy rings on each finger, a top cut way too low and tattoos on her breasts. I thought, "What a slut you've turned out to be....and you still can't put on eyeshadow."
This picture viewing was getting brutal. One girl was present whose father was murdered in his store, while she was still young. She was beautiful, but sad around the eyes. I wondered what her life had become. Another good friend, still so pretty, pretty, but sad eyes again. Ouch. And the men. The men. Some with obviously younger women. "Mike and his lady friend." I thought, "Uh huh." And then one mug that hadn't changed at all, if anything, he's the one who looked exactly the same, only it was a boy I couldn't stomach. We sat next to each other in 7th grade. I thought, "You were a nasty, arrogant, bullying creep then, and you still look like one." I also thought, "When you aren't around these people from your past in such numbers, it's easy to ignore the notches of years. Ten years? More? What's to keep the years from appearing seamless and lacking the drama and punch this bunch could land on you in ten minutes."
Then I saw Bobby. Bobby was this freakish boy I had known since elementary school. He was tall and painfully thin. His skin was that pale fish underbelly white and covered with freckles. Freckles on top of freckles. The hair? A Toni gone bad. Red afro. He looked like a normal man now. His wife looked pleasant. But, oh that horrid memory, which Nabokov worshipped, and I usually voice as a blessing and a curse. I remember too much, and I remember in detail.
In sixth grade, Bobby's desk catty cornered mine, and one day he took out a white handkerchief and laid it out on his desk. He then drew a baseball diamond onto the white fabric with a pencil. Then...stick with me here...he started picking his nose and putting the boogers into the diamond and using his finger, or a pencil, he was flicking them into the outfield or the baselines. I said, "Bobby! What on earth are you doing?" "Playing Booger Baseball." I'm laughing even as I write this. Booger Baseball. Sports is ignoring an entirely untapped resource of talent. Thank God he didn't hit one out of the ballpark, because that would have been "me," and that would have meant more punishment.
One last memory of Bobby. I had a horrid sixth grade teacher. The worst. She drove a little sports car, and you just knew she was killing time until she became Mrs. Dr. So and So and the rock on her hand and the right zip code to prove it. I loathed her. She loathed me. One day at the end of school, we stood by our desks, waiting for the bell to ring, and Bobby pulled his gray cable knit sweater over his head (he even wore ugly sweaters.) As he pushed his arms through, both sleeves fell off. BOTH. I cracked up. Who wouldn't laugh at such a thing?
The teacher kept me after school, and she made me sit and write an essay, explaining my bad behavior. What she really was after was an abject apology while using her controlling bitch tactics on me. I could write, and I wrote, but she didn't like it. "Read that!" she said. "Do you think that explains what occurred?" I said that it was an accurate explanation. She had me write again, and again, and again. Finally, she let me out of there, but it was going on six o'clock, and I had to take my little essay home and have my parents sign it. I don't remember what my mother's reaction was to such a thing, but I'm sure she saw some level of insanity in it.
Getting ready to sign off last night, I didn't think Bobby would want me turning up at the reunion to say, "Bobby! How about a few innings of Booger Baseball? " You think he remembers that?
"The charm of baseball is that, dull as it may be on the field, it is endlessly fascinating as a rehash."