I felt it even as I got off the plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on Friday afternoon. No, not just elation over the celebrity sighting on my flight (none other than Terrence Howard). It was something more than nostalgia but not as weighty as dread. Cautious excitement probably best encapsulates the whole smorgasbord of emotions rolling around in my head and stomach as I faced my high school reunion.
Buttressed by afternoon manicure/pedicures with fellow alumnae, dressed to accentuate my best assets and fortified by a few pre-party drinks, our motley crew of six Toros and two spouses ventured to the Phoenix Zoo on Saturday evening. We were greeted by former student council representatives who weren't actually members of our class which made me very glad to never have served on the student council. They handed us nametags, a bridal shower-esque bingo game with a matrix of questions asking if we had graduated from college or had three children and ballots for voting on the most successful, least changed and overall biggest overachiever from among our classmates.
Predictably, I refused the ballots and bingo games and went into the ballroom to select a table. Our location had to be strategic – not too far from the door or else we could not escape at critical moments, but also close to the all-important bar – our group found a good location and began the unenviable task of mingling. Being a natural schmoozer, I took to the room of people like Carrie Bradshaw at a Manolo sample sale.
Maybe I've been watching too much Top Chef, but I failed to see the connection between the zoo location and our chuckwagon-inspired menu. Was the mac-n-cheese a cheap side dish or a highly-thoughtout throwback to our lunch lady days? Also, I found the door prizes baffling. I won the dubious honor of having traveled the farthest to attend the reunion and my reward was two gift certificates to a local salon and full-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Since I only have a carry-on bag, my friend reaped the benefits of the TSA's draconian 3-ounce rule. Mesa, Arizona is hardly the birthplace of irony so I still wonder if this gift was planned or not.
As the night wore on, I careened between balding jocks, pregnant (or just plump) cheerleaders, reformed stoners and several rounds of red wine, my former unease yielded some bonafide joy. I got lots of compliments and avoided any awkward moments. Many of the hardfast clique boundaries had softened during the past decade and I was able to engage in nice conversations with classmates from all points on the life achievement and high school status spectrums. (Note: these two measures usually have an inverse proportion.)
Of all these quick catchups, I found my chat with a former wrestling champ who I had always found kinda cute the most inspiring. Back in 1999, he suffered a workplace injury that left him blind and he now uses a cane and seeing-eye dog to get through life. Rather than allowing this accident to make him bitter, he truly believes that it (and anything else that doesn't kill us) only makes him appreciate what he has. He might never read this blog, but I hope Geno knows that he was a major highlight of the reunion for me.
Falling into the regret category are all the people who did not or could not make it. The could nots I fully understand and really hope to catch up with in the months ahead. Being nine months pregnant, living really far away, attending your medical school graduation or suffering from uncontrollable vomiting are absolutely viable excuses and those who fall into this category know who they are. Then there are the others who live in the Phoenix area and yet decided not to go for no other reason than being "too cool" or, dare I assert, too fearful. I'm definitely disappointed about these cases and I hope the coming weeks and months bring them out of the woodwork because I'd really love to catch up.
In the end, I guess the old adage about nothing to fear but fear itself really does apply. All my neuroses about facing up my 18-year-old self and her peers quickly vanished and for better or worse nothing majorly dramatic or juicy happened at the reunion (as far as I know). There could have been some illicit makeout sessions behind the zoo and I suppose there was a minor controversy when a girl who was crowned rodeo queen eight years ago emerged as the most successful female, but that pales in comparison to the crazy things my imagination had cooked up.
Maybe you can go home again, as long as you accept the past for what it was and give yourself a little freedom to be who you are in the present. Just be sure to look the part.