Five years had passed since the day that old man had given me a shiny diploma and I’d embarrassingly forgotten to shake his hand. Five years. Which meant it was time for my first reunion.
Not everyone gets a five year reunion, but I went to one of those fancy private high schools that hosts as many events as possible in an effort to squeeze, weasel, and squeezel every last nickel out of its alumni. And since we all wanted to prove to our former peers that we’d done something with ourselves, we fell for the trap.
As soon as I received the invitation, the Fear took me. I hadn’t seen these hyper-intelligent, upper-crust people in years, and now they were sure to be so massively successful and self-assured that they wouldn’t even need to rub it in my face—it would just be obvious. What did I have? An English degree? And now I was taking a year off…to write? That doesn’t sound very impressive. It sounds like I’m lying about not being able to get a job.
Sure that I would be the laughing stock of the reunion, I wallowed.
Once the self-pity was over with, I logged onto the school website to order my ticket, but the site was in digital shambles, and even simple actions like clicking buttons became a battle of my will vs. machine wont. Its flagrant disregard for the standards of web 2.0 infuriated me, at least, until I found a glitch that allowed me to sign up for free. I spread word to Brian (the roommate), and he proceeded to register for every reunion, from year 5 to 75, with me as his plus one.
I was just getting used to the idea of this now free reunion when my ex called to let me know she’d be bringing her new boyfriend, you know, in the spirit of giving advance warning. I thanked her for her courtesy, hung up the phone, and promptly spent the next two weeks agonizing over our upcoming interaction.
[Refer to wallowing pictures]
In the darkly ironic way of nice gestures, this was somehow much worse than if she’d said nothing at all—I would’ve been surprised and my reunion might’ve been ruined, but that would be that. Instead, she managed to steal two weeks from me like a watch thief who fell into some nuclear waste and upgraded to…TIME THIEF.
I dated this girl, let’s call her Klaus, starting in sophomore year of high school. Our relationship was marked by grandiose romantic gestures of sickening proportions, like spelling happy anniversary on the school lawn with hundreds of her favorite flowers. We were the homecoming king and queen, and in the yearbook, we had a shiny, full-page picture depicting us as the official “class couple.”
This lasted through most of college via a long-distance relationship in which we visited each other on alternating weekends. Then she went to France for a summer, fell in love in the City of Love, and in her benevolence, dumped me upon her return so as to save me the humiliation of being abandoned via Skype video chat, and coincidentally preventing me from hooking up with my summer tennis partner. And rather than bring up the fact that she’d found someone else, she used the dignity-saving pretense of “taking a break,” which led me to waste month after month, feebly nurturing an ember of hope until it sputtered to the post-ember coals of bitterness, then crumbled to the ashes of acceptance.
Anyway, the next thing I remember is awakening in a cold sweat the day before the reunion and knowing that I had to do something to make the whole event bearable. Apparently, in the course of my wallowing, I’d grown a beard, which helped compensate for the hair I’d been losing for a couple of years (another reason I was none too excited to see my classmates, what with their heads of hair always gloating at me). And then it dawned on me. It was time to go for a Hail Mary: the Shaved Head. I cranked up some Linkin Park, called my friend Tom to my side, took a shot, and handed him the razor.
The clumps of hair fell around me like the leaves of a dying evergreen, and the wind blew across my naked scalp with the icy sensation of loss, and of freedom.
But my alter-ego Scalpy was just beginning. As my friends will tell you, I wear nothing but shorts, flip flops, and shirts from the internet. But on that day, I donned jeans, a leather jacket, aviators, and shoes.
Suddenly, I was a badass.
The next day I drive down to San Diego and park around the corner from my parents’ house so they won’t see my car. I slip on the leather jacket and walk through the gate, where my mom’s bent over gardening. She senses my imposing presence, stands up, looks me straight in the aviators, and says “Can I help you?” But instead of answering, I just cross my arms, simultaneously enjoying myself and feeling like an increasingly terrible son as I watch my mother mentally prepare for her death at the hands of a tough biker that wandered into her garden. It’s the exact scenario she’s always dreaded.
Finally, I pull off the glasses, and she gasps, then screams “What have you done to yourself?!?!”
I’m pretty self-conscious about the new look and was hoping for a little more support, but I guess I’ll have to take what I can get. My dad’s reaction to the whole event was similarly fearful and enraged. So far, so good.
Given that my own family thinks I look like one of those murderous motorcycle gang member people, I’m feeling pretty set for this reunion. If I can just turn the reunion into a story, then I won’t feel the emotional pain, not really. It won’t be me experiencing the agony of the run-in with the ex for the first time; it’ll be Russ the character, and I need that guy to have experiences, good and bad, so I have things to write about.
My mom affixes me with a fake one of those manly earrings, and I dive headfirst into the past-relationship maelstrom.
At the check-in table, we give a lady our names, and immediately a look of recognition and resentment crosses her face. “Oh, I know you,” she says to Brian, scorn flying from her mouth like spittle from the elderly. “You’re the one who somehow ended up registered to every single reunion.”
Brian tries to be coy. “Whatever do you mean?”
But she sees right through it, and Brian is forced to shell out fifty bucks. Sucker.
A second, much kinder woman helps me out, but apparently I’m not registered at all, though she could’ve sworn she saw me on the list at some point. She’s sure of it, but the records show I haven’t paid. I turn on the charm and sympathize with her computer troubles, lamenting that I too have difficulty remembering when to click and when to right-click. We commiserate, and in the spirit out our camaraderie, she lets me into the reunion for free.
Inside, or rather, outside, since our unbearably affluent school is too cheap to actually let us use any of their buildings, I scout the scene and determine the best course of action is to catch my former classmates in small, gullible groups. I introduce myself as Jeff, that guy who was only there for a couple semesters then transferred. Nobody believes me, but Jeff’s official name badge clearly shows that he was part of their graduating class, and he knows everyone’s name, as well as frighteningly specific and often deeply embarrassing details from their experimental years.
Most people eventually swallow the lie and say it’s good to see me again, apologizing for not remembering me at first. Then I pull off the glasses, they look me up and down, and suddenly they’re as surprised as a turkey in November (though Sam argues that the turkeys would see it coming and accept their deaths with quiet dignity). Anyway, some people join the prank by introducing me as their +1, and soon enough, I’m the life of the party. Every time someone new arrives, everyone gets suspiciously quiet, waiting to see them meet me, then cracking up when they finally figure out the ruse. Or should I say RUSSe?
The evening wears on, until the school no longer wants us on its property, and the girl in charge of our reunion gets up on a pillar to make a speech about our imminent displacement. That’s when I notice there’s still about 20 bottles of wine that haven’t been drunk. The school already paid for them, and at that moment, I realize I hold the course of the rest of the night in the palm of my hand. The strength of my bald head surges through me and I leap up onto the pillar next to the girl, and, in one of those high school movie moments where the protagonist nerd stands up to the beauty queen, I declare “We’re not leaving until we’ve finished every last bottle of wine!”
A cheer goes up in the crowd.
Check back on Turkey Day for the exciting conclusion! And while Sam may have eased your guilt by anthropomorphising your dinner, I for one argue that the turkeys probably gobble like crazy with an utter and cacophonous lack of dignity and are generally displeased by the whole situation.