Y HIGH SCHOOL'S TWENTIETH REUNION was at the airport Sheraton which meant it was totally doable to have another bloody Mary in the airport bar I’d situated myself in two drinks ago by the window. I watched the loading and unloading of luggage outside when I wasn’t thumbing through the yearbook I’d brought to help me identify old friends and foes. Many in the book were with me all the way from middle school to senior year. For all I knew, none of them blinked an eye when I decided to drop out near the end due to an incredibly slight oversight on my part to the tune of about six credits. They weren’t there to see me procure a G.E.D. a few years later, nor my bachelors after, and certainly not my masters or my first teaching job. Definitely not a teacher, not Eric Day, class clown and drop out.
But here I was, in from Arizona to overcast Oregon, having suited up in the airport bathroom, and taken the time to sit in one of those high chairs to have my scuffy brown teacher shoes publicly shined by a man that snapped his towels and moved his brushes as deftly as any Hollywood stereotype. They were Clarks, the same brand worn by about 90% of male teachers, and the same model as my mentor before me. I looked at them now, proudly, and thought about what lie ahead, already hearing the questions.
They were Clarks, the same brand worn by about 90% of male teachers, and the same model as my mentor before me.
“What do you do?”
“How have you been spending the last two decades?”
“Phoenix? Really? Phoenix?”
Portland’s late summer dusk was roiling over with a gray sheath from the west. The hurling luggage outside looked like salmon arching upstream, and the oversized clock on the wall said it was about time I went upstream myself.
It would be the first time I talked to anyone from high school in twenty years.
I left my bag with the concierge and headed down the fancy wing to the hall. I could hear the 80’s music as I approached, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” all the doors open to it, showing darkness, lasers and strobe lights. A wave of laughter rose up and I thought: oh God, which middle-aged person is break dancing? I made it to the greeter’s table where name badges were lined up alphabetically. Just a glance at them filled me with terror. I sidestepped this and worked my way through the crowds to look in at the darkened hall. It was smaller than a gym and a DJ was laying down more 80’s beats, currently Duran Duran’s “Rio”, while people stood in groups by the dance floor and sat at the round tables. A few peered at the playlist illuminating the DJ’s face with iPod light and snickered.
Outside the hall was the bar and further down a glass wall of exits and enough room for some stand-up tables and the occasional potted floor plant. After pinning my name badge to my chest I went directly to the bar, got my rum and Coke and wandered. From the back of the bar line to the hall entryways there was about fifteen feet of congregated people. Clusters, it seemed, of already established friends. What we used to call cliques. I avoided them and stood near the greeter’s table with my drink, watching for new arrivals.
I heard someone in the crowd say, “Oh, my God, is that Eric Day?” but I pretended I didn’t hear. I felt a creeping self-consciousness and didn’t want to make it worse by appearing desperate. No one else seemed to be alone and I noticed all wore the opposite sex closely on their arms, like shields. I could make out alumni from spouse by the possessiveness with which they clung, and I wished my wife and I could’ve afforded to bring us both; I missed her dearly. I remembered my friend Matt’s words, though, spoken to me some weeks earlier. We were on the bench after three sets of tennis in the July dusk back in Phoenix. I’d told him about the reunion with a scoff.
“It would be awful,” he agreed.
“I know,” I said.
“But you have to go,” he said. “You just have to go.”
The guy who called my name was Jim K—, a man I remember as a boy whose earnestness was matched by none. When that earnestness was betrayed, which was all too often, his face would turn bright red and bitter barbs would fly. Then it would pass and he was back to his old earnest self. We often called him a dweeb. Now he looked exactly the same, just a little wider in an expensive suit. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me.
The Class of 1987 continues...