They say in the end, it's the blink of an eye."
(If you recognize the title- congratulations!
For those who remember, one of my 20+ high school reunions has been coming up, and it was this past weekend. [If you don't remember, I commented on it last month here and here.]
The following is a personal letter I wrote to a friend after my 20th reunion a few years back (he didn't attend). I re-read it last night, and decided my feelings haven't changed since then. So I'm putting it up for your perusal. I should note that in the 20 years prior to the reunion I'd had only incidental contact with anyone from my high school class, except for the one I wrote the letter to.
It was interesting. I didn't go to any of the previous ones, and almost didn't go to this one. But I'm glad I did.
20 years is a long time. It erases a lot of animosity. At some point you find that the majority grew up and became (reasonably) mature, decent human beings. I found there was no competition like there might be at 5 or 10 years. At this point most everyone is set in their lives and has answered the elusive questions of "who am I and what do I want to be?"
Even people who I hated once and never wanted to see again I was glad to see, oddly enough. Instead of being enemies they're now simply people I share a common background with, and it's interesting to talk to them and see where life took them. You don't really have time to sit and talk to anyone for more than a few minutes, because everyone is constantly running to the next vaguely familiar face (or name tag) to say "Hi". Most conversations are long enough to cover your spouse, your job, your kids, and where you've lived in the past 20 years, and then it's on to the next person. In a strange sort of way I imagine an afterlife would be the same way.
I was amazed at how many people came from all over the country just for this, also at how many are on their 2nd and 3rd marriages already. Some have kids who are taking the SAT's themselves. A lot of people (including me) had twins.
Cindy, that girl we were both chasing back then, looked about the same, very thin, same face, just a few more lines. Her short brown hair is now long and dyed raven black. She never married, never had kids, and is still looking for Mr. Right. In fact, she asked me if I knew anyone. I think the whole thing is interesting. As you pointed out in our phone call, she came across as unattainable to everyone back in high school. And now she's the rare one who's still alone.
What's interesting is that on talking to them now, I found that almost all the girls I had crushes on back then are so unbelievably incompatible with me that any relationship with them would have been short-lived, if it had actually happened at all. It's amazing what hormones did then, and what the retrospectoscope shows now.
Ron wasn't there, though he lives locally. Some people had gotten his phone number, but he never returned their calls (said his voice on the machine was still the same, though). No one has had any contact with him for over 10 years, and the ones who had the most recent contact said he'd become very bitter and unhappy, which is why they'd stopped keeping in contact with him. Diane commented that she felt like "he'd become someone who needed rescuing, but nobody else could help him".
Phil and Lisa married and had kids. Phil was an obnoxious jackass in HS. Now I found him to be a polite, decent person who was actually interesting to talk to. He has some sort of administrative job. He's very quiet and down to Earth. Time, raising kids, and having a mortgage and bills has a way of doing that to people. Lisa is now thin as a rail. Phil must weigh 300 lbs.
Pete works locally for an insurance company. He is the same personality as he was then, but pleasant and mature. Not married, no kids. Looks about the same but now has long hair down his back. Mrs. Grumpy, who'd never heard of him before, saw him come in and said "Who is that guy? He looks like the missing link." I think that sums it up.
In high school Pete had this POS 1972 Toyota jeep, that looked like it was about to fall apart. He still has it, was parked next to my car. Oddly, after 20 years, his once-POS 1972 Toyota Jeep is now likely worth more than my 2000 Maxima. Time is a great equalizer.
One of the girls, Laurie, I went back to 6th grade with. Others I went as far back as 4th grade with. The night after the reunion, Laurie was on the local news in a feature story on what it's like to be fighting breast cancer and be raising young children. She hadn't mentioned any of it to anyone there all night.
Sunday afternoon was the final reunion event, a family picnic at Local Park. It was a lot of fun. You realize from watching everyone that the only accomplishments and achievements that really matter to everyone are their kids.
The low-point of the reunion was when I introduced Mrs. Grumpy to Cathy, an old friend from the school paper. Mrs. Grumpy asked her when she was expecting. She wasn't. I told Cathy that Mrs. Grumpy had had too much to drink (actually she doesn't drink at all, but Cathy didn't know that).
We all got a 2-CD set of top hits from our high school days. Scary to think the songs are 20 years old. In front of the ballroom was a table, where several current Local High band students were selling raffle tickets for a fundraiser. Later in the evening I was returning to the ballroom after using the restroom, and the students at the table were looking over the songs on the CD they gave us. They were making comments such as "who is Duran Duran?" and "Boy, I think my dad listens to these guys.".
Perhaps more frightening was when the MC pointed out that when we were in HS "Born in the USA" by Springsteen was released as the FIRST CD SOLD IN THE US.
They had a slideshow going on in one corner the whole night, with various old and new pictures. The most interesting slides:
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian then and now as governor.
Michael Jackson on the cover of Thriller, and on his mug shot (remember- this letter was written several years ago).
Madonna then, and still Madonna, now.
In an ironic note, an item on the "Onion" recently was "What did we think we'd be doing with our lives by now:
"1. Dancing professionally
2. World famous truck driver
3. Overseeing vast empire of some sort
4. Making at least assistant manager
5. Presenting own line of designer handbags
6. Owning a car with gull-wing doors
7. Not this telemarketing shit, that's for sure."
It's just amazing how time flies. As cliched as the phrase is, it's really true. When I was 7 and first learned about Halley's comet, the wait for it's next visit seemed like forever. Now, in the blink of an eye, it's been here and gone. My 3 kids are all temporally closer to high school graduation than I am now. Life happens, so enjoy it.
If there was one thing I learned, it was that I wouldn't change anything. You find yourself thinking about all the alternate paths your life might have taken. What if I had asked this girl out, or gone on that trip, or taken that class. I came to realized that if I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn't change anything. I'm very happy with where life has taken me, and for all the ups and downs of growing up and growing old I wouldn't trade any of it for anything.