Memories and Laughs

Memories and Laughs

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Memories and Laughs

Two weeks before Des Moines Roosevelt’s twentieth high-school reunion, I began frantically working out with arm and leg weights, shackled like an escapee from a prison chain gang. As I gyrated in the living room with my vintage Stevie Wonder album “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” going full blast, my children looked on in horror at my flying flesh. “Why are you doing that, Mommy?” they wondered.

“Because Mommy is silly and vain,” I replied. Of course, two weeks didn’t repair the ravages of the two decades since I last saw my classmates. I didn’t go to the ten-year reunion—I was living out East then, and too hell-bent on my career to give a rip about auld lang syne.

But my regimen did give me the psychological boost I needed to face those people I worshipped and envied, despised and admired, and wept, dreamed and giggled with twenty years ago. I comforted myself that even if the reunion was miserable, it would make good copy. High school. How those two words dredge up a world of memories.

We were all carefully casual at first, our newly purchased stone-washed denim togs painstakingly ironed. But it soon came out that I wasn’t the only one to indulge in useless preparations.

Several people succumbed to perms and crash diets. One woman confessed that she threw caution to the winds and baked like a lizard in the sun, on the theory that tanned fat looks better than pale. Forget the extra wrinkles she was creating for the thirty-year reunion. She wanted to look good now.

We all felt in our secret hearts that we were the only ones who hadn’t changed appreciably. Naturally, we all went through the charade of peering nearsightedly at name tags with graduation pictures on them, trying to reconcile the track star with the paunch and then exclaiming shamelessly, “You haven’t changed a bit!” People were heard to mutter, “My, this is strange.” And more than one asked aloud, “Who are all these old people?”

My claim to fame in those long-ago days was having the longest hair in school, so several female classmates greeted me with the accusatory shriek, “You cut your hair!” Yes, ten years ago when it dawned on me that strands of gray looked mighty peculiar in a waist-length ponytail.

As I circulated, I learned that my fellow graduates include a columnist for the New York Times, a neurologist on the faculty of Harvard University Medical School and an actor-director whose first film won an international award. Gee, why couldn’t they have made something of themselves.

As much pride as I took in hearing those classmates’ accomplishments, however, I must admit that a high point for me was visiting with a woman who was once engaged to my former fiancé. We acted out every man’s worst nightmare as we compared notes, our victim mercifully absent. If he could have walked in and seen us— wine glasses aloft, heads thrown back, teeth bared as we screamed with laughter—he would surely have turned tail and run.

The reunion held some other wonderful surprises, too. One was seeing a skinny boy who had worn thick glasses transformed with contact lenses and confidence into a witty, gregarious CEO. The rest of him had caught up with his Adam’s apple, and he had married his high-school sweetheart, a painfully shy girl who never communicated much except for what shone out of her lovely eyes. Still soft-spoken but now self-assured, she worked the room making everyone feel remembered and unique.

Then there was the willowy girl whom we all expected to take the New York modeling scene by storm. She did, briefly, and is now back in Des Moines with six children, living happily ever after.

One of the school’s most irrepressible boys (not major-league bad, just frequent-detention naughty) is now a probation officer. He told me that earlier in his career, when he worked with troubled youth, he challenged his charges to come up with an excuse he hadn’t used himself.

And then there was the fellow who was legendary in grade school for his command of dirty words, now become a warmly friendly family man. He touched me by remembering the day I was introduced in kindergarten as the new girl, thirty-three years ago.

Of course, some things haven’t changed. The homecoming queen was as ridiculously beautiful and unassuming as ever. And the class cynic lounged by the wall, owlishly observing, “Same old cliques.”

Spouses looked on, eyes glassy with boredom and jaws aching from the effort of grinning at strangers as we classmates endlessly reminisced. My own beloved gave himself up to the indifferent canapés early on, and finally found a classmate’s pregnant spouse who wanted to sit in a corner as desperately as he did.

Meanwhile, we Rough Riders remembered the time Diana’s skirt fell off in the hall, and the time Jeff, on a dare, munched on a cow’s eyeball during dissection in biology lab.

Between us, my five hundred classmates and I have survived bizarre religious cult experiences, drug experimentation, children, mortgages and a couple hundred divorces. We came from all over the world to take stock of ourselves and each other, and to remember the joys and insecurities of those wonderful, excruciating days.

We lifted a toast to those classmates who remain eternally young in our memories, claimed too soon by cancer, suicides and accidents. We are old enough now to know that we know very little—only that life is short, and we must all try to be good to one another.

All in all, I’m awfully glad I went, and awfully glad my arms can go back to jelly now. My only regret is that not a single cheerleader had gotten fat!

Rebecca Christian

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