It's the reason the word "bittersweet" was invented. I'm referring to one's high school reunion, which I attended recently.
It was very informal, which was typical for us. For the most part, we were a laid-back class in a world without an identity. The Vietnam War had just ended, Watergate was heating up, and "The Way We Were" – the perfect reunion theme – topped the music charts.
I suppose those who liked high school enjoy their high school reunions. Since I didn't, I didn't.
After playing the reunion guessing game (is this my classmate or a classmate's spouse?) I spent most of the evening thumbing through an old yearbook. It didn't matter that it wasn't my yearbook or that the comments weren't written to me. (Except at reunions, does anyone ever get these out and re-read them?)
Even though we were no longer competing for grades or girls or a starting spot on the varsity basketball team, some things hadn't changed much. The cool kids are now the cool adults who all sat together, leaving the rest of us to fill out the room, the way we used to fill out classrooms and give the basketball starters someone to practice against. The big difference this time was that it didn't matter, because we didn't care.
In any class, there are those you knew would be successful and those you kind of knew wouldn't. More than anything, it was interesting to see what paths we chose. One of the biggest bullies turned out to be a police officer, while the last person you'd expect ended up on the other side of the law. We had all been transformed from know-it-all teenagers into respectable, middle-aged adults. Once close, we were now distant, awkward strangers, living reminders of things we had forgotten, like old nicknames, both pleasant and embarrassing.
Hanging over everything were the ghosts of those who weren't there. Of my class of 250, at least 12 have passed away. Besides health reasons, one was electrocuted, one froze to death and four took their own lives.
One of the faces I missed the most was my old journalism teacher, Debbie VanDyke, who passed away a few weeks earlier from cancer. I only took her class to fill an English requirement my senior year. It turned out to be a godsend. Mrs. VanDyke was the first person to encourage me to be a writer; she even told me why. I may not have seen her in years, but I will still miss her.
It was in her class that my best friend and I wrote messages on our desktops to two girls in another class. Every morning, the first thing we did was check our desktops to see what they had written us. We were devastated on those occasions the janitors wiped them off.
Even though we knew who they were, we never actually met them, which kind of lent to the mystique. It was sweet and innocent, and brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it. I wonder what happened to them.
My friend, whom I shared a locker with all through high school but haven't talked to in a long time, would remember. He was always good at that sort of thing. He was also always good for a laugh. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to attend our reunion. He was the one who froze to death.
Yes, reunions are bittersweet. Once every few years is enough.