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Making Friends with the Past, Part II

In case you didn’t read it or don’t remember, Part I of this series took a hard look at the somewhat misguided preparations I made for my 20th Edgemont High School reunion. When last you saw me, I had secured the perfect outfit for the event but had an ill-timed encounter with a dermatologist and her v-beam laser.

“So, what else is there to say?” my friend Jessica asked. “How can you even have a Part II? Everyone knows that the biggest piece of the reunion experience is the getting ready component. Did you lose the ten pounds? Get a boob job, tummy tuck, or Botox? How’s your hair? How’s your husband’s hair?”

Like me, Jessica had graduated from high school in 1988. She had recently attended had her own 20th reunion on Long Island. She talked like such an expert that she may also have crashed some others, just for fun. I hung on to her every word.

She explained that the event is really just about the women. “They all look great, better than they did in high school. But the guys get old and bald. The captain of the football team is now fat, and the brainy nerdy guys are the best husbands of the bunch.” She shrugged like this was common knowledge.

I pondered it for a minute. “Your husband is bald.”

“Like a baby.” She added.

“And mine was a brainy nerd.”

“Doesn’t Brett still brag about winning the perfect attendance award in high school?” Jessica asked.

“And he’s a good husband.”

We nodded in unison. “Amen to that.”

Case closed? I wasn’t so sure. My friend Steve, with whom I was planning the reunion, was the captain of the football team in high school, and he still looked great. I decided to put Jessica’s logic on my brain’s back burner.

And before I could say Karma Chameleon, the months of anticipation were past. On a crisp evening last October, Brett and I headed into the city for the reunion.

Had anyone changed dramatically, I wondered? It was time to find out.

Now, there’s two ways I can go with this story, from this point on. I could either tell witty anecdotes filled with quippy dialogue, filling you in on all the details as Brett and I chatted it up with my ex-boyfriend and some old frenemies. I could mention that everyone looked great, not just the women. I could tell you that, at two in the morning, the last of the group made its way down to the street from the roof-top bar where we had spent the evening. My prom date, a mild-mannered pediatrician, patted Brett on the shoulder and smiled, declaring that he was now one of The Guys. I could tell you that, as Brett and I debriefed on the ride home, he decided that my ex-boyfriend, Joe, a graduate of my class who I dated after college, was his favorite person at the event.

“Really!? That’s so bizarre!” I declared, shaking my head.

“What? Joe’s a cool guy. He’s smart and funny and interesting, and…”

“And he broke my heart, remember!”

Brett was quiet. “Good thing he did, too.”

“Huh. Hadn’t thought of it that way. Remind me to send him a thank you note.”

So, that’s one way to re-tell this story. This is the other.

In a lot of ways, this reunion was surreal. Two decades have passed, and yet, as soon as I think of high school, I can go right back there. If I watch an 80’s movie like Valley Girl or hear a certain long-forgotten song, my reaction is actually visceral. It’s as if there is a souped-up DeLorean with a flux capacitor waiting outside my house to zoom me back to 1987.

This ability of mine to go back to the future proved to be both good and bad. In response to the reunion, I immediately acted like a teenager again, focusing on all the outward appearance stuff and feeling irrationally insecure. The main difference this time was that my 38-year old brain could talk the inner teen down from the ledge. Yes, I could obsess about what to wear and how I looked, but concurrent with those actions, I understood just how silly my behavior was. I also knew that none of it really mattered, having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Also, as much as I remember about those good old days, I also seemed to have forgotten quite a lot of it as well. Here’s an awkward moment: when an old friend tells you a story about you and you don’t remember it at all.

“How could you forget that?” Paul asked. “It’s like the best memory I have of you,” he said.

“Well, then I’m so glad you have it!” was all I could come up with in response.

I didn’t know what to say. Is the appropriate retort something like, “Please don’t take it personally! If I knew how to not forget I would have definitely remembered!”

Perhaps more than the wrinkles, that made me feel old.

Although my forgetfulness was not a hit with that particular friend, senility worked really well with the female frenemies. I was able to go up to them and be like, What did I hate you for? Oh, who the heck remembers? Come here and give me a hug! Call it time and distance; call it mellowing out and maturing. Call it early onset dementia, if you must. There was something really beautifully “kum-ba-yah” in all that collective memory loss.

The morning after the reunion, there was more socializing to do. It was like an after-prom party only instead of going to the beach we held a bagel brunch in the EHS cafeteria. This was a family-friendly event, with a magician entertaining our children in the senior lounge. Several teachers and administrators from the district came by to say hello.

At one point, I was standing next to my former 6th grade teacher, a man who I have known since I was 10, pointing out to him my kids and husband, and discussing my own career as a 6th grade teacher. I was simultaneously wishing away a little bit of a hangover, cursing at myself for having that extra margarita and for staying out so late. I was actually on the verge of asking him for the keys to the nurse’s office so I could grab some Tylenol.

Now that was an exceptionally surreal moment.

The principal of EHS then took us on a tour of the campus, pointing out the changes made in the decades since we’d been students there. We kind of marched in a line behind him, which made me feel a little bit like I had for 7th grade orientation, only I wasn’t wearing my rainbow-banded blue tracksuit this time. But as I turned to my right, I realized that I had gone on that very tour with Lindsay, who stood beside me now. Granted, her two-year-old son was having an absolute meltdown, and his screaming was preventing me from hearing anything the principal was saying, but other than that, it was just the same as it was in 1983.

On the walk, I got to take a moment to visit a memorial set up for Lois Van Epps, one of the most wonderful teachers that I have ever known. Although I had said goodbye to her in my mind years ago and had tried to honor her in my own teaching, I had never been to the spot on campus dedicated to her memory. There was something very moving about that for me, but I figured that if I burst into tears, my former classmates might think I was crazy in addition to senile. I pretended instead to have hay fever as I dabbed at my eyes and said another silent farewell to Ms. Van Epps.

My memory may not be what it used to be, but as I strolled the campus, a mantra of recollections filled my mind.

Here’s where we took our senior class picture. Here’s where that backpack flew out the second floor window. Here’s where I stood at graduation. Here’s where a junior made fun of me when I was a freshman. Here’s where Mr. Mallia blew things up in the name of science. Here’s where I hit a car in the parking lot. Here’s where I hit another. Here’s my picture from the musical Grease. Here’s where I hung out with friends on warm days. Here’s where I hung out when I cut gym class. Here’s where I hung out. Here is where.

The reunion weekend was fun. And it flew by. Just like high school.

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