Last weekend I returned to Raleigh, N.C. for my 10-year high school reunion.
"Oh, God! Why?" is the main reaction I've gotten from friends, followed by a dramatic shiver.
So why did I send in my RSVP with a check for $35? Well, some of you loyal readers might recall a past column in which I admitted to a secret crush on the class president. But there are so many other reasons to go to your reunion, even if it's for some sad personal gratification or the possibility of a love connection. And I wanted to see who got fat.
After a cheap haircut and sliding into what I like to call my "naughty librarian" outfit, I headed to the reunion. As I made my way to the door, I had an overwhelming sense of dread, and had to bribe myself with a pep-smoke. As I puffed away, one of the more big-mouthed popular kids walked by and said, "I read your column. Everyone has."
"Well, that's just great," I muttered under my breath as I stomped out the cigarette and stepped inside.
As soon as I did, I was greeted at the nametag table by a girl I used to call "Gidge" because everything was always "super-great" and "awesome!" She hadn't changed at all.
"Jessi-CA! I am so glad you CAME!" she squealed, right before she started in with questions I would hear for the next three hours. I finally steered away from Gidge and made a beeline for the bar.
It quickly became obvious that maybe half of the people there brought their significant others. The ones who didn't, like myself, were already getting really desperately drunk. So I made a mental note to watch myself, right as my former crush, James, tapped me on the arm.
"Hey, I heard I embarrassed you." I nervously giggled.
"Not at all," he replied. "Actually, I was flattered."
Turns out that James hadn't changed at all. He still looked the same, still lived in the area, and was still the gentleman I remembered him to be. But did he still give me that warm, fuzzy feeling? No, I'm afraid, but he did make me feel justified in my former school-girl crush over him. I excused myself from the conversation and made my way up to the big-mouthed popular guy I saw in the parking lot.
"So, James just gave me his room key," I told him. "Whaddya think that means?"
Toward the end of the night, I found myself talking to the girl I thought had it all — popularity, beauty, and the eye of every male senior. Like me, she came stag, and, unlike me, she was completely tanked. For some reason, she felt the need to relay how hard it was to be the pretty girl in high school. She caught me off-guard, and I tried to be sympathetic, but the whole time I was thinking "You stinkin' spoiled brat, you have no idea..."
She just looked so sad sitting there, wobbly and glassy-eyed, and I couldn't help but realize maybe she didn't really have it all, as I assumed she did. With all the privileges of popularity came pressure, something I never had to worry about, as I had accepted my place in the lower rung of the hierarchy at Broughton High School. If there was ever a time to leave, this was it. After-school-special lesson learned.
There's a lot more I could've written about the whole experience, but I'm sure that everyone from the class of 1996 has already been forwarded the link to this column.
And for the record, no one got fat.