My 20th high school reunion was in October. I grew up in the sweltering, concealed-weapon-carrying, affluent, exceedingly white suburbs of Houston. My friends’ parents were doctors, lawyers, and NASA engineers. I do not begrudge my parents my absurd childhood; my dad was transferred there and, knowing nothing about Texas, my folks aimed for the neighborhood with the least crime and best schools. (My hometown regularly shows up on Top 100 Best Places To Live lists — clearly the judges did not visit in August and see the cockroaches the size of Volkswagens.)
In Texas, high school football is king… A fact that I’m sure hasn’t escaped the collective conscience of the rest of the country. The whole state shuts down on Friday nights, people clear their schedules, and everyone caravans to the local high school football stadium, honking and caterwauling en masse, pickup trucks dolled up with streamers and window paint. In a single game, hometown heroes are made, while other lives are ruined and dreams extinguished, and all is a precursor to the celebratory after-parties fraught with parent-condoned underage drinking (or an evening of domestic violence, depending on the final score).
I wish I were exaggerating.
As such, many a Texan’s 20th high school reunion is not the actual anniversary of their graduation, but of their senior year football season, which corresponds to the year before. And so I found myself presented with the possibility of facing these people – the ones who decided my social strata and dictated my fashion during my formative years – with twelve fewer months to lose twenty pounds (or grow six inches taller). Reunion in 2013? But I graduated in 1994! Son of a bitch.
Now, if you’ve not yet had the opportunity to face the bizarre fucked-uppery of your 20th high school reunion, let me break it down for you. Unless you were wildly popular and are still hanging onto those years as the Best…Time…Evar, or unless you’re desperate to have a 48-hour affair with your junior year boyfriend (don’t laugh, I’ve lost track of how many 30-somethings I know who would sell a child for the chance), your sequence of thoughts should go something like this:
“NOPE. Nope nope nope nope. I didn’t even like those people then.”
Of course you didn’t. You were forced to coexist with these strangers by socioeconomics and geography and well-intended parents. Thank Mary you got the fuck out of there and forged friendships and life experiences befitting the charming and magnetic person you really are.
“Why? I already know everything I need to know about these people from Facebook.”
Basically true. Alison has three kids and lives in Ohio. Greg died playing Russian roulette shortly after high school (this happened to one of my classmates). Renee married the CEO of a petroleum company and has clearly developed anorexia in a last-ditch effort to save her marriage (but that doesn’t stop you from secretly wishing you looked that good). Why would you need to see these people in real life?
“Well, it might be sort of interesting.”
It might be, to see a few select people who were genuinely cool, but you have gone nothing but downfuckinghill since 1994 and you will have to start dieting (or using Rogaine, or rehearsing your “I own my own business” backstory) immediately and unceasingly until the event, and that just sounds exhausting.
“Seems pretty expensive. I’d rather save the money or, hell – go to Costa Rica.”
This is sound logic. You may have actually learned and applied something from that senior year economics class (miraculous, since it was taught by the football coach who did little other than draw game plays on the blackboard).
I’ll stop here and cut to a condensed version of my thinking:
1. FUCK no.
2. What’s the point?
3. I mean, I guess there are a couple people I could tolerate.
4. Well maybe if I can figure out how to do it on the cheap and I can find a babysitter for the weekend…
I’m sure you see what’s coming. The perfect babysitter fell in my lap, I got a hell of a deal on a rental car, and I managed to last-minute starve about 10 pounds away. But the most persuasive argument? My other half had never been to Texas and there is just too much hilarious shit he needed to see. I was delighted at the chance to be his personal tour guide to the lovable freakshow that is my motherland.
The group of friends I actually cared to see spent the month before the reunion devising, well… an anti-reunion. It was genius, and everything I had hoped for. We eschewed the formal $90/ticket event at the fancy hotel and the “casual” but still over-planned pub night in favor of our own shenanigans. We hit up a few craft breweries, met at food trucks in the city, river-tubed, and stopped by the houses of those who didn’t manage to escape our hometown after high school. Since curiosity is an insistent son of a bitch, some of us did go to the official reunion kick-off event – the Friday night football game.
If you have never been to a homecoming football game in Texas, please do. I don’t care how; find a reason. You will have to circle for parking, you will pay too much money to get in, you will fight for a bleacher seat and risk losing it if you get up to pee. You will be elbowed more than once by some player’s overzealous family members who have season tickets and have been sitting in the same spot on the bleachers for three generations, and you will sweat like you have never sweat in your entire life. Your ears will bleed at the marching band’s volume, you will be horrified by what the cheerleaders are wearing, you will marvel at the number of professional sports photographers on the field and the size of their lenses. You will be stupefied by the length and production scale of the halftime show, mystified at the grotesque tradition that is homecoming mums, and your sensibilities will swim with astonishment at the amount of make-up on the faces in the crowd.
At this particular game (and bear in mind that my alma mater is only an average-sized school), there were smoke and pyrotechnics as the players burst onto the field. Each player from both the home and away teams, and the home and away drill teams, I shit you not, are announced through the stadium speakers in this fashion:
Barry Nelson, number 17 and playing offensive lineman for the Mustangs, is a senior this year and is the pride and joy of Stan and Judy Nelson. If you’re in the market for a home, call Stan at Nelson and Associates Realty.
Ashley Ainsworth is a junior and this is her second year as an officer in the drill team. Her parents, Doctor and Carol Ainsworth, are proud of Ashley’s accomplishments. Remember Dr. Ainsworth, whose office is at 427 Maplewood, when it’s time for your colonoscopy.
And most shocking of all, none of this – NONE OF THIS – struck me as unusual when I was 16.
Now one of my favorite moments in all my 37 years will have been watching my partner’s face as this spectacle unfolded over the span of three hours, on a balmy night on the Texas gulf coast, in October. I would do it all again – the expense, the 20 straight hours each way in a rented hatchback, the faked squeals and awkward hugs from my esteemed alumni. All of it.
While I understand your reunion may not be quite this eccentric (although I dearly hope for your sake it is), consider going. Consider forming a band of the people who truly matter and approach the insanity together. Take your spouse/life partner/other half – they’ve earned the right to be part of the surreal pageantry which helped shape your early years.
Be thankful for those days; swim in them. Acknowledge them for making you who you are.
And then come home and bask in the sensible splendor of Now.