Part II - 20th High School Reunion
“...that MIG really messed him up.”
- Top Gun
That quote from Top Gun was the only thing I could think of when I said my last goodbye, to Scott (Scott has always been my last goodbye), and headed off campus and back for the Newark Airport. That MIG was my homecoming weekend, and I had one drive and two flights to sort out all that was going through my head... and through my heart.
On the flight from Newark to Atlanta my pen took over.
One photo. That’s all I wanted. I hadn’t been back in twenty years. Not for any good reason mind you. There was nothing traumatic keeping me away. I just never went back, that’s all. I would have gone back even without the photo, but since the opportunity was going to present itself, and it might never again, I wasn’t going to let it slip by.
On page 72 of the 1986 edition of the Hun School of Princeton Yearbook is a photo of three boys. The rest of the senior class had their photos taken individually. But on page 72 from left to right you will see Tad, Scott, and Dan. There is an old stone banister with old stone spindles (our school had a very Ivy League feel). Tad is sitting on it facing the camera, a white hat in his hand. Scott is standing slightly in front of the banister, hands in pockets. And I am seated on it, arms resting on knees pulled up to my chest, a semi-profile posture. It is a picture of three boys in October of their senior year; three boys very content with the way life is; three boys happy to never hurry change. And at least one who wished change would never come.
We were kings. We would set the new social world order. The class of ’85 had vacated their thrones. This was our nine-month term in office, arrived at the same way it would eventually be absconded, via default. Like all the kings that had gone before us, we had literally waited a lifetime for our one year of celebrity inside this magnificent bubble. Yes, for the time being, we really were kings.
The funny thing about it, for all the things I got wrong in high school, there was one nail I hit right on the head. In the fall of 1985 I loved where we were. I loved everything about it. We were a group of friends, impermeable. School was the excuse that brought us together each day. It was more of a meeting place. But life, the important part, was being steered by the sense of community.
Many had promised that this was going to be the best year of our lives. I just happened to know they were right. And as the best year of our lives unfurled before us, almost from the very second we finished eleventh grade, I was already desperately fearing its end.
If it were up to me we would go nowhere. Time would stand still. We would spin our wheels on the cosmic treadmill of time, taking step after step, but going nowhere in particular. We had a lot of classmates determined to forge ahead to become doctors and lawyers and investment bankers. As far as I was concerned, the future was my enemy. This was as good as it was going to get. I realized then that Scott and Tad and Dave were not only my best friends, they were the best friends I was ever going to have. I didn’t need anything more. I was loving the journey and terrified of the destination. I wanted everything to stay exactly as it was. Forever.
And you know what... I was so right. Graduation... What a scam! That’s why they make such a big deal about it – putting everyone in fancy robes and marching in a distinguished procession, bagpipers and all that, disguising it as some major accomplishment everyone should strive to reach. They have to sell it. If they didn’t, no one would ever leave. Okay, the smart ones with the 1600 SAT scores would leave to become doctors and such. But the even smarter ones would stick around.
It was crazy being back. Have you ever tried to negotiate a conversation that starts with, ‘So, what have you been doing for the past twenty years?’
‘Well, the day after graduation I slept in ‘til about ten... Didn’t really get much done that day, but the next day was really great because we loaded up the Monte Carlo and headed down the shore...’
Looking back, I can only smile at our naivety. We thought we were the cat’s meow. We thought we knew better. We thought we were ageless and bulletproof. We were wrong.
Time takes it’s toll. On Friday night I was out with ten or so friends and I thought, ‘Class of ’86? We look like the class that ate the Class of ’86.’ At least we’ve been well fed. It’s true. Time waits on no one.
One of the things that really fascinated me was how, even after all this time, everyone slid right back into their old roles. These roles are not officially defined. They are just a bi-product of who we are. When we come together, the roles find us. I think that’s what makes for a successful group dynamic. A group is like a puzzle. If the pieces fit well together, the group dynamic will be good. Jingo is still the connector, the social leader. Kearns is still his advisor. Dave is still the protector. Tad is still the voice of reason. Scott is still the comic relief. And I am still Scott’s set-up man. We all have value. We are all cogs in the machine. Without any one of us, the machine doesn’t operate at maximum capacity.
The celestial sledgehammer of the weekend, the one thing that genuinely knocked the wind out of me, came when I didn’t recognize my good friend Susan. That’s not the weird part. This is. Susan had a daughter right out of college and the daughter is now in eleventh grade. I swear to you that if I had stumbled across this girl in a briar patch in Hoonah, Alaska, I would have known who she was. She is the spittin’ image of her mother in 1985. It was a turbulent trip in the wayback machine. For a second I was in another decade looking straight at my good friend on the same ground I had seen her many times before. If you’ve ever bumped into a sitcom actor, you know what I mean. You’re so familiar with that person’s character, he’s been in your living room so many times, that your reflex is to treat him like someone you know, so you say hi. That’s what it was like. For that instant I felt like I was supposed to be talking to the daughter and not her mom.
I spent most of my time with my two very best friends, Scott and Dave. The three of us had gone to school together from sixth grade through twelfth. We could have filled up the next seven years with stories from those first seven years.
It’s sad not having any physical daily interaction with Scott and Dave. I miss their physical company, their physical influence. Just being bored together used to be a great time. We could be bored together all day and we were still going to talk on the phone that night. Phone calls now are all catch-up. There’s no shared activity for us to recap each night. There’s no making plans for tomorrow. There's no hijinx. There are only descriptions of what our lives look like.
Saturday night was the main event – a dinner and dance attended by probably 200 people (about 30 of us were 86ers). We had an absolute ball. One of the night’s events was a class photo for each class that ended in a 1 or a 6. Let me tell you, anyone who watched the photographer struggle to get thirty goofballs organized for one photo would wonder how we ever did manage to graduate. That photographer would have had an easier time talking a grizzly off a carcass. We were not cooperating at all, but only because we made no effort to actually listen to her. She was obviously stressing out. I pitied her, but only because I imagined she had to go through these antics with every group, each group thinking that it was the funny one. Other than that I didn’t care. This was our night. She was just going to have to deal with it.
We said a lot of goodbyes late into the night. I set my alarm for 7 A.M. For me there was another matter that needed tending to and I wasn’t going to sleep through it. I needed to harass some friends with wake-up calls. On Sunday morning at 10:30 A.M., Scott, Tad, and I converged once more on campus. As fate would have it, Scott’s fiance Laura happens to be quite the photographer.
It took us a few minutes to find the exact spot. Funny, because all three of us were convinced we knew where it was. All three of us had different spots in mind. And all three of us were wrong. But after some surveying of the landscape and comparing it to our yearbook, Tad solved the mystery. We gathered at that old stone banister, from left to right, Tad, Scott and Dan, and Laura snapped away. No longer kings. No longer boys. Just three really great friends with a photo for the ages.