“The reunion”, he says. “Oh yeah, you’ve gotta go”, says my friend Don, 80 years old and hasn’t missed a reunion yet. Class Reunion……These are words that strike terror into the heart of…… me. The word brings trepidation, apprehension, a dredging up of time spent in….limbo. It seems to hit me in the face with horrible thoughts about what is now and what is no more. This reunion to me is a thing out of time and very out of place. “But you’ve gotta go—it’s your 50 year Class Reunion”, they say. “You will never have another.”
Most of what I am today, whatever that actually means, has little to do with that first 17 years of my life. Of course that is developmentally not true, but characterologically it is so. High school, particularly when compared to the rest of my life, was not a grand time. It was not even a good time. It was a plodding through time, a marking time, a waiting for ……dawn? It is not unlike now again. Now I am marking time again, waiting for ????? Am I down to existing to feed the dog?
I force myself to drive to the banquet center and then to walk into the building. I really do not want to be there. I no longer have an ally to fallback upon, no partner. It is not a good feeling. There are a few others arriving early and likewise walking in. But I do not recognize them, not even remotely. They could be just people off the streets, a gathering of people from the Cleveland Stadium perhaps. Maybe they really are. I get in line– it is a short line at that early hour—30 minutes before we are supposed to be there. Why am I always so early? Why can’t I be late? I’m so damned obsessive compulsive!
There are four or five people at the greeting desk. I vaguely recognize some facial characteristics. The guy has on a name tag reading “Randolph Peccarillo”. I don’t recall going to school with any Randolph Peccarillo. There was a Randolph something or another though. He was the quarterback of the football team. I was a defensive lineman. I guess if I had a last name like that I’d probably change it too. If I had a name like Roy, I’d change it. I couldn’t actually do that though. It would dishonor my father. So that must be old Randolph the quarterback.
The greeting party looked at me; I looked at them. No recognition! Someone said, “Name?” I said Schweitzer. “Oh yes, Roy. You must be over here. Let me look in this pile.” Sort… sort…. sort. “Now I have to believe it is here. How do you spell it again?” SCH……..I say. “Oh maybe that’s why I can’t find it. I’m at the end of the S’s. Ah, here it is, Roy…..Skip Schweitzer….did they ever call you that in high school?” (No, I think to myself, my life didn’t begin until I left high school. I don’t really recall what they called me in high school). They gave me a name tag….with Roy Skip Schweitzer on it. It likely should have said Skip Roy Schweitzer –as in, just skip him totally—it would have been more accurate. I say, “Sorry, I haven’t been called Roy in 50 years—it’s very strange to me now.” I recognize one of the ladies at the greeting table. It is Donna something or another, one of the prettiest girls of the class, someone I would love to have known but someone who was in a different galaxy than me when I was in high school (probably my perception, not hers). Fifty years and she hasn’t lost a thing.
Someone directs me to the next table. This guy looks somewhat familiar. The nametag says Mike Piston. He was a running back on the team. “Good to see you, I’m glad you’re here,” he says. “How are you?” I fumble…….. “Well, I’m here,” I hear myself say. I’d like to say, “Hi Mike, How are you, Good to see you”, but it’s not there, not in me just right now. “Here, put those tickets in here; you may win a prize”, he says. Mike hands me a coffee cup with some beads in it, some plastic flowers and trinkets, and a class picture with 250 people in it. “Were you at the 10 year reunion/” he asks. “I honestly don’t know. I don’t remember”, I say. “Well, find yourself in the picture and were going to line up that same way and have a group picture taken, so you can compare now to then”, he says. Yeah, right, that’s exactly what I want to do…. compare now to then.
I walk around in a fog. There are a very few places to sit down except at one of the banquet tables. There are maybe fifty tables scattered around the large room, all with six or seven place settings. I think, 7 time 50 equals 350. Are there that many people expected? Well, maybe with wives and husbands. There were some 475 people in our class.
I am here alone, by myself. Me, no wife, no guest, just me, like it was back then in high school. Nobody to turn to and say, “Boy this is strange.” I feel profoundly out of time and place. I don’t want to be here. I fight the urge to walk back out the door, get into my car and leave. I want to, though; I want out. Inwardly, terror is mounting. I don’t want to be here.
I walk around. I see some pictures taped to the wall. It is the whole 1964 football team. There I am in all my very young and innocent, radiant glory on the wall. Who is that really? What universe did he come from? That is not me. Was that ever me? Next to the football team are maybe 50 pictures of other people. It is an “In Memorium Wall”– people who are no longer with us, people who have died. Some of the prettiest girls are on that wall. Some of the more popular guys are on that wall. Raw memories flash through my mind. I can’t get away from that wall fast enough.
I walk around some more. My legs and back begin to ache. I spot two chairs behind the reception desk–not exactly a great place to park but if I don’t sit down soon, my legs will give out. But these people don’t know that. They don’t know that my lower back is crippled with arthritis and my legs get numb. So I sit down, behind the scenes as they say. I watch people file in, be greeted and go through the same schtick as I did. I don’t recognize 99% of them. There is hugging, handshaking, backslapping. I didn’t have any close enough relationships with girls to hug them back then. Hug them…Hell, I don’t even think I ever actually physically touched a girl until I was in college. I was a very late bloomer. I never ever had a meaningful relationship with a girl until I was out of high school and far away from these people. How can I now relate to these people that I have no established meaningful relationship with —Might has well be in Yankee stadium.
“How are you,” someone says. What does that saying really mean? “Haven’t seen you in a coon’s age,” he says. How long does a raccoon live anyways, 3-5 years maybe? I say “I guess I’m still here.” A terrible response, I suppose, but how I feel. I’m marking time. Just try and stay until the dinner is served, I re-tell myself, then you can leave. Two women I can’t identify come up to me and say, “Who are you?” They look at my name tag and say, “Skip, Skip, Skip- did we have anybody by that name in our class? Roy, Oh, Roy.” Then they walk away. Suddenly, out of nowhere a doddering, shuffling old man comes up to me –he looks far older than me, wearing a gray-brown suit. Maybe it’s one of the teachers—could be a 100 years old! “Is that seat taken”, he says? “No”, I say, “be my guest”. I don’t recognize him– his name tag is hard to see. Maybe I should put mine backwards. It takes me a few minutes to make out his name tag. It is Ken Sarter, a guy that I used to fight with in junior high school. He was a cool guy in junior high school—an early bloomer. I was just….a seed. He doesn’t recognize me, doesn’t acknowledge who I am. He just sits there for a long while, then he gets up and shuffles away. I think, “Whatever arthritis I’ve got, he’s got worse. What a sad thing. We used to fight, now………..this!”
By now the party center is filling up with hundreds of people. I don’t know any of them. I can’t really bring myself to strike up a conversation. How do you relate to someone who you don’t have a relationship with? I should put on my therapist hat, but it just doesn’t fit right tonight. I fumble again when asked something. This happens when I am extremely out of place and uncomfortable. “How are you?” someone says? Who is asking I can’t seem to ascertain. “I don’t know really; I’m still here, I guess, whether I want to be or not,” I say. That pretty much ends the conversation. What do I say to strangers? Strangers from a life lived before my time—an alternate universe or maybe a parallel universe that I was not in. I get an overwhelming urge to leave. I feel my feet walking through the door without me—an out of body experience. “Just stay until dinner is served. Hell, I paid $55 for it. I should at least eat,” I implore myself. I get up, look around. The place is filling up. Where will I sit anyway? With more strangers, people I have no rapport with? Alone in a stadium full of people. I look down and find my feet walking out the door past some people in line. As I go out I see no-one I recognize. Out the door and into my car, I start it up and drive away. I do not look back. Never look back.