If you’d ask me about high school, I’d give you one of those gigantic eye rolls, and cross my arms and tell you that it was “OK” but only to mask a long, tired story. I hated high school. In my memory only three prominent things stand out from my high school years: the first, the bad things people said or did to me, the second, winning a senior superlative as “Quietest Senior Female” (that I balked at), and the third skipping out on senior prom to write in my blog and stare out the window. I never had, nor understood the undying allegiance the other students used as fuel to cheer at pep rally’s and sing the school song. If not for my mother, I would have skipped my graduation ceremony, preferring to receive my diploma in the mail.
Bo was the complete opposite. He went to a nice boarding prep school in New England, which he loves so much he wears hats bearing the logo and talks to strangers on the train wearing sweatshirts from his school. It’s the sort of place that every corner has some sort of plaque on it, where former presidents studied, and famous writers penned novels, and everyone graduates and goes to one of The Ivy League schools.
I’m envious that he left his high school having the warm feelings that all alumni should have, and I left angry. My school had its ten year reunion and everyone messaged me asking if I were going — “Only if I can arrive via helicopter with a male model on my arm,” I said. Bo, on the opposite end, was the organizer of his high school reunion, and asked me to join him as his date in late June. It was a weekend long affair, lots of “dinner and dancing on the lawn.” He drove up with another alumni on a Friday, I raced from work and a cab, a bus, a train and a cab later, I was in a tiny town in Massachusetts.
A man with white hair (who looked like the cabbie in Sherlock’s “A Study in Pink”) picked me up at the station.
“What class are you?” he asked, guessing that I was headed to the reunion weekend.
“Oh, I didn’t go there,” I said, “I’m just a guest.”
“I picked up two 80-year-olds, class of 1950!” he said. “Everyone’s meeting here.”
He pulled me up to the campus bell tower, and Bo came running around a corner in the dark. He’d been at the kick-off cocktail party, so we returned to meet all of his closest friends. The first of which, a couple, Reena and Mike (pseudonyms). Reena, a nice woman who spoke with a smooth pace and diplomatic air and her husband Mike, a Nordic man who never smiled before or after a joke, leaving his high level sarcasm unlocking itself in your mind hours later. They were staying in the floor just above us. Then I shook hands with a very sweet man, Allen, who had not aged. He was in a Hawaiian shirt, so I’d guessed correctly that he was in tech. An MIT grad, in fact.
The group of us went exploring Bo’s old dorm room. Then we walked to a further dorm, our home for the next two days, shared baths and all. Out our window, a patch of woods was seen, and beyond that, nothing.
“It is so quiet,” remarked Bo. Then he sighed, seeming so relaxed and at home.
The next morning we woke late, raced to the opulent dining hall (I mean, wood paneled walls, silver chandeliers and oil paintings) for breakfast, then to the lawn for an alumni parade. I met even more of Bo’s classmates and their families. Bo took me on a tour to the further reaches of the campus, and we met the others later at the barbecue on the lawn. To my surprise everyone was extremely nice, I shook so many hands and told my life story so many times I worried that I would become too wooden. A talent show was scheduled for 2 o’clock sharp.
“Talent show?” asked Mike.
“It’s informal, I heard,” I said.
“Like Open Mike?” asked Mike. “Well…that sounds cringe worthy.”
It wasn’t so bad after all. Two of the graduates played a song for us, we took a big group picture. Bo grabbed a ton of food he’d picked up (and a bottle of vodka and a box of wine) and we all had a picnic on the lawn.
The sun began to set. Bo put his head in my lap, and I listened to the everyone recount their high school days. I was surprised that 20 years later everyone still thought it was exciting to sneak around the campus’ hidden spaces. Everyone unanimously agreed that they got a top notch education, and were grateful. (Whereas, even though I attended private school, I couldn’t make heads or tails, just that I got an education, but I don’t know for sure if it was exceptional). They still remembered the legends, and the rule breakers, and the funny stories. People still apologized for their teenage indiscretions well into the night to other people who cared, or maybe didn’t remember.
The phase “mentally processing” was thrown around a lot. Everyone was still figuring out what it meant to be at their reunion. Psychologists say that comparison happens most when people of similar ages and backgrounds are thrown together, and what better place than at a high school reunion, where nearly everyone started out the same place. I didn’t envy them. To other classmates they had to sum up the last 20 years of their lives in the neatest package possible, then turn around and project the next two years. It seemed that modesty was key.
After the picnic Bo took my hand for another sunset tour of the campus. Everything was impressive. He took me to the top of a grassy hill by their stadium.
“We used to call this ‘Siberia,’” he said. It was the place where he’d had his first kiss before his school dance. A very cute story indeed. “Its different than I remember.”
Around 9 o’clock in the evening, all the guests were invited to the Observatory to view Saturn and Jupiter. At the top floor of the building a dark, spiral staircase led us to the telescope. The curved ceiling was open, and the telescope pointing in the path.
“You can see the moons,” a student noted as we each took our turn. I felt so lucky to get the opportunity to see it through such a powerful telescope, on such a clear night. Jupiter’s moons hung around it in a pause on all sides, from far away they looked like stars. On our way back downstairs, we kept turning to people on their way, “It’s amazing,” “You won’t believe it,” “It’s just that way up.”
We took a moonlit walk back to the tent for dessert. We talked, and talked, and talked until it was very late. I met Bo’s first high school girlfriend, a very successful PR director named Marit. She was candid and genuinely interested in me, and had me giggling for some time. I could see why he liked her.
There was dancing in the gym, but everyone objected, especially the men.
“I feel like there’s a Cialis commercial about a reunion. Yeah, I don’t need to try to dance.” Though I was sleepy and socially exhausted, I enjoyed the warm night air and the glow of the buildings up-lit in the dark. We also skipped the dancing.
The next morning was the last day, and breakfast was scheduled in the dining hall. Bo said goodbye to all his friends and we planned to drive back to New York with two stops (one in New Haven and one in Sturbridge Village. But that, dear friends, is for another post). As the car rolled on the highway I felt very honored for getting a glimpse at this part of Bo’s life. In that way our relationship has been somewhat lopsided. Alabama is far, so Bo hasn’t gotten to visit any of it, nor see where I grew up. The more I consider it, the less I think it’s important after all. It wasn’t very important to me then.