I’m Pre-Gaming My 40th High School Reunion

But it's not what you're thinking.

I spent some of this weekend trying to book a table for nine for lunch next Saturday, which turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought. It seems a lot of places in my old hometown are only open for dinner on Saturdays. And that was a problem because my best high-school friends and I want to pre-game our high school reunion.

Well, not pre-game in the current college-student sense, as in “Get stumble-drunk before we even get to the party.” We’re not the drinkers we used to be, frankly. (And a couple of us never were drinkers at all.) But we want a chance to be able to talk and catch up without unfamiliar faces coming up to us in the dark and offering us hugs. (Note to reunion planners: You can’t read name tags in the dark.) It’s not like I never see my old high-school friends. A group of five of us have been getting together just about every year, sometimes with spouses, sometimes with moms, sometimes with kids, sometimes just by ourselves. We still get along, still make each other laugh and cry, just like we did when we were wearing hockey kilts, or “white shirts, dark skirts” for choir and band.

These friends have been such a constant in my life that sometimes I forget: Not everybody has old friends like that. My husband, for example, doesn’t. There isn’t one person in his high-school class he’s in touch with. He knows my friends by now, though. He should. He’s been to their weddings, vacationed at the Shore with them, visited them in Colorado and London and France. (I know. I told you they’re good friends.) As a result, he isn’t dreading this reunion. He knows he’ll have fun and know plenty of people, even if it’s not his high-school class. Come to think of it, it makes a lot more sense for him to come to my high school reunion than for him to go to his.

This is our 40th reunion. The last one I went to was the 20th. It didn’t go so well. My kids were two and five back then, and were going to be staying with my dad. We met the gang for dinner before the reunion and somehow both kids’ pacifiers got lost, resulting in a frantic meltdown — on my part. The franticness was less about the Nuks than about seeing everybody from my class after 20 years. Being 37 was different from being 57. Back then, I was still comparing myself to other people: Were they more successful than I was? Happier? Thinner? Twenty years out of high school, people were still pretty much instantly recognizable. We were still waiting to become what life would make of us. We were on the upward swing.

Life’s a little different 40 years out. I’m feeling more relaxed, not so competitive. The last time around, I worried a lot about what I would wear. This time, I bought some new earrings. That was it. As Popeye would say, I yam what I yam. I think less about my own “success” than that of my kids: Are they happy? Do they have partners and careers they love? Can they pay the rent?

My definitions of happiness and success have changed, anyway. Getting older does that to you. Classmates cope with cancer, lose jobs, lose spouses. Lose their children. Stacked beside those sorts of changes, gray hair and cankles are practically reasons to celebrate.

Which is what I think — I hope — we’ll be doing next weekend. Not with the drunken frenzy of a 10th reunion (you can still do that in your 20s), or the who’s-ahead-of-me calculation of the 20th, or whatever the 30th was; I wasn’t around for that. First at our pre-game lunch, to catch up with my old friends who are still my best friends, and then at the event itself, complete with corny prizes and stale jokes and “Who are you again?” It’s a question worth asking. None of us are who we were — and yet we are. That’s what keeps me going to high school reunions. Besides, they talk about you if you aren’t there.

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