Reunions can bring joy or sorrow
forget the name tag
10, 2006 — K/bigger>/bigger>nown as the month of
weddings and graduations, June is also the season for school
reunions. These staged occasions produce enough anxiety to keep some
from returning to bittersweet scenes of their youth. Classmates to
whom, in an earlier time warp, we were bound by shared experiences
and attitudes as well as the songs and clothes that defined us, may
prove unrecognizable without nametags. The classic greeting, "You
haven't changed a bit," is nonsense. There are staggering
transformations beyond physical appearances: The homely and shy
student has morphed into a handsome and effective CEO; the
valedictorian voted in the yearbook most likely to succeed is an
alcoholic. Reunions can surprise us, as Penny discovered by an
who resists looking backwards, has consistently avoided reunions.
"I've never been thin enough, rich enough or successful enough,"
"But you've absolutely got to come this year," Kate, Penny's
friend since third grade, insisted recently. "It's our 40th." Then
Kate added the news that ignited Penny's interest: "Oli's going to
be there. And he's divorced."
Oli Eliassen, an Icelander with Nordic good looks, stunning wolf
eyes, and a lyrical name had graduated two years ahead of Penny and
Kate. Because he'd played football, Penny had become a cheerleader.
She was the skinny one balancing atop human pyramids.
Penny and Oli would have failed marriages in common. Kate
imagined it could be the second time around for each of them.
"Too late," she'd told Kate. "Too many years of spreading middle
age. It was long ago that I aspired to buoyant breasts and a
Scarlett O'Hara waistline, sleeveless blouses or titanium earrings.
See these lines on my lobes? They predict heart attacks."
Nevertheless, planning to lose 20 pounds by June, Penny started
a diet on April Fool's Day. "It'll spare me the sweaty humiliation
from a girdle redistributing flesh." She also invested in Wrinkle
Rescue to suck fluid from under eye bags, and Henna Highlights to
cheer up faded red hair.
Penny has always cared about her image. An introvert
masquerading as an extrovert, she enjoys projecting a personality
that encourages strangers in waiting rooms, seatmates on public
transportation, tandem hand washers in ladies' rooms to initiate
conversation. The day she bought a new answering machine she erased
nine outgoing announcements until the playback sounded full-bodied
and intelligent enough for her.
Penny's new black slacks for reunion visually minimized 10
excess pounds, the legacy of faltering will power. She tossed a
white cardigan, '60s style around her shoulders, sweater sleeves
tied loosely on her chest, as she and Kate walked confidently onto
They passed the biology lab where they'd been dissecting frogs
the Friday they'd heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. They
headed toward the reception in the gym where they'd once danced to
"The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer," on evenings while Penny
looked over her date's shoulder searching for Oli.
At the reunion, Kate saw him first: "There he is! You
go ahead..." Kate had tapped Penny's shoulder, calling her attention
to a white-haired man, sitting alone, sampling a dish of pretzels.
Penny had stared in disbelief: "That can't be Oli. He's too
tired looking. And much, much too old." Had his teeth always been so
Yet, while Kate lingered at the corridor water cooler, Penny
walked toward his table and asked, "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all."
They'd smiled at each other meaninglessly.
"Oli Eliassen," he reminded her. "I graduated in '64."
"Oh, then we were here at the same time," Penny told him.
Looking at Penny with interest and respect, he asked, "What did
you teach?" /color>/smaller>/fontfamily>