Last Update for this page:  07/13/2012 05:02:02 PM

Reunions can bring joy or sorrow

Don't forget the name tag



By Elizabeth Eidlitz
July 10, 2006 Known 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 ultimate crush.

    Penny, who resists looking backwards, has consistently avoided reunions. "I've never been thin enough, rich enough or successful enough," she's announced.
    "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 campus.
    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 yellow?
    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?"

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