In order to fully explain the flurry of emotions surrounding my high school reunion this past weekend, I have to tell you a bit about Bronwyn Moylan.
I doubt highly that she’s reading this, but when I was 17, Bronwyn was the most singularly creative and luminous individual I had ever met. We collaborated on the musical score to a play she had written, and she helped hone my raw ideas (dozens of them, in fact) down to a manageable and relatively effective core. I was thrilled to be asked to work on this, because it allowed me the chance to watch Bron at work. She was incredible, subtly manipulating all the elements necessary to bring her painfully personal story to life.
Bron won the female half of the “most talented” award our senior year (and in fact the designer of this very page, Michael Ferrier, won the male half), and it might as well have been written in flaming letters thirty feet high that this girl, this whirlygig of ideas and artistry, was Destined for Great Things. Amazingly, she thought the same of yours truly – that I was going to set the world aflame within 10 years. Bron and I used to joke after rehearsals about being too big and famous to attend our 10-year: “Send my re-gaaaahhds to the reunion.”
I don’t have any idea where Bron is right now, but she wasn’t at the reunion. I was, however, mostly because none of my maids or manservants would attend in my place, and my agent had the weekend off. When my personal assistant placed the event on my schedule, in between lunch with Ron Howard (“It’s about time you won an Oscar, Ronny, and why the Academy didn’t recognize your genius before, when you were making Backdraft and EdTV, is beyond me…”) and a Sunday getaway with Nicole Kidman (turns out she used to call Tom “shorty,” and not because of his height), I was aghast. But I finally reconciled myself to hobnobbing with the riff-raff, at least for a few minutes, before calling for my private helicopter to whisk me away.
The truth is, a lot of my fellow high school graduates shared Bron’s opinion of me, and expected that I would prove them right. Instead, I spent the 10 years since high school basically meandering around, waiting for my magnetic needle to find north. (I also spent it gaining 50 pounds, which didn’t help.) I ran a failing music magazine for far too long, I published a bad comic book, I took several journalism jobs, and I did everything possible to forestall starting my Real Life. So it was no surprise to come back to Rhode Island and find that many of my classmates had grabbed hold of their Real Lives as soon as we graduated.
I’ll be the first to admit that the wife-and-kids thing isn’t for me. I was still surprised at how many of my classmates had tried it on, and found that it fit well. Even the most unlikely folks from the Class of 1992 had become amazingly respectable and settled.
And here I have to tell you about Doug Borden.
In high school, Doug was an insane, alcoholic clown. He saw no class lines, talking to everyone and spreading his phenomenal gift for making people laugh. My favorite Doug story involves his bizarre habit of snorting Tic-Tacs – he would place one on his desk, lean over and inhale it so that it would bounce off the back of his throat and down. A funny trick, albeit a disgusting one, which he abruptly stopped after getting a cinnamon flavored one stuck in his sinus passages. Judging from his reaction (screaming, jumping, smacking the back of his neck) I’d wager it hurt a lot, but it made everyone laugh, and that’s what Doug was all about.
Come to find out that Doug is married to a lovely girl named Erin, has two kids and one on the way (all boys, or as Doug would say, “every one of ’em packing a turtle”), and has become an East Providence cop. Officer Doug Borden. I tried all night to wrap my mind around that one and couldn’t do it.
His story was not unique, however. Everywhere I turned, there was someone else with a well-respected job and multiple children. My closest friends from high school, with whom I have kept in regular contact, have for the most part avoided those jobs, and although some have significant others, none have children. And there we were, all huddled together, as if making a defensive line against the Real World and everything that goes with it, a handful of Peter Pans hoping never to grow up, despite evidence that we already have.
And yeah, there was still that schism that we felt all through high school, with the cool kids on one end and the losers on the other. I shudder to think how many people from my class saw a combination of talents and thought they knew me. To illustrate the point, one of the Cool Girls came over to where I was sitting two hours into the event, and proceeded to tell me how much she’s thought about me in the previous 10 years, and how she wishes she hadn’t been as mean as she was, and that she’s grown up tenfold, and on and on. I didn’t want to tell her that it took me a minute to remember her name.
But then, she asked me, “Are you still doing art? Because you could draw really well.”
Before I could respond that I can’t even doodle really well, it hit me that she wasn’t thinking of me at all, but of either Mike Ferrier or Jason LeClair, the two most gifted artists in our class. I casually pointed out Mike, seated a few feet away, and in doing so realized that this girl and I didn’t know each other at all, and that neither one of us had made the effort in high school to get beyond our little class cliques. Those barriers don’t exist in the real world (though at my most cynical I’m tempted to think that they’re merely replaced with more insurmountable ones), but the worst part of the reunion experience was that I found myself slipping back into the person I was 10 years ago more than once.
I don’t like that person, and have done a lot to try and kill him, but he’s still there, still carrying high school around with him. He’s the one that tried to make up lies about my 10 years, convinced that the real story wasn’t cool enough. He’s the one that really wanted to look some of the popular kids in the eye and say, “I can’t remember why I cared so much what you thought of me,” not realizing that the very act of saying that sentence belies it.
It’s amazing that 10 years can disappear before you realize that you haven’t really done anything with them. You don’t really understand that those years aren’t coming back until you see someone you haven’t seen in a decade, and try to match up this person with your memories. The ’90s aren’t coming back, though, and as much as I occasionally want a do-over, I’m okay with that. The person I am is a million miles from the person I was, and hopefully, the person I become in 2012 will be another million.
In the end, I’m glad I went, even though only about 40 out of around 150 of us showed up. The strangest thing happened on the way out, though: one of the more popular kids from my class, who had impressed everyone all night with tales of his exciting adult life, admitted to me that he’d lied his way through the whole thing. It broke my heart, but it cemented the impression that 10 years on, we’re all the same, and we all carry high school around with us like a weight. I wanted to tell this kid that I’d figured it all out – we can put the weight down any time we like – but for some reason, I didn’t.
There are some things, I later figured, that we just need to learn for ourselves.
See you in line Tuesday morning.