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ROBIN ABCARIAN

20th Reunions: Trips Through the Time Tunnel

July 18, 1993|ROBIN ABCARIAN

We pull into the parking lot of the Warner Center Marriott, my best friend and I, and look at each other, our faces slightly green.

"Do you feel nervous?" I ask.

"Sick, actually," Julie replies. "Do you?"

"Absolutely."

Physically, it is not very far to the Grand Ballroom. Emotionally, we are about to cross a great divide.

We are heading toward one of the few formal rites of passage that exist in this society. We are Cleveland Cavaliers, Class of '73. We are heading toward our 20-year high-school reunion. And our knees are knocking, like a couple of scared 17-year-olds.

*

Reunions. They're time tunnels, they're fun-house mirrors. They are one enchanted evening's worth of artificial reality.

Faces seem eerily familiar, but the details are not quite right. Fat people are skinny. Skinny people are fat. Brunettes are gray. (Jocks, however, are still jocks.)

Like any demographic lump, we Cavaliers are nothing if not a reflection of our times.

In high school, we came of age with Watergate, feminism and the gathering momentum of the sexual and chemical revolutions. We were savvy and cynical.

Ten years later, at our 10-year reunion, we were freewheeling party animals. My classmates drank champagne, rekindled old flames, rented private suites and sneaked into bathrooms to snort cocaine.

At the 15-year reunion, right about the time the 1980s were crashing and burning, we were completely different. The smallish crowd was subdued. No one got blasted. Cocaine and alcohol had taken quite a toll on the Class of '73. Several people told me in nearly confessional tones that they'd just finished drug-treatment programs.

It was a strange gathering. In our senior year, a boy in our class had been convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend. As I recall, he feared her pregnancy would ruin his chance to be accepted to a military academy. The odd highlight of the 1988 reunion was an announcement that he was engaged to marry another of our classmates.

At the 20th, spirits were high, but nothing dramatic happened. After all, we're almost 40 now.

People spent a lot of time talking about their children. The most interesting conversation I had was with a woman who had given up a business because her 13-year-old son was doing poorly in school. She arranged to attend all of his junior high school classes for several weeks. It was kind of embarrassing for the kid, she said, but you'd be amazed at how fast his schoolwork improved.

*

Ten years ago, the most famous members of our class were the Playboy Bunny and the professional quarterback.

Ten years later, they still are. (Sex and sports: the twin pillars of our society.) The Playboy Bunny looks even more like one now than she did back then. The quarterback looks more like a lineman these days.

I used to make the mistake of assuming that people my age were just like me--that they left home for college, put off getting married, had kids late, made it their business to see the world. That changed in 1983, when a classmate called to invite me to our 10-year reunion.

I filled her on my life--I'd just gotten married, was just launching my career.

"And how about you?" I asked.

"Oh, the usual," she replied. "Married, divorced, a couple of kids."

I tried not to choke.

*

Julie and I overcame our nerves about 30 seconds after we walked into the reunion.

We had a nice evening, only lapsing into high school silliness a couple of times:

We were unable to master the walk to the restroom solo. And old boyfriends gave us the jitters.

During dinner, some of our classmates recited a sort of free verse of items that were intended to jog our collective high school memory: Shakey's pizza, Friday night football games, the West Valley championship. My favorite line--"Rolling our hair around orange juice cans"--was delivered by a guy. (Was I the only one who found that hilarious?)

I remembered all of those things, but they didn't make me long for 1973.

I had a great time in high school, but nostalgia is not an emotion I reserve for those days. Who in her right mind would want to be 17 again?

As we drove home, we picked apart the evening: who we had seen, who we'd missed, who was smart, who was dumb as a board.

On the surface, the appeal of a reunion is social; it's the coming together of old friends. But on a deeper level, what you really get is a measure of yourself--a peek in the fun-house mirror, and a reminder that all of us--no matter what age--are works in progress.

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