I've been regaining contact with old friends in a variety of ways lately. For example, a few weeks back my best friend from 4th grade dropped me an email out of the blue (my family moved away after 4th grade, so we hadn't had any contact since like 5th or 6th grade). (And J, if you're reading this, I really do intend to write again soon.) And there've been various other nice reconnections lately, though I've mostly dropped the ball on maintaining them, due to my general flakiness.
And then tonight was my 20th-year high school reunion.
I was pretty nervous about it. Nearly half of our 400(ish)-person class had signed up for it, though many of the people I most wanted to see had not. In fact, a fair number of the people on the advance attendance list were names I had no memory of at all.
This afternoon I did some SH editing, then spent some time looking through my senior-year yearbook. Made a list of the people who were going to be there who I particularly wanted to see, and another list of the people who weren't going to be there who I wanted to ask people about during the inevitable "Have you heard from so-and-so?" portions of the evening.
(I never had any real doubt about whether to attend. As I've probably mentioned before, years ago Rob S. told me that it was always a good idea to go to reunions because there's always going to be someone there who it turns out you wanted to see, but who you didn't know you were going to want to see. Although there's of course no guarantee, this has generally held true in my experience.)
It was a hot day. The invite said dress was either "summer casual" or "cocktail"; I thought about wearing shorts, but then I thought most other people would probably be at least a little dressed up, and that if I was wrong, I'd rather be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed. (And I wasn't going to really dress up.) And of course I was sure the club where the reunion was being held would be air-conditioned. So I wore a long-sleeve button-down denim shirt and reasonably nice khakis and my dress(ish) shoes.
Got in the car; the external-temperature sensor said 97 degrees. I ran the air conditioner full blast the whole way to the club, hoping not to get all sweaty before I even arrived.
Intentionally arrived about 45 minutes late (had figured that would get me safely past the awkward nobody's-here-yet period), and some of my nervousness was dispelled by immediately running into CT and her husband D. I haven't seen them in much too long, and I'd been particularly looking forward to seeing them tonight (and glad C let herself get talked into coming). (Hi, C!)
We picked up nametags and the MP3 CDs that were being handed out as party favors. C immediately pointed out that the photo on the front cover of the CD cases was in fact of me. Sure enough: it was the photo of me with my head down "sleeping" on a desk in an otherwise empty classroom that we ran for the Procrastinators' Club yearbook photo (a joke club that I founded and was president of, and yes I heard many many jokes about people considering joining but deciding to wait 'til later). Maybe I'll post the photo later.
The two biggest disappointments of the evening were immediately evident: first, there was no air conditioning at all, so within minutes I was drenched with sweat (but everyone else was too, so I guess that was okay); and second, it was really loud. Lots of people in a relatively small space, all talking loudly, and music playing too.
Actually, the noise level seemed like a plus at first, because it meant that there was no way to have deep conversations, so there was a good excuse for everything to stay comfortably superficial with the people I didn't know that well. But it became clear later that this was a drawback when I was talking with people I did actually want to have real conversations with.
So I had a couple dozen conversations which consisted mostly of each person saying where they were living and what their job was, and sometimes indicating that they were married and how many kids they had. I was surprised by how many people were living in the Bay Area (either still or again), and by how many of them had non-computer jobs; my memory of last time (our tenth-year reunion) was that a lot of people who had never had the slightest interest in computers in high school had ended up in computer jobs, but this time there were a fair number of teachers, and scientists, and a librarian or two, and a couple of stay-at-home moms, and a couple of people involved in film in one way or another, and someone involved in hydrogen production, and someone who buys land and builds houses on it, and so on.
Sadly, I only took maybe a dozen photos; I kept forgetting I had my camera with me.
Almost everyone seemed to be happy and doing well. (Presumably most of those who weren't, if any, didn't come to the reunion.) C pointed out that the general hotness level of people in our class was at least as high as it had been in high school (and we had some pretty hot people in our class in high school). A couple of others mentioned that although many of the men looked different, a lot of the women looked pretty much the same, or at least not too changed; I think that was more or less true. Certainly there were more women I recognized on sight than men. Partly, perhaps, due to men changing their facial hair configurations.
I did have a couple of somewhat deeper conversations. It was great to catch up with C. I ate dinner with ER and BP (I was particularly glad to see B, because she wasn't in our class and I hadn't known that she had married a guy in our class so hadn't realized she would be there), and we talked about possibly putting together an I-Club reunion (I-Club being the main group we hung out with in high school, and consisting of people from a bunch of different classes). And I was delighted to see LB, whom I don't think I'd seen since high school; I had always wondered where she'd ended up. I'd seen NT and CP somewhat more recently, but not all that recently, and was still very pleased to see them. And SS and KT, who went to Swarthmore as well as Paly, were both there, and I had nice chats with both of them (though I had to cut the chat with SS short to get dinner, and then didn't manage to run into her again). I didn't interact much with CS (whom I'd seen fairly recently 'cause it turns out he went to college with Kam), but I did get to chat a little with his wife, whom I'd only met briefly before. And in some of those conversations, people asked me beyond-surface-level questions, like what I do outside of work; that was nice. Also had nice (though mostly brief) chats with MA, KA, CF, DG, RL, DL, DN, AW, and others. I'm almost certainly forgetting some.
There was one person who I think I was pretty good friends with early in high school but had dropped out of touch with even before graduation; they were the only person I saw who'd brought a same-sex partner, and though I wanted to talk with them, I fumbled my hellos, due to still being off-balance from having just arrived when I saw them, and didn't manage to talk with them later. Ah, well.
There was one person I wanted to talk with who was busy talking with someone else when I finally found him, so I went away figuring I'd come back later, and then didn't manage to run into him again. And there were another couple of people whom I'd hoped to talk with who I went over to say hi to, but everyone else they were talking with also said hi, and I started chatting with them, and the ones I went over to talk with slipped away. And there were two people I was particularly hoping to see who were on the list but whom I didn't see all evening.
I even got to chat briefly, and awkwardly, with someone whom I'd once had a crush on, who seemed to remember me this time even though they hadn't remembered me at the last reunion.
There was much commentary on how weird it was to be having a reunion. All these people who we hadn't seen in twenty years. Some of them I remembered pretty well; others I know I had classes with, I recognized their names and/or faces, but didn't have any clear memories of them. I was glad to see them anyway; pretty much everyone at least smiled in a friendly way, even if we didn't say more than hello to each other.
One weird thing is that I kind of felt like I was there incognito. While I was hanging out with CT, at least five or ten people rushed up and gave her big hugs and said hi and started conversations and just kind of ignored me; I'm pretty sure that at least one of them assumed I was her husband, because D had gone off for a walk. (Some of these were people I didn't know at all; others were people I knew slightly, who I remembered but wasn't sure they remembered me.) I suspect a lot of it had to do with the beard; I think a lot of people just didn't recognize me. Perhaps I should've shaved it off before going. :) But my hair is also shorter than it generally was in high school, and I was more neatly groomed tonight in general than I generally was then, and I wasn't really all that widely social in high school; I had a bunch of close friends, but they were mostly from three particular social groups that each spanned multiple class years, and I was never that close to most of the people I was actually in classes with.
When people got a chance to look at my name tag (the name tags were nicely done, with our yearbook photos printed on them, and our names in large type), they usually did a double-take and remembered me to some degree. There were a couple of people whom I didn't initially introduce myself to because I figured they wouldn't remember me, but I think they were doing the same, because later when I did say hi they seemed to remember me.
(I should also note that I was of course not talking loudly enough. Twice, someone who I recognized came up and said hi, and I said hi and how are you doing? but I guess they thought I said who are you? so they replied with their name.)
There were, of course, half a dozen references to my SAT scores; that's probably what I'm most famous for in my high school class.
I managed to get through the evening without saying much of anything personal about myself to most people. I said many times that I was living in Mountain View and working at Google, but that mostly didn't get as big a response as I'd secretly hoped. (Though two people did say that their kids love Google.) If the conversation went a step further, I gave a concise history of what it's been like working there. Sometimes I talked a little about the magazine. Once or twice, people asked if I was married or if I had kids, and I said no and left it at that; I wasn't up to explaining polyamory or bisexuality at the top of my lungs. (Even out on the sidewalk in front of the club, we had to talk loudly to be heard at all. Part of the problem I was having with chatting with people is that I think my hearing isn't all that good; there were three-way conversations in which the other two people seemed to hear each other fine, but I couldn't really hear either of them.) I feel bad about that; I feel like I was being unnecessarily closeted. But I was already twitchy about the noise level and number of people present, and I just wasn't ready to go beyond superficialities. Apologies to M and Kam.
The one conversation that did get into personal territory for me was when KT mentioned that she'd looked for me at last year's Swat reunion but couldn't find me. I told her that I'd been kind of hiding; I could have left it at that, but I ended up explaining very briefly about Peter. But I had to yell to be heard, and had to repeat myself, and she clearly didn't want to pry, so I didn't say much about it.
So it was a kind of weird evening in a lot of ways. But I'm glad I went; a good opportunity to reconnect with old friends and talk with some new people. And if I hadn't gone I would've regretted it. And I'm very pleased and impressed with the work that the organizers put into it; they did a good job on a pretty thankless task.
And now I'm really exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
I'm still planning to go to tomorrow's followup event, the family picnic in the park; there will be at least a couple of people there who weren't there tonight who I'd like to see. And it should be more conducive to chatting, I think; less noise, more open space. And I'll wear shorts. And sunscreen, if I remember. And maybe I'll take the poi along.
But for tonight, I think it's about time for me to go sleep.