Ten Years Later

I was tempted to say “I freaked out, joined the army, and now I’m a professional killer.” Tempted to say it, several times, but I didn’t. Nor did I tell anyone that I was a male stripper. I was tempted to say that, too. I told everyone the truth- that I’d been in Japan and was teaching English, and that I’m leaving again, next year. That got good enough responses, I suppose.

When asked why I was going to my ten year high school reunion, all I could really say that it only happens once. Yes, there are twenty and thirty year reunions, but it’s the ten year that really counts. That’s the one that everyone talks about, that gets made into movie scenarios and is supposedly so jarring. The ten year reunion is where you see that everyone has turned into adults, where the ugly ducklings have all turned into swans, or where the former prom queen got fat. That, supposedly, is where everything is starkly shifted into dramatically different adulthood.

Except it wasn’t.

An old classmate of mine looked out over the dimly lit floor, sighed into his drink and said with bitchy wistfulness “no one’s fat.” There was nothing to pick over, no flesh for the vultures of pettiness. We’d gone to Lincoln High School, which in our time was the most academically successful, privileged school in Oregon. We were the snobs, the elite, and if this had been a bad teen movie, we would have gotten some kind of comeuppance, some ironic punishment for our privilege and advantage. None of that.

Smart, rich, urban kids, it turns out, grow into beautiful and successful adults. My experiences in Japan were not atypical to the gathering. It seemed like every other person had been abroad, and I chatted with old classmates who’d lived in Brazil, Germany, Tanzania, Lebanon, and Italy, to name a few. There were some people with spouses, yes, and some who had children. Mostly, though, people seemed themselves. We’d been intensely smart teenagers, strutting about downtown Portland with youthful arrogance and now we seemed to be basking in twentysomething cleverness and satisfaction, a natural outgrowth.

As much as I’ve changed in the past ten years, even in the past three, very much of me is still that seventeen year old boy who wandered around downtown Portland, reading Kafka in coffee shops, smoking through precocious conversations about Locke and Rousseau. I seemed to see him in stark relief at the reunion, as I searched for my classmates’ past features that I had known them by. Remarkably, I found those features. I did not find them because they persisted, though, but because they had grown into something else, matured, been fully realized. The successful little ducklings had turned into successful ducks.

That’s wonderful, I suppose, but I remember hearing a lot of people saying “No one’s changed.” Not intrinsically, not imminently. But we had become more refined, more well defined. I suppose that means we’d grown up.

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