At my five-year high school reunion, a guy who used to tease me mercilessly in middle school was so drunk he got naked and presumably made an ass out of himself. I can only guess because I wasn’t there, still too close in years and spirit to the oppression of high school. When my 10-year reunion came around, it had only been a couple of months since I had my first baby and any pride I felt did not extend to my body. That’s the one I regret missing the most, though it’s probably more misplaced affection towards that old version of me. New motherhood is rough. For some reason, there was no 15-year reunion but then my 20-year high school reunion rolled around five years ago and I still said no. I remember exactly why: I was only about a month sober at the time.
Many people brave weddings, funerals and awkward first dates (is there any other kind?) in early sobriety. Maybe they fret about it beforehand or maybe they don’t, but either way I know it takes guts to brave social events without the usual lubricant. I also know that nothing I fear plays out like I think it will, so I could’ve handled the 20-year reunion just fine. I know because I finally made it to my 25-year reunion, ready, willing and sober.
I got the reunion invitation on Facebook and replied and paid before I had time to reconsider. I spent the next month wondering what to wear and if I could somehow lose ten pounds or convince a few of my closer friends to go with me (I could not). I entertained a lot of worries, the least of which was an open bar and special wristband for those who don’t drink because they’re pregnant, “in a program” or for religious reasons. If this seems demeaning, consider that it saved me almost thirty bucks on my ticket. With my prematurely white hair and healthy sober glow, I wondered which reason people would guess for the special wristband and a friend and I had fun thinking up crazy responses if anyone asked. Really, I would have happily shared that I don’t drink anymore by choice and anyone who knew me back then could have guessed why, but it turns out I never had to wear a silly wristband. I was probably the only one who didn’t want open bar and it has been my experience that those of us “in a program” have reasons for not drinking that go well beyond saving a few bucks.
Facebook not only makes reunions easier to organize but renders them unnecessary in a way. I already knew what most of my classmates look like now and what they’re up to. It turns out those that aren’t on Facebook aren’t interested in reunions either, so there were no real surprises except how unchanged everyone looked. I’ve always been able to remember a face, which feels more curse than gift since I feel pretty forgettable. In full disclosure, that was my big fear: that no one would remember who I was. This is one reason I asked my husband to come along. He grew up in a different part of the country and didn’t know another soul, but the man makes small talk in elevators and I was glad to have him by my side.
I realize now that this was one tool I used to make the reunion feel easier: I brought a friend. I also wore something I felt good in and ate like I hadn’t in days. The food was Latin and fantastic and although I did order a second Diet Coke, the servers were all too busy running around trying to keep up with cocktail orders. How many diet sodas does a person need to drink in one night anyway, right? If anyone noticed I wasn’t drinking, they didn’t ask why. The hum of conversation grew to a roar and at one point I looked around and realized I still felt connected to this group of people I grew up with but hadn’t seen in 25 years. For one night, we were all kids again and the room felt warm and full of hope.
I spent the night talking to a small handful of people, including my husband. Sobriety has not cured me of all wallflower tendencies, but the connections I made felt meaningful and rewarding. An old classmate commented that he wished he’d gotten to know more of us back in high school, which reminds me of the kind of thing we wrote in each other’s yearbooks when we didn’t know what else to say, but it’s true. I wish I’d done a few things differently. My biggest regret is how early and much I drank because I thought it made everything easier. I stayed at the reunion until group photos were taken and slipped out while there was still a half hour left on the open bar. I never did get that second Diet Coke.
That night I laid awake for hours, the room too warm and my mind too active for sleep. Insomnia leaves me with a feeling like a mild hangover the next morning. That never seems fair, although it makes me grateful to remember what it used to be like and know I don’t have to live like that anymore. Had I gone to my five or 10-year reunion, I know I would have drunk too much and said and done things I regretted. At five-years sober, I can finally cross high school reunion off the list. I went and the company and food were close to perfect. Now, on to the next thing.