A few weeks ago, I attended my high school reunion. No, I’m not going to reveal the year. Many people who attended William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills, including myself, also went to Wilbur Avenue Elementary School and Gaspar de Portola Junior High School in Tarzana (named after Edgar Rice Burroughs who lived in the area and introduced the civilized world to Tarzan of the Apes).
The summer before my senior year, however, I moved to Oregon and completed my final year at Beaverton High School in Beaverton, Oregon. As the years passed I longed to know what happened to the people I knew from first through eleventh grade. When the reunion was announced, I wrote to the organizer, asking whether I could attend. His response was “Yes.”
A month or two before the reunion, I pulled my eleventh grade album off the shelf and flipped through the pages; I was surprised at how few faces I recognized. The people who seemed so important to me decades earlier were now simply pictures of strangers. Even though Rich had purchased the tickets for the reunion, I wondered whether we should go.
I was so on the fence that I never bothered to buy a “cocktail” dress for the upscale event that was going to be held at the Woodland Hills Country Club. Instead, I wore an outfit I’d bought in Texas (probably at Ross or Marshalls); black silk pants with a red silk jacket with black and gold oriental symbols, mandarin collar and red frog closures. I added sassy black shoes and chandelier earrings with red rhinestones.
For Rich, I chose black slacks, navy blue checked dress shirt with blue and black patterned tie. He looked very dashing.
Our trip started at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning when we caught a 6 a.m. flight to Las Vegas. After loading our luggage in a rented Suzuki Firenza, we grabbed a bag of pretzels and drinks at a 7-Eleven then drove to Anaheim, California to see Rich’s step-brother, Ralph. On the way, we stopped at Carl Jrs for Santa Fe Chicken sandwiches (wickedly good with charbroiled chicken, green chili, cheese, and gooey sauce).
We luckily encountered little traffic and were zipping by Knotts Berry Farm (Anaheim) around 1:30. Rich had plotted out the entire trip, assigning times for when he expected to reach each destination. He was only off by half an hour. After a quick visit with Ralph, we aimed for the freeway and speed to “the Valley.”
By the time we got to our motel, we were both tired from the early flight, long drive, and pelting California sun. I continued to have doubts about the reunion. Nevertheless, once we got into our “dress-up” clothes, we were eager to go and more importantly, quite hungry. We arrived early. Once we had our “memory” pictures taken, we awkwardly stood in the nearly empty banquet room, waiting for others to arrive. Every time someone walked by, Rich asked, “Do you know him or her?”
There were an occasional “yes,” but for the most part, the faces I knew from elementary through high school were indistinguishable. It occurred to me that I’d done little with these people outside of attending class. By the time I’d reached high school, my spare time was spent babysitting, working at Pioneer Chicken, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and doing “stuff” with my mother. The latter felt my school work and social life were secondary to her needs. And I was too beaten down to rebel.
I’d missed out on high school, and now, I naively believed I’d be recognized and embraced by my peers. I was an outcast then and remained an outcast that evening. I was determined, however, to delve into these strangers’ lives. I was convinced that they’d been commendably successful in their careers and personal lives. It was shocking to learn that Jay, who graduated with honors, was now selling first aid supplies in Reseda. Marc was a car salesman in San Diego and Karen a receptionist in a law office.
No doubt, the people who came to the reunion were a fraction of the nearly thousand who were in the graduating class. And most of those who came still live in California… and have a southern California attitude and physique. Many of the women were dressed in short, black cocktail dresses with strappy sandals, and long flowing hair – more brunettes than blondes. A surprising number came in groups or by themselves. One woman inquired about Rich thinking her was a friend rather than my husband. I wish I’d responded that he was simply hired for the night. I would have enjoyed seeing her response.
When one woman walked towards the more brightly light bar in the ballroom, there was no mistaking what she was wearing underneath. A while later, Rich turned to me and remarked, “I think I can see that woman’s belly button.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Her black sheath was almost sheer, except for a patterned area across her chest and around her hips.
To their credit, or perhaps self-control, most of the women hadn’t gained a pound since high school. Some may have lost weight! Squinted my eyes, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was at a high school prom. Throughout the evening, people sang bad karaoke while groups of women and a handful of coupled danced. Others bounced from table-to-table, excitedly talking and gesturing.
The mediocre food further reinforced the prom atmosphere. On banquet tables were rows of steamer pans of overcooked broccoli, unseasoned carrots, lumpy mashed potatoes, cold poached salmon that was supposed to be hot, and sinewy slices of nondescript beef. Dessert was a table of cookies, brownies, and other pastries, fresh from the grocery store to the Woodland Hills Country Club.
We didn’t stay more than a few hours. It was apparent that I no longer had anything in common with these people. As we left, we paid $10 for two memory key chains, which contained teeny photographs of us.
I didn’t bother to take other pictures. The memory of the evening will linger in my mind for a year or two then drift away like most of my school years.