It’s been a week since my reunion. I’ve been trying to parse it into a Righteous Truth McNugget, which has been harder than I thought. Was it an exercise in maudlin nostalgia? Was it a narcissistic visitation of the Glory Days? Just a quick spin in the Way Back Machine?
I’m still not wholly certain. But it was fun. On Friday, it started slow. We were all to meet under a tent at an outdoor plaza downtown. I showed up about 15 minutes late in the hopes of not being there first. I was almost first. About 45 minutes in, I was bemused and bored. I didn’t really see anyone from my inner circle, and I had quickly become tired of saying, “Hi, I’m Troy. You are…?”
Then the storm hit. It was one of those late summer, eastern Wyoming storms. Shows up fast, wrecks some stuff in spectacular fashion, disappears 20 minutes later. So when the wind and rain started flinging chairs and garbage cans about we all took refuge in the center of the tent. And there we stood for the next twenty minutes, beers in hand, shoulder to shoulder. Shuffled around like a game of 52 card pickup. Someone said, “Now ______, keep your hands to yourself.” We started joking, talking. It seemed to stop being A High School Reunion, and started being old friends enjoying a nice evening.
For my classmates who didn’t leave Cheyenne, our reunion must have looked different than it did for those of us who left in one important way. They were not stepping into a time machine. They’ve seen the changes to Cheyenne happen incrementally. For them, a hill south of my old house becoming a Menard’s was not a shock or a place to eulogize a few memories. It’s where they buy shovels and light bulbs.
It was interesting to me that I have a group of old friends there who stayed, friends that were very close in high school, but no longer seemed to be. It prompted me to ask, somewhat artlessly, “What happened?” My dear friend D explained that nothing happened but life. You wind up spending time with the people you see every day. Lives change, courses shift. And over thirty years, they shift a lot.
So, is the Reunion Takeaway that Cheyenne wasn’t frozen in place when I left? That the town of my childhood is a profoundly different place just as we’re all profoundly different people? Maybe, but that doesn’t hit the right note.
High School is in part a ridiculous place where social hierarchies exist in a vacuum. Tribes are created with no clear application for membership. Kids are sorted, herded and culled into a complex and arbitrary caste system. It’s weird, but universal.
After thirty years, it seemed that no one really cared about all of that. Sure there was a bit, a hint, of tribalism. But that’s easily chalked up to muscle memory. Instead what I found was not a need to reestablish an old social order, but a sincere interest in where we all wound up, in getting to know one another.
So is the Reunion Takeaway that we’ve moved on from High School? That we’ve grown up and realized that what was a cluster of puerile tribes was actually a single, larger one with gossamer, yet persistent ties? Closer, but not exactly right.
One day in AP English class during my Senior year, I got into a back and forth “argument” with a classmate. It was out in the open, and it took me by surprise. It was a little thing. He and I had known each other since the sixth grade. The fact that I remember it while he does not is not a reflection of either it’s impact on me or it’s level of volume and intensity. It’s more a reflection of the randomness of brain chemistry. Like I said, it was a little thing.
And now he’s a Commander in the US Navy. His story is compelling, and I would’ve liked to hear more of it. That too, is true of Dr. R.P., my friends from the band, a few business owners, some teachers, my old neighbor M.H., a couple of girls I had crushes on, my old band director, a surprising number of non-EHS spouses, and a few of the kids I went to Baggs Elementary with. In truth, I would’ve liked more time with all of them. The little remembrances were fun. An indulgence. Who doesn’t like the occasional “Hey, remember that time…?” What was profoundly more rewarding was meeting the current versions of people who had previously been rough and hazy memories.
A seed is a seed is a seed. What that seed becomes is much more interesting. We all shared a small slice of time, and in the same place. What we’ve become is so much better, so much richer.
Yes, that’s my takeaway, my Righteous Truth McNugget.