DATE: 11/24/2003 09:20:00 PM
The Hand of Fate Knocks.
The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things which matter for a nation-the great peaks we had forgotten, of Honour, Duty, Patriotism, and clad in glittering white, the great pinnacle of Sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to Heaven. --David Lloyd George
Behold, I blog during the week. You see, here's my story, or at least the politically correct parts: I went in for a "90-day evaluation" at my “job” and was told that my "performance" was "unsatisfactory". I have managed to bring it to the "satisfactory" level, but only by getting there early, staying late, skipping lunch breaks and keeping my nose to the ol' grindstone every single last damn minute I'm there. By the time I fight through Metro-Boston traffic home, sitting down again in front of the computer—especially after fighting with my Jurassic jalopy at work all day--is usually about as appealing as clawing my own eyes out with my stubby, bitten fingernails. Also, of course, I have had to restrain myself mightily from descending to the Batcave after work, and hocking out a lengthy, unfathomably bitter and somewhat green globule of malaise onto the Internet, and being summarily canned for that.
So that's all I'm going to say about work, and I am choosing to blog tonight because I was thinking of a topic today that is not about work and may (unlike my other most common waking activity, which is camping out in front of Law and Order) be halfway interesting.
It arrived on Saturday: an unimpressive small envelope just big enough for an invitation. Without looking at the address label I knew what it was. I managed to avoid it (along with the overdue Blockbuster DVD it was laid on top of for my attention by my poor, long-suffering, saintly mother) for most of the weekend until finally, someone commented on it casually on Sunday afternoon, and I was forced to acknowledge that it had finally come.
Picking it up, what I saw on the return address label confirmed my darkest fear and struck icy fear into my heart: the name of my High School Alumni Association.
Though I’m keeping it anonymous here (continuing my sensitivity to political correctness in personal Web publishing), as mine is one of the very few high schools in the world with a college-style Alumni Association, that should give it away right there. And it should tell you something about my high school.
My high school is also the only high school in the world with a non-athletic Alumni Hall of Fame. Perusing the inductees is enough to give anyone an inferiority complex: The nearly 100 alumni who have been inducted since 1991 include student leaders, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, engineers, scientists, physicians, educators, community activists, philanthropists, politicians, clergy, military personnel, surgeons, international intelligence experts, journalists, and professional athletes. And I’m sure that the list is growing larger since my class, the Class of 1998, was called at the time of our graduation the most gifted class my alma mater had yet produced. National Merit Scholars out the poop chute. Actors, dancers, musicians, scientists…nationally ranked computer geeks.
College was a rude shock to me after this place. I must emphasize that I am NOT trying to sound snotty in saying this, but the fact of the matter is that when I was in high school, the people ranked around me in my graduating class went on to the Ivy League. Going to a state school (the HORROR!) earned me at least one “I’m sorry,” and that was from a parent of one of my classmates. With most of my friends in high school set for careers in the exciting field of molecular microbiology (starting off, of course, at Princeton or MIT), I felt throughout my adolescence that I was adequately intelligent, sure, but not exactly the brightest bulb in the box.
Also, it took going out into the wide and wonderful world of college to realize that my high school, and my hometown, was what you would call “privileged.” We used to bitch about how we didn’t have our own auditorium at the high school and had to use the creaky 600-seater at the middle school for our dramatic productions. We also used to bitch even louder still about how we didn’t have our own room to store our set materials for the theatre guild. Let me repeat this: Our own room. In a public school system. For the over-painted plywood we dragged out onstage for our productions of Camelot and The King and I..
College, as I said, was a rude shock to my system.
And, here I am veering off into snot-land again, the academic rigor was, how you say, not so much at UMass compared to my high school. I began to realize that my upbringing had been something of a fluke. I began to look back on it as if I had been raised in the Himalayas and was now being expected to survive at sea level—I was used to a completely different climate of people around me. This is not—NOT—to say I was necessarily used to a better one. Just different. VERY different.
So this envelope. (My high school English teacher would be slapping his head at the lack of cohesiveness in this particular little essay). Inside it was what I had feared all along: the invitation to my Five-Year Reunion.
Who came up with this idea, anyway? Ten years, I can see. By then everyone’s in their late 20’s or early 30’s, and they may have lived in a van down by the river for a while, but now they’re on an even keel and accomplishing something with their lives. But five years? That’s exactly one year after college (or just after graduating—or not even after graduating—in this day and age…). That’s the “Kraft-Macaroni-and-Cheese, Suave-Shampoo-Broke” phase. The “living-in-the-parents’-basement-selling-weed-on-the-side” phase. The “stripping-to-make-ends-meet-cause-my-baby-daddy-a-scrub” phase. The “life-closely-resembling-an-Onion-article” phase. The…oh, say…”working-at-a-crane-factory-when-what-you-really-want-is-to-be-a-writer” phase.
But you know there’s at least one exception--the girl who was a beautiful ballerina in high school, whose parents had the biggest house, who went to the nicest school and got an MBA in an accelerated program and will show up at the reunion happily married, hugely, glowingly pregnant with twins, and taking a leave of absence from her job as the VP of Goddamn Everything for a Fortune 500 company to spend more time being smug at her mansion on the Cape
Everyone else will smile weakly when she finishes her exhausting tale of accomplishment and sighs brightly, “So…what are you up to now?”
What do you say? Do you lighten the mood a little? “Well, still living in town, at my parents’ house, you know, for now…but the uh, the um…well, things are coming along, you know?”
Do you shock her into silence with the brutal truth? “My life sucks like everyone else’s, Buffy, and fuck you for bringing it up.”
Or do you do what I’m going to do? Which is not being there for that moment at all?
Yeah, I’m a total coward. Or maybe I’m just not a glutton for punishment. My life is frustrating enough for right now without having it rubbed in by the most recent Miss America. I’m insecure enough without having to go flaunt my failures to the people who last saw me inestimably thinner, brighter, and more optimistic. It’s one thing if you’ve been with me all along, so the change (or downfall, to be more accurate) has occurred gradually. It’s another entirely to juxtapose the two images, side by side in the mind and be reduced to, “Sweet Jesus, that’s a shame.”
And you know, before I descend much deeper into my inferiority complex, maybe I don’t want to see what’s befallen everyone else, either. Maybe I don’t want to run into the former B.M.O.C. who’s now slinging packages onto trucks at UPS. Maybe I don’t want to see the person I giggled in class with now jiggling an unfortunate-looking baby on her hip. Maybe I don’t want to talk about that one guy who ended up offing himself with a shotgun, where the hell did that come from, anyway?
Maybe I want to remember everyone else the way they were, too—maybe I want to cling to the sepia-toned images of my happier days without having them ruined by fat, drugs, alcohol, death, sex, unemployment and college. I mean, if I really wanted to see all of that, I could just look in a mirror.
Then again…the invite also did contain one intriguing clause: the words “free drinks” and the statement, “Feel free to bring as many guests as you’d like.”
I got two words for ya: coach bus. I could bring all of my newer hoodlum friends along, get drunk and trash the place. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from college, it’s that the best defense is an overwhelming display of immaturity.