Time After Time

There are movies you love. There are movies you quote. And there are movies that render what you expect out of life. For me, one of those giant influential movies was Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.

The movie was released in 1997, two years before I started high school. But watching Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play-act as gawky and hideous felt much more relatable than, say, Cher Horowitz’s Clueless life. After an elementary and middle school life marked by being the quirky, creative, earnest overachiever, I could see the writing on the wall: pre-graduation existence wasn’t going to be the highlight of life. There would be cliques and I wouldn’t be in them. There would be guys I wouldn’t date. Dances I wouldn’t go to, kegger parties in the woods that I only knew happened when my little sister, the ex-cheerleader, clued me in about them last year (“what, you were never invited to a skanky woods party behind Fred Meyer?”). I knew I would find my people and my niche, just as Romy and Michelle found each other, and Madonna. High school simply wouldn’t be my scene.

rmhighschoolThat was okay, though. Because the real payoff was over a decade away, when we would all converge at a rocking party held at a decked-out hotel ballroom. There would be an open bar, and fantastical balloon sculptures, and the millionaires among us arriving in helicopters. My dorky best friend and I would dominate the party by being the funky originals we always had been, grown into our own skins. There would be making out with old crushes, and standing up at last to the people who had worked so hard to keep the rest of us down years ago. Ideally the evening would end with an epic dance number.

Whenever anything disappointing or crappy happened in high school, I would remember the Romy and Michelle prophecy. I’m going to come back someday, I vowed in my head. Except cool.

Midsummer night's AWESOMESAUCE!
Midsummer night’s AWESOMESAUCE!

High school graduation happened, and things seemed generally on-track for 2013. But then I lost my best friend in a college fight that I’m still baffled over. And I got married, which ruined all the making out at the swanky party. But I did rack up some accomplishments and bragging rights: I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I figured out how to style my hair and have it not look ridiculous. I moved out of our stifling hometown and never back in. I got a house, a job, and a book agent. I didn’t invent post-its, but I was feeling proud of what I had built in a decade.

My ambition tumbled earlier this year, when I had to relocate from Portland to Tucson. Instead of being a quick drive away, my 10-year reunion was now a $400 plane ticket out of my reach. Even for all the years of dreaming, I couldn’t rationalize spending the much-needed cash to fulfill a fantasy.

But then, perhaps the fantasy was doomed to begin with. A month ago I received an update that there would be no rocking-chic setting. The party would be held in the Buckley Hall, an old Mason-style lodge across the street from our high school entrance. The contract bylines stipulate no tape or decorations from the ceilings. The hall decidedly lacks a helicopter landing pad. Then this note, leaving me as disillusioned as Romy and Michelle learning that there was no “business women’s special”:

We all know that kids are a huge part of most of our lives now… so along with the reunion we will also be having an ice cream social at the park! This event is for the whole family. Please bring the kiddoes for some fun, ice cream…. & hopefully sun!

But I hate ice cream AND babies.
But I hate ice cream AND babies.

Ice cream!? What about the rounds of shots for my school theater peeps? The martinis for throwing into the face of Tim McCarthy, the douche who made fun of me for asking him out to tolo? Now BYOB was “bring your own baby”?

And it was then that I realized that this was never going to be the party I’d watched in the movie and danced through my head a thousand times. I had grown up and out of my limited high school world, and it was only the naiveté of my adolescent imagination that could manipulate the small-town barriers enough to hold my ambition. Romy and Michelle were a fiction because in real-life, that shitty reunion would never have appreciated the ludicrous Beverly Hills superstars the former geeks had become. On this planet, those with drive and desire leave behind what cannot understand or appreciate them. Living an incredible and rich life of your own choosing isn’t a revenge. It’s a result of moving on.

Maybe that’s the real saving grace of my old favorite movie. Not my ability to relive its plot, but to grasp that thread of inspiration and ride it through the bullshit that is grades nine through twelve. Sometimes the stories you love save you in the most unexpected of ways.

Now. Let’s fold scarves.

3 thoughts on “Time After Time

  1. What a great essay! I loved it. The bit about “bring your own baby” cracked me up. I wonder if there is anyone who went back to their ten year high school reunion and found that it was everything they hoped it would be. Mine was a dud. (Luckily I live in the area, so I didn’t spend money traveling to it.) On the first night I had drinks in a crowded bar and some guy kept pinching my wife’s ass. Then the next day we had a boring chicken dinner at the country club, and I realized I remembered/recognized almost no one. Ah well. The question is: did I learn anything? My 20 year is coming up next year. There is still plenty of time to RSVP.

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    1. Ha! Thanks Mary and Karelia, you’re making me feel far less mournful about not going. I’ve heard similar horror stories about how weird and underwhelming reunions are, but thought mine might be different. But BYOB sealed the deal on my end to Kayak fare-watching for that weekend.

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  2. Last summer I bypassed the 10 Year Reunion-opportunity to get drunk with the high school classmates I never related to. It’s rather unsettling to observe how well some of “the popular kids” from my high school match up with those stock characters from Romy & Michelle! I would have preferred to know them only through the movie, but I suppose it helps our writing to have encountered those people in real life, right???

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