On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been ten years since I graduated from high school. I can still summon up vivid recollections of my last days of school. The stress of exams; the heartbreak of unrequited love as I fawned over my then best friend; the parties where drinking Vodka Cruisers or Tia Maria were the best I could manage; and the prospect of a whole summer of lazing around stretched out ahead of me like it was an eternity.
And on the other hand, I look back and feels like it’s been an eternity since those days. Hell, it feels like a lifetime since I was living it up in South Korea.
But like it or not, the weekend of November 4th rolled around and it was time for my ten year high school reunion. I know some people dreaded theirs, but as the unwilling organizer of ours, I was quite excited about seeing my efforts come to fruition and catching up with everybody.
The Facebook age has made it effortless to keep in touch with people, but while I might have chatted with everyone at some point over the past ten years, it would a different thing entirely to play out old inside jokes in person.
The old crew couldn’t be reunited. A few of my best friends from school were busy with work or simply couldn’t afford the long trip back to our sleepy home town. Others still clung to old high school hates as if losing them might mean losing a small part of their youth. Absent were my best friend from school, one of my oldest school friends, the object of the aforementioned unrequited love, and those of our year who have moved abroad and couldn’t justify the flight back.
But with or without them, we were determined to forge ahead and have a good time.
I might not have had a beautiful girl on my arm or a string of best-selling novels at my back, but I’ve managed to dodge the twin bullets of marriage and kids, so I figured I was heading in about even.
The Long Ass Train Ride
The part of the whole weekend I wasn’t looking forward to was the ten hour train ride from Sydney up to Glen Innes. It’s a far cry from the superfast KTX on which I whizzed around South Korea, but I had my Kindle on hand and a full charge on my iPhone for tunes. I figured I’d be able to get in some sleep and a little reading along the way.
As luck and crazy fate would have it, our school captain just so happened to be on the same train as me. In the same carriage.
What had shaped up as a potentially dull ride instead became a big catch up session as we discussed the controversies and rumors; the attending and the non-attending; and the surprises that had unfolded over the intervening decade.
Like me, Erin’s been out living the travel dream. She’s worked at summer camp in the States and traveled extensively outside of that. It’s funny how, even with all of my own travels, I found myself just a little jealous of all of the adventures she’d had. The grass is always greener, eh?
Drinks at the RSL
I can’t recall the first time that eighteen year old Chris went to the RSL (Returned Serviceman’s League, but known to locals as the Services Club), although the place did act as my nightlife spot of choice during my year long stint in Glen Innes after college. That’s hardly high praise in a town where bars close at 1am and the average patron is either a hundred, a single mother, fresh from the farm, or fresh out of jail.
Still, as far as watering holes go, you can’t knock a place with $3 beers and decent live music. Not to mention cheap pool.
My younger brothers and I had a few sneaky beers en route and soon joined the motley crew of early arrivals. There were two of my old nerding buddies, the irrepressibly inappropriate rugby player, a few of the popular girls, and even a girl who had left in the sixth grade and still tagged along to join the fun.
One thing I was quite grateful for during the stressful and tumultuous final years of school was how close knit my class was. While my sister’s year (below mine) was full of cliques, mine somehow ended up as one big (relatively) happy family save a few who opted to stick to the fringes.
In my final year at school I played strip hacky sack with the jocks, rubbed ice on the chest of the hottest girl in school, played far too much D&D, won debate contests, kissed lesbians, had water fights, and got knocked out cold by the biggest guy in the school while attempting to tackle him on the football field. It was a wild, crazy, and fun year.
Almost enough to erase the first four years of near constant bullying >_>
A few quiet beers at the RSL and then Keysey (the inappropriate jock sex-pot) commandeered a bus and we were all off to the Refreshment Rooms.
The Ref Rooms (as it is known by locals) has transformed Glen Innes’s long unused railway station into quite a good bar. A live band rocked the room while smokers and those wanting a chat could sit out on the platform upon which people had once awaited the train to Sydney.
I busted out my trademark swing dancing moves with the year six returner and had a quality deep and meaningful with my brother to boot. I saw my old family doctor giggling to himself at the urinal and flirted aimlessly with attractive girls only to have my brother inform me they were both 18 and somebody’s mother.
The sobering reality of dating in a small country town. The single are either too young or they’ve already got kids at home.
The night ended as so many of my teenage nights ended – with the pilgrimage along the New England Highway towards the only 24 hour service station in town. In my high school years it was a short walk, but that station has long closed and now it’s a lengthy walk out to the outskirts of town for a Chiko Roll and a Vanilla Coke.
Thankfully, my old mate Erbsy had breezed into town late and swung by to pick us up and carry on the party. Unfortunately, by the time we’d collected food and walked all to the opposite end of town, the party had become three guys waiting around outside of a room while their mate had sex with the only female in attendance.
How I ended up as organizer of the reunion remains a mystery to me. I was not particularly organized in my school years and that’s not something that has improved over time.
I think alcohol has addled my brain.
But as the resident Facebook whore and somebody who was always pretty social, I became the organizer elect when the girl who’d initiated the push realized she wouldn’t be able to make it back from the UK.
My organizing basically entailed lots of delegation. The venue had been booked, I put Keysey in charge of arranging catering, and a group of girls had graciously offered to handle the decorations.
In the end my only real contribution – outside of creating a Facebook event and harassing people – was picking up some chips and dip and making sure the caterer was paid at night’s end.
The venue had been chosen carefully – the only bar in town with a license to run until 2am. The New England Club opened their arms to the whole affair and let us have full run of the place. The girls had soon hung decorations and laid out snacks, and then came the realization that we were already prepared and already at a bar – and it was 3pm.
We strolled around and read the ambitions listed underneath our pictures in the year-book. Some of us had turned out exactly as we’d hoped. Tim was a teacher and had his own greyhounds and several people had lived their travel ambitions.
Others had not. Rowland had not built a bomb to destroy humanity, I had not met and married my soulmate (oh God, did I write that!?), and I’m pretty sure Stevie did not manage to let ten years pass without every seeing her sister.
One by one classmates and their partners began to arrive. Somehow I’d already had four or five beers by the time people had arrived. Dayne, legend that he is, had put the word out that I was to be bought beers all night as payment for my organization. I didn’t complain.
I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy things as much as I’d hoped at first. I was swept off my feet ensuring people’s meals had been paid for and that photos were being taken.
Soon enough the place was packed and the beers were flowing. Old friendships were rekindled and people who might have run in slightly different circles in school struck up conversation. It was a lot of fun.
Soon enough it was time for dinner and then, when plates had been cleaned, the girls served up their home-made desserts and it was time to hand out the obligatory awards.
My friends Stuart and Laura snapped up cutest couple after finding love as the only two registered users of Plenty of Fish in our sleepy town. My friend Rowland, who has not changed at all, was the ironic winner of ‘Most Changed’. An award for most likely to be a serial killer picked up multiple winners. Pretty Clare’s recent arrival from Mexico landed her the person who had traveled the farthest, while Keysey (an employee of the venue) had traveled the least.
I even picked up a pair of awards. The not-so-cool Facebook Whore award and the much more prestigious Most Eligible Bachelor.
That’s right ladies, I’m single.
I was presented with a bottle of Canadian Club as a thank you for my efforts and soon we were dancing and singing and drinking until the staff began to pack up chairs and make a show of how much they wanted us to leave without actually saying it.
Which leads us to…
The After Party
It wouldn’t be a high school party without an after party, and it fell to Keysey to arrange the affair. A hat was passed around and cash was stuffed into it. Cartons of various alcohols were purchased and cabs were booked. Guys discussed the hotness of formerly off-limits sisters of classmates in hushed tones.
To be honest, this portion of the night is a bit of a blur. There was a dog. There was some entirely too serious discussion of country music involving me. I told my first high school crush that I had liked her about a thousand times.
And at some point my friend Rowland, forever the designated driver, took my drunk ass home and I collapsed face down in my bed.
The School Tour
To say it was a sick and sorry bunch present at 11am the following morning at McDonalds (another new addition since our graduation). I gingerly poked at my cheeseburger as if it might attack me while the others set to their meals with a little more enthusiasm.
Once we’d all assembled our convoy headed up to the old stomping grounds where one of our former teachers had been kind enough to take time out of her Sunday to show us around. A lot had changed. New buildings had been built and old ones had been revamped. An elevator had been installed for the library and a new foreign language building had been erected.
But a lot was the same. My old favorite book was still where I’d left it in the library. My old seat – while seeming a lot smaller – was still much as I’d remembered it.
Nostalgia washed over me like an unwelcome breaker at Coogee Beach as I strolled those old grounds.
There was the place I’d had my first kiss in a game of Truth or Dare.
This was the stretch of grass where I’d played countless games of tackle football at lunch. There was where a much, much younger Chris had backed slowly away from the kid who pissed himself.
The water from the bubblers still tasted the same.
The stairs up to the performing arts building seemed much reduced.
There’s a whole other entry in the works about what the last ten years have been and how 18 year old Chris might have felt if he’d known what lay ahead of him.
I’d like to think he’d have been happy with a lot of it. The time abroad, the kisses stolen, the one night stands, and the beautiful women I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life. I’m sure he’d have been all about the parties and the crazy friendships and the wild nights.
But maybe he’d be unhappy that I hadn’t gone out and met that soulmate he’d seemed so eager on meeting. Maybe he’d be unhappy that I hadn’t sold a novel yet, or that I’d put on weight.
As I said, it’s something I’ll discuss a bit later. Suffice to say, it was both a fun and sobering experience to roam those old halls.
A particularly poignant moment was watching Erbsy, once the star of the school cricket team, stroll out to the now dusty and unused pitch and have a practice run up.
Were all of us looking back at those younger versions of ourselves and measuring the people we are today against the ambitions we’d laid out when the final bell had rung and it was time to move on?
The whole weekend was a lot of fun. It was exhausting, but it was fun.
I’ve got an entry to come about the emotions that a reunion conjures up as well as one full of the things I learned planning one. I daresay I’ll put them into practice if I’m called upon again in 2021 to organize the twenty year affair.