(finding parenthood painfully funny)
Photo: Nicole Blaine Family Archives & Cathryn Farnsworth
High school reunions. As if looking cool hadn’t been hard enough back when I was a flat-chested, insecure, zit-faced, 16-year-old who still hadn’t gotten her period. Then I have to see everyone again, as an unaccomplished, wannabe-successful human at 28? And again when I’m a complete failure with no hope left in my soul at 38? Where do I get tickets for that third worst event in my life? Hasn’t Facebook replaced the high school reunion? I already know you’re a regular at Pechanga Casino and you had mahi mahi last Thursday. Must we meet in person?
I never felt popular. Did anyone? Even the captain of the cheerleading team never felt like she deserved to be at the top of the pyramid. I speak from experience. That was me. The captain. Literally standing on top of some of the cutest girls in school and still panicking everyday, wondering who I’d eat lunch with.
I felt that way since the first day of third grade. I was the new girl. We had just moved to beachy Santa Monica, California, and my palms were so sweaty they were slipping out of my mother’s grasp as she ushered me into Mrs. Bogan’s classroom. My stomach twisted. I looked down at the pleather Keds knock-offs my mom bought at the flea market. They’ll know I’m a loser in two seconds flat. I squeaked out a plea to my mother, “I’m scared. I don’t want to go.” My mom whispered, “Everyone feels that way. Just smile. You’ll be fine.” And she was gone. I stood alone. Trying not to let the bulging tears fall out of my face and onto my hot-pink hypercolor shirt.
I survived childhood, like the bulk of us do. Never feeling smart enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough. So why in the world would I want to go to a high school reunion and confront those old feelings? Because on the day of my ten-year reunion my mother called me and said, “Everyone feels that way. Just smile. You’ll be fine. Reunions are a right of passage. It might clear things up for you …”
I fastened the laminated name tag, complete with my senior year high school photo, onto my blue velvet vest and walked into the reunion. Cliques were already forming. I forced a smile and scanned the room. A tall, incredibly muscular man beelined to me.
“Nicole? I’m so glad you’re here! I came just so I could talk to you.”
I stared at the photo on his lapel. I couldn’t remember who this person was for the life of me. Thank God his name was spelled out. “Hi … Clark! How are you? So great to see you,” I lied through my teeth.
“Great. I’m great … You look beautiful.”
I smiled. For real this time.
He stepped closer. “I have been wanting to talk to you my whole life. I remember the day you walked into Mrs. Bogan’s third-grade classroom. I remember your cool pink shirt and perfect smile. That year, on Valentine’s Day, I broke my piggy bank and bought you a chocolate heart and wrote you a card, asking you to be my Valentine. I never took it out of my backpack. I bought you one every year until we graduated high school. And never once did I have the courage to even speak to you. You were my ‘it’ girl, Nicole. I was in love with you my entire childhood.”
I stared at his face. And back at his high school photo. Who was this? Then it came to me. Yes! Clark! The dweeby, frail math nerd with terrible acne and thick glasses, who hung out with the smelly kid and the president of the science club. I do remember he existed (in the background of all my classes)!
Where do I get tickets for that third worst event in my life?
“That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” I stammered. “I never knew I was anyone’s it girl. You should have asked me out! I totally would have gone out with you!” (I never would have gone out with him.)
“Then one day, in our junior year, you know, when we sat next to each other in chem class?”
“Totally,” I nodded. (No memory of this.)
“You were in your cheerleading outfit and you talked to me for the first time. You said, ‘We’re having tryouts for the cheer team, we desperately need guys, you should try out.’”
“Right!” I faked. I mean, we did need guys, or else the squad would be cut. Clearly I was asking anyone with a penis.
“I was speechless. You spoke to me! I tried out for the squad the next day and joined the team that week. I’d finally be hanging out with you!”
“But then I quit.”
“Right, but I stayed on the team and made friends with girls for the first time. It was amazing. I started working out, beefed up, and got really good at balancing girls on my hands above my head. It got me a full scholarship to college, which I never could have afforded, and ultimately inspired me to go into health and fitness. I now run a publicly traded fitness company and, well, I just wanted to tell you … thank you.” He beamed.
My stomach flipped. I was utterly moved. Trying not to let the bulging tears fall out of my face. “You’re welcome,” I said quietly. “But really, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. It means more than you know.”
Clark smiled, reached into his pocket, handed me a small chocolate heart, and walked away, getting swept up in the moving crowds.
My twenty-year reunion came faster than I had expected. This time I felt no fear. I was excited to go. I looked around the buzzing room, filled with faces I remembered. High school felt like it could have been yesterday, or maybe a dream from another life. But we were all there. Sharing the memory of our childhood.
Mid-way through the night I saw Miguel. I beelined to him. The straight-A varsity quarterback. Who would have had a lucrative career as an underwear supermodel had he not gone the boring Ivy League route. “Hey, Miguel! You probably don’t remember me, but—”
“Hi, uh … Nicole!” (Pretty sure he read that off my name tag.)
“I just wanted to thank you for sticking up for me at that party …”
He smiled and nodded as I spoke, polite, but I could tell he didn’t really remember that night. “You shooed away some unwanted attention and walked me safely to my car. I was so panicked and embarrassed …” Miguel leaned in for a hug and was quickly pulled away to join in on another conversation. He looked back over his shoulder and smiled right before he was swept away in the commotion.
Time to go home. I looked down to take off my name tag. Only to find it was gone.