The Last Page

Reunion and the Rubberneck Impulses

By Chris Colin '97

I spent the last two years not making progress or even holding ground so much as backsliding. Under the pretense of book research, I regressed my way back to high school and wallowed there among the dusty gossip and creaky gym class memories.

It turns out those memories indeed shimmer in brief excursion, but tend to molder if you stick around (for that reason, Vassar class reunions last just a weekend, and a drunken one at that). But I wallowed nevertheless. The appropriate image here is the man wading into the baby pool for a quick, nostalgic splash, then staying on through the next two summers.

For those two years, I tracked down as many of my former classmates as possible and asked them to tell me about their lives since graduation. They responded with combinations of total dismissal and stunning candor. There was Lesley, who at 16 became the only mother in our class; at 28 she's made it out of the teen-mom thicket, and introduces me proudly to her sweet son, Jacob. Another classmate, David, spoke to me of a crushing, paralyzing shyness that made high school nearly unbearable; he went on to find meaning as a Mormon missionary, and now he's working toward his dream of a professorship. With Lorraine, my first girlfriend, our reunion got sticky. Rather than excavate happy old memories, we found ourselves hashing out race issues (she's black, I'm white) that at 16 we'd managed to elude. John, a star offensive tackle, was the closest I had to an enemy - the culture wars of the '90s, as I recall, played out entirely between the two of us. Years later, John returned from Kosovo and left his coveted officer post in the Army. When we finally sat down together we were stunned, even moved, to find ourselves having a wonderful time.

The conversations about individual lives — What's your job? What do you do on Friday nights? — became larger conversations over the course of my interviewing: What happened to us? Who are we? What country is this, exactly? My classmates' answers began to flick at something larger, a swath of American history. In the 10 years since our graduation, the country rose and fell, or fell and rose, or simply convulsed along a series of profoundly chaotic moments. From Rodney King to O.J. to Monica to the Boom to butterfly ballots to 9/11 to Iraq, something like a decade started to emerge.

A book's marketing team likes words like decade. I, too, found myself intrigued by this generation putting its own stamp on such a momentous era. But ultimately it was my classmates' simple accounting of ordinary life that grabbed me most — what they cook for dinner, what their kids said to them in the carpool lane. And maybe this in itself was a comment on the decade. Maybe the '90s din of news and theory and infotainment and busy-ness and gadgets is precisely where tiny, fragile human lives got lost. Or maybe I just like hearing how people tie their shoes in 2004. Anyhow, this isn't exactly new terrain, not even among Vassar alumnae/i (Mary McCarthy '33 followed her fellow grads well into adulthood in The Group, of course, and Lisa Kudrow '85 conducted a different sort of investigation in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion). There's good reason for this. In the scratching of great American itches, reconnecting with old classmates ranks up there with presidential inquiries: It's the rubberneck impulse, the province of obituary scanning and secret self-Googling. And it's why we fly in from all corners to attend the class reunion.

It had been a decade since my high-school classmates and I all stood under the same roof, since we'd filled each other with the same mix of confusion and smallness and lust. In November, toward the end of my interviews, we gathered in Northern Virginia for our 10-year reunion. For 60 dollars you get your ticket, drinks, apprehension, blubbering confession, subsequent regret, and a light buffet dinner. And by your last glass of wine, you tend to get the feeling the past isn't a place to linger.

After two years of homecoming, four hours of awkward mingling shouldn't amount to all that much. But something clicked by the end of the reunion, like that last bite of cake, and suddenly I knew it was time to graduate from high school all over again. I wrapped up the last of the interviews and reentered the adult world. Pep rallies don't come up in the adult world, or even all that much locker-room prattle; likewise, there are precious few interview requests from prying old classmates. You just tie your shoes as necessary and only now and then wonder what became of that quiet kid from calculus, or the girl you used to phone all those years ago.

Chris Colin '97 is the author of What Really Happened to the Class of '93, published in May by Broadway Books. He lives in San Francisco with his fiance, Amy Standen '96.