I could have made it to last month’s book club at the library, but I wasn’t interested in that book at all, so I skipped it. This month, we have Elizabeth Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You, about a group of individuals who are attending their 40th high school reunion. Having just committed to attend my 20th high school reunion, I was particularly interested in the premise of this book.
The characters are more my parents’ generation than mine (and they attended high school in small-town Ohio, as my parents did but as I did not; I only attended junior high in Ohio), but I think some of the themes seem universal. What really struck me was this idea that the skills and circumstances that lead to “success” and happiness as a high schooler aren’t the same skills and circumstances that lead to success and happiness as an adult. It makes sense, though: the mean-girl way of doing things might bring popularity and a sort of following when one is sixteen, but it’s unlikely to produce lasting, real connections when one is 30, 40, or 50.
There’s also this question of how accurate our perceptions are of other people when we’re teenagers and how likely we are to change in the ensuing decades. Berg’s characters fairly universally become better people in the 40 years since high school graduation—and those who don’t become better before end up improving because of the reunion. I’m not sure how accurate this is. I have a sense that some of the jerks in high school are simply destined to be jerks forever, but I would like to believe that most are at least capable of change, whether they’ve chosen to change or not.
And what about those teenage betrayals? How much is just water under the bridge, and how many slights are just too difficult to move past? I’m skeptical of the happy ending Berg gives us. But who knows…I recently apologized to a friend I’d super-duper betrayed in junior high school, and she was totally cool about it. So, maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. Or perhaps I’m just projecting.
My reunion will be different from the one Berg describes because there were nearly 700 people in my graduating class. Even if we’d had a reunion ten minutes after graduation, I wouldn’t have recognized half of the people there. Although I intend to attend my 20th, I doubt anything as dramatic or cathartic will happen there as happened in Berg’s novel. Most likely it will be me and a bunch of people who never really knew me in the first place essentially meeting for the first time.
If you’re at my 20th reunion, look for me. I’ll be the one with the unshaven armpits and the sleeveless dress. If you engage me in conversation, I’ll chat about homebirth, homeschooling, and books. If you get me after a few drinks, I’ll probably complain about the lack of car-free travel options in most of the United States and go on and on about how much I love Salt Lake City. Should be an interesting reunion. As long as nobody calls me Michael Bolton this time around, I think I’ll do okay.