Shortly before I was set to fly from LA to Great Neck, Lawn Guyland for my 45th high school reunion, I had to cancel my trip in favor of a reunion with my doctor.
I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to hang out with some of my favorite people. But though I missed the laughs and the hugs, the very process of cancelling gave me another gift which is, in a way, even more meaningful.
When I told my friends what was up, we had fun swapping a few stories and mock-insulting one another. But it was their expressions of warmth and compassion that knocked me out. Several classmates shared their feelings about dire health challenges they've faced, which gave me a chance to "Second That Emotion," a phrase Smokey Robinson immortalized on our radios and turntables during senior year Christmas break. At least I think it was then.
High school was so long ago it's made me wonder how much to trust my memories. Did I really score a goal in a soccer game by kicking the ball between the legs of the opposing goalie? Did the French teacher with the Russian accent really admonish me to "Verrk Harder!"? Did four of us really vow to meet at Mario's pizza joint every 10 years? (We never made it, but the thought still counts.) Was it just a dream that three star musical acts -- the Critters, the Youngbloods and Lenny Welch -- played at our Senior Prom, following previous year's appearances by the Young Rascals and the Chiffons?
Did I get rejected from an Ivy League school because I forgot the name of the protagonist in Camus' The Stranger? Most crucial, (a word we used in every other sentence back then) did I get cut in the first round of basketball tryouts because I was too short or because I sucked?
Past reunions have been a blast. Even the bittersweet encounters were more funny than painful. It wasn't altogether endearing when the cute girl who rejected me in favor of the basketball star -- and you both know who you are -- told me that she wished she'd gone to the prom with me. All I could think of was to say, "and you're telling me this now?!" When the cool kid I was friends with in junior high didn't know me from Adam -- actually he was Adam, and he was high -- pangs of inadequacy gave way to the absurdity that I still had those feelings after so many years.
Of course, there's sadness. How could there not be? When a medical procedure -- even one as routine as this one -- aces you out of your 45th reunion, you vow to see everyone at the 50th. I sure hope I get to see my classmates five years from now, when we're all 68. But how many more times will I see them after that?
At the risk of sappiness (not that there's anything wrong with sap), I gotta admit that for me the cliché that you make friends for life in high school rings true. We can live thousands of miles apart and not see each other for years, decades even, and those relationships endure.
Mixed emotions aside, there is one shining upside to staying home. Now, except for the hour or so of my actual surgery, I'm free to obsess 24/7 on the presidential election. I asked my doctor to give me the latest polling data from Ohio the instant I wake up, but I'm afraid he thought I was joking.