At first, you have no clue who the person is who is standing in front of you with his hand extended.
“Hey, Bruce Carlton. We had so many classes together in 7th grade.”
You smile the dumb smile of one who has no clue, one that conveys that you pretend to have a clue, but not really.
“Oh sure! Great to see you.”
Then one your closest and best friends since second grade shrieks from across the way, and she rushes over to hug the one about whom you have no clue. As you stand and watch them laugh and hug some more, and you look more closely at his face, the lines around his eyes are once again smooth and his graying cropped hair is long and shaggy.
“Oh my God, BRUCE!” you interrupt, because now you are the one shrieking. Now you are smiling at him for real. Suddenly a group forms, and everyone is laughing at memories of teachers who tormented us and of all the rules we broke simply because they begged to be broken.
It felt good to be home again, where past and present blurred, and all seemed just right.
Sure, there were the archetypal moments that define every reunion:
–The guy who didn’t get why I wouldn’t go to his place and have sex with him, even as he regaled others with descriptions of the lovely new girlfriend he didn’t bring–a former model.
–The girl who clearly hasn’t gotten over feeling inferior in 8th grade, because when I told her she looked great and I’d recognize her anywhere, she grimaced, made a sound of disgust and turned away from me without so much as a hello.
–The boy who I remember as so shy and quiet, who made a huge effort show up–albeit late–turned out to be a brief but wonderful life of the party.
–The girl who I always viewed with awe and admiration, even as she intimidated me with her confident grace, showered me with present-day compliments.
Would that we could all page back through the decades–retaining every ounce of experience and wisdom we have now–and roam through the halls of our junior high and giggle again with girlfriends as we tell each other about the boys on whom we have crushes in hopes they will ask us to go steady at the teen-club dance later that night. No matter how angst-ridden the early teens may have been, on this night the memories were sweet and all of us were in the “cool” group.
I had no time to dwell on quick goodbyes as I rushed to the airport the next day. My Keys job has turned into a blur of 12-hour double shifts for the next several weeks, thanks to a former co-worker who suddenly quit in a rage while covering one of my shifts. That she is no longer speaking to me over another matter that shocked and appalled me, sadly means she is a former friend as well.
At first, when my D.C. reunion friends with professional jobs asked me what I was up to these days, I was embarrassed to admit that I was simply a bartender in a local spot located very much off the beaten tourist path in a locale that can hardly be viewed as anyone else’s real-life. But to a person, they congratulated me on striking out on my own two years ago, and starting over in such a unique way.
At first, I wasn’t sure how well I would be received when I returned to work in the wake of my former friend quitting in such a negative way. But when one of the owners offered to relieve me for a half hour during one of my doubles so that I could go home and tend to my dog, I figured all was okay. When I rushed back behind the bar at the end of those 30 minutes and the entire bar-full of customers cheered and applauded to have “our real bartender back,” I was stunned.
I despise the phrase, “You can’t go home again.” I have gone “home” twice in the past week to two very different homes. Both of these homes–in all their contrasts and ever-changing realities–feel very much like home, more than ever. It’s nice to be home again. I can’t wait to go home again.