RADIATION SPRINGS—My high school class from Radiation Springs, Ohio, recently had a reunion barbecue. Now a certain amount of brag and bluster go with reunion territory. I, for one, dreaded the sort of prevailing mendacity and exaggeration about how wonderful our lives are. I dreaded the number of times I would have to qualify the word wife with ex—as if anybody would ferret out the truth or send out a private detective to ascertain my solitary status. And the night before, I faced the conundrum Shakespeare himself would have faced had he attended a high school reunion: to dye or not to dye. Instead, I prepared an informational card to preempt the nosiest and most popular questions:
Name: Grady Miller
Age: 47—but with the body of a 46-year-old.
Marital Status: Available
Occupation: having my cake and eating it too.
After 30 years away from Radiation Springs High School, I didn’t recognize a single soul. I felt queasier than a gawky eighth grader at his first sock hop. With a sneaky eye movement I seized on the nearest name tag, and boomed out:
“Edie, you haven’t changed a bit!”
“Neither have you,” Edie exclaimed in a throaty contralto and broke into a gap-toothed smile. “I remember you from Miss Gillespie’s third grade class.” Her utterance delivered, she slapped me on the back so hard my lungs snapped out of place.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t remember Edie at all. Maybe it was because her hair had grayed. Or because her high school frame had gained 100 pounds. Search the album of memory as I may, I drew a blank.
“We were in Mr. Hansen’s physics class together, and Mrs. Thorne’s English,” Edie continued to torment me with remembrances. “I remember exactly where you sat, at a desk next to Jennifer Chung.”
In point of fact, I didn’t remember where I’d sat, and didn’t have the foggiest recollection of who Edie was. You think you’d remember a woman who fit so well into a spandex blouse.
“Well, it’s hard to believe all this time has gone by,” said Edie. “Seems like yesterday you put Connie Bledsoe’s ponytail in your pencil sharpener.”
“Gosh, did I do that? Well, I’m sorry if I did.”
Convinced there must be some deep, dark, Freudian reason why this lacuna in recall occurred—perhaps Edie had been my rival for an ”˜A’ in Hansen’s physics class or she had put my ponytail in the pencil sharpener—I avoided asking a blunt, ”˜Who are you?’ And I certainly couldn’t betray my initial diagnosis that she hadn’t changed a bit. Then again, instead of Freudian skullduggery, it could be just plain forgetfulness at work.
It came time to drift away from Edie, and meet more classmates I had no recollection of. A passing plate of cheese and Vienna sausage on Ritz crackers held a sudden fascination. I pointed my nose downward, preliminary to following the hors d’oeuvres tray away from her.
Gripping my arm with ferocity, Edie said, “Don’t you remember when you staple-gunned Bill Riley’s shoes to the platform when we were making homecoming floats?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Once during an assembly you poured a bucket of water on Principal Gorman as he passed under the balcony in the gym. You dropped the bucket and it got stuck on his head. It was hilarious as he staggered around the basketball court, trying to pry the bucket off.”
“I wish I remembered this, but I don’t,” I said, embarrassed that Edie remembered so much, in such vivid detail. Nor did I remember Edie. I started wondering if I hadn’t drifted from Radiation Springs straight into the Twilight Zone.
To be continued …
Grady Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org