Monday, 22 October 2012

“Fate Will Twist The Both of You”: Twenty Year School Reunion and the party next door...


Twelve months ago, I premiered a short play of mine at The Owl & the Pussycat in Richmond. Titled You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia, the play was about how you can’t always live up to the dreams you had when you were fifteen years old. It’s definitely the most autobiographical of all my plays, dealing with one character at age 15 and at age 35, interrogating himself about where he’s been and where he’s going. It’s about finding your feet as a kid and finding your comfort zone as an adult.

Paul Knox and Tom Carmody,
You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia
September, 2011
There was some fun to be had in the fifteen-year-old not understanding references his thirty-five-year old self makes. And some drama in the conflict between how the character had been as a teenager and how he’d wished he’d been. And the show was done in the round in the Owl & the Pussycat’s then-gallery space, as if the crowd was surrounding two kids fighting in the schoolyard.

After the show, if we weren’t drinking at the Pussycat, we’d head next door to Holliava to talk about how that night’s performance had been and how people had reacted. The play gets emotionally raw at certain points – with thirty-five-year old David throwing his fifteen-year-old self to the ground. The bully inside had got the better of him.

Twelve months later, on the night The Owl & the Pussycat celebrated its third year as a gallery and theatre, Holliava – the bar next door – hosted the twenty year school reunion of Highvale Secondary College’s class of 1992. It was time for me to see some people I hadn’t seen for many, many years.

I remember when the invitation came for the ten year reunion. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see those people again. My life hadn’t changed so much. I was still living at home. I have a feeling I was away the weekend it happened, but that was a decade ago. All I know is that I missed it, but at the time it didn’t feel like such a big deal.

When the invitation for twenty years came around, I was less in two minds. I felt like it was time to find out what these people had been up to – even though some of us had reconnected on Facebook in the past few years, that wasn’t the same as seeing them in the flesh and chatting about old times and what everyone had been up to in the intervening two decades.

Me in 1991.
As you might understand, even from the outline of You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia, high school wasn’t always a good time for me. I think most people liked me and I liked most of them. I was shy and didn’t necessarily feel like I fit in. I was picked on by bullies, but I was defended by most people – even if we weren’t close friends. And while I had close friends in high school, but we lost touch soon after.

It was easier to lose touch in 1992 – no mobile phones, no text messaging, no internet, email or Facebook. But, in a way, leaving high school was a nice way to clean the slate and start again.

Once I RSVP’d to this year’s event, I was pretty excited about who might be there and what might have happened to people I wasn’t able to find on Facebook. In the week before the reunion, a few people asked me if I was nervous, but I really wasn’t. I’m comfortable with who I am. I’ve got a pretty great life most of the time. And, you know, if I was really bored, I could always go next door to the party at the Owl & the Pussycat.

And I wasn’t nervous... until I was approaching Holliava, only a few paces away. My heart started to race and while I never considered walking past, I did suddenly wonder – what if I don’t remember anyone’s names? What if they don’t remember me? What if I’m suddenly as awkward as I was back then?

But then I took a deep breath, walked inside – and headed straight for the front bar to grab a drink before venturing out to the beer garden that was reserved for us old Highvalians. Well, not old – but you know what I mean. Older. The best thing about high school reunions, even if you’re reminded about how old you’re getting – everyone else is in the same boat!

Any nervousness dissipated as soon as I walked in and started to talk with Rachael and Tracy and Natalie, who had organised the event. And Stuart, who had lived five minutes down the road when we were growing up and had been a really good friend since grade five in primary school. But we’d lost touch. I’d lost touch with everyone. And apart from a couple of people I’ve bumped into over the years and caught up with post-Facebook, I really hadn’t seen most of these people since we’d graduated in 1992.

Many of the conversations in the early part of the day were the same – where are you living? What work are you doing? Married? Kids? I got pretty expert in giving a precis of my life – single, no kids, working for an IT company but really I’m a playwright, living in Bayswater. And the conversations flowed from there. We gravitated toward people who we knew better back in the day, but as the day moved on, I found myself saying more to some people than I ever had during our six years at high school.

Sharon and I spent a lot of time saying wow. Nils, Lisa, Stuart and I talked about how our parents are still living in the same places they had since we all grew up within walking distance from each other. Adam, Aleysha, Stuart and I talked about our sisters, who are all two years younger than us and all went to Highvale, as well. And it’s only two years off their twenty year reunion, so they are getting old, too!

Some genetically lucky people looked exactly the same as they did twenty years ago. Others – most of us – have age lines and worry wrinkles. Some people are wearing glasses. Others are wearing beards and a hat – oh, wait, that’s me. Some boys have lost their hair and others have shaved it off in defiance.

Some people I recognised as soon as they walked in the door. Others, well, I’m glad we all had name tags. Happily, though, once the synapses started firing, once I had commited all those names to memory again, I started to remember things I never even knew were in the recesses of my mind. Parties we’d all been at. Bus trips we’d taken. Things about one another’s families that I’d long since forgotten.

And, most importantly, or most embarassingly, the lyrics to Mr Big’s “To Be With You” surfaced from our collective unconcious – which was recited, misremembered and drunkenly sung much later in the night. If only the DJ at Holliava had had the balls to play it over the sound system – I think we might have all actually disappeared back in time, rather than just happily reminiscing about it.

As the night wore on, the crowd got thinner but the conversations got more intense. Or at least a little more detailed. And only once did I consider leaving this gathering for the Owl & the Pussycat party. I did slip out for a cameo appearance and a free beer from Jason next door, but quickly got back to pretending I was still in high school. Finally hanging out with all the cool kids.

More than once we talked about how close the class of 1992 were – and those that said that weren’t wrong. I may have had tough times, but I think we all do as kids. It was a close group of people – as proven by the groups who did stay in contact for all these many years since. And others said it was amazing how much we shared and remembered, when all most of us had in common was that we went to the same high school from 1987 to 1992.

I don’t know if we’ll see each other again for another ten years or if some of us will keep in contact because of this one drunken reunion we’ve just had. But even if we do disperse until we’re – shudder – forty-eight years old, at least this Saturday was fun, funny and totally worth doing. And those nerves of mine, like those bad memories of high school, were left at the front door of Holliava – where I hope they stay.

And, you know, in a few years time, I’m sure I’ll think of a high school reunion play worth writing.

Thanks to all those who went. Boo to all who stayed away.


Or, as Mr Big sang, "when it's through, it's through, fate will twist the both of you / So come on baby, come on over, let me be the one to show you..."

3 comments:

Fenny said...

It's 30 years since I left school (but I skipped a year and was not quite 17 when I finished my A levels, so I'm still young!). I've been back to a couple of open days in the last few years, but have no desire to go to any reunions, especially with the people I was in lower school with. There are a few people from 6th form days I'd like to see again, but only a very few.

Tara Calaby said...

Okay, now I have "To Be With You" stuck in my head. THANKS FOR THAT, KEITH :p

Seriously, though. Glad it was such a positive experience for you :)

Keith Gow said...

Fenny, yeah it's different for everybody. I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad the people who went were people I liked. None of my bullies were there :)

Tara, YOU'RE WELCOME! :D And thanks.