04 October 1999

(Sketchbook Excerpt 1 - "Reunion")

It is our second pitcher by this point. He is sitting across from me, and his face looks the same as it did back in elementary school except that he wears glasses now. So do I. He just looks older. I suppose I do too, although he said my face is exactly the same.

Our waitress is pretty cute, and I keep looking over at her when she walks by – not too much to be obnoxious though. He is telling me about his first girlfriend, Naomi. It was senior year in high school, and they started seeing each other three weeks before prom. They never kissed. The night of prom, she was ignoring him. Four other kids and she were going to “smoke up,” and he didn’t smoke at the time, so he said he’d just meet up with them in 20 minutes or whatever.

“You guys doing okay?” the waitress interjects.

“Yeah, everything is cool, thanks,” I smile.

So, he was walking around alone in his tuxedo, and started getting interrogated by this cop - asking why he’s walking around, what he is doing, if he is meeting anyone, etc. He basically blew up at the cop, saying it was none of his business, and left to find Naomi and everyone else.

They were all going to a house in Wisconsin after the prom. He wasn’t invited; Naomi basically told him not to come. This was the culmination of his high school experience, and he was dropped off the next morning alone. He saw Naomi a couple days later at a party – one of the few he had ever been to – and she was kissing a boy he didn’t really know… She didn’t see him. That wasn’t the first time he had thought about killing himself.

Our beers are getting empty, and I wave over to the waitress to order another pitcher.

“So, you still in touch with anyone from high school?” he asks.

“Yeah, definitely.” Our waitress sets down a big pitcher next to me, and smiles as she walks away.

“What’s everyone doing?”

“Well,” I say, wondering who he’d know, “Johnny is a mailman.”

He smiles.

“And Ryan still works at the bike shop. Jacob moved down to Champaign with his brother, Jason just graduated…”

I am going on and on, and he is smiling, but I don’t think he really knew any of those kids. I guess he just wants to hear; it’s like looking at an old yearbook, remembering only someone’s face, and wondering who they were then – who they are now. You probably saw them at a party or in the halls. You might have made eye contact. Maybe you had a class together, and you always noticed them, or heard rumors. I think – to him – most of our high school was like that: people he only heard about.

The bar suddenly erupts in cheering: the Mets won. In the corner I see a bunch of jerseys on the television screen. I couldn’t care less. He looks over at the screaming yuppies, then back at me.

“Remember Mr. Cole?”

“Oh yeah!” I scream, “I wonder what he’s doing nowadays.”

“Probably molesting squirrels in the forest preserve, coming to class with a foaming mouth with fur in the corners, bites up and down his arms and face.”

He is laughing hard, as am I.

“I swear, that man touched everything that moved!”

“God! What about Ms. Friedberg?”

Laughter on both sides. He is genuinely smiling. He is happy now – not just in the bar, but in general. I think of my friend who killed himself. I wish that the old friend in front of me could’ve told him that things do get better.