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redeyechicago.com

High School Reunion Goes Reasonably Awesome

Stephen Markley

10:52 AM CDT, July 25, 2012

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Not to date myself, but I recently attended my 10-year high school reunion. Yes, Mount Vernon High School class of 2002 has now been out in the world for ten years.

The number of OCC titles won by Mount Vernon, Ohio, athletic teams has precipitously declined since we graduated but the pick-up basketball games of the non-collegiate or professional twentysomethings of the world have clearly improved. The school no longer has the GPA-arms race of Patel vs. Tomita vs. Bodart, but the world has gained their intellectual ruthlessness. The Jacket Journal no longer displays the verbalistic stylings of a young Stephen Markley, espousing philosophically on a variety of topics, from new Britney Spears film “Crossroads” to the Florida recount debacle of 2000, but the world has gained his insight into the pop sensation “Call Me Maybe.”

My things is, I really like everyone I went to high school with. In the weeks leading up to the event, whenever I’d tell people I was going to my high school reunion, I’d get a lot of, “Really? Why?”

But why not? For the most part, I liked high school, and the parts I didn’t, well, for those I now get to use my rose-colored glasses. I remain close friends with the majority of people I was close friends with when I graduated ten years ago, and I can never have quite the same relationship to people who didn’t have their prom at the Knox County Developmental Center and don’t understand how we know that New York Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn has elbows like the pistons of a Chevy Silverado. You have to know why it’s advantageous to have “B” lunch, and you have to have been there when everyone parked in the senior lot and stayed up all night before our graduation practice. You have to understand why it’s funny to wear Carhartt jackets to a basketball game, and why it’s absolutely hilarious to take out your keys and start chanting “Warm up the bus!” when you’re only up 2-0 on Watkins Memorial. You have to understand why our school colors are black and orange despite the fact that we are the "Yellow Jackets."

And for the most part I was encouraged that everyone looked good. Weight gains were minimal, hair loss had only just started. There were a lot of marriages, many kids to talk about, and a few divorces. There were doctors, lawyers, teachers, midwives, police officers, nurses, vets of Iraq and Afghanistan. Politics and religion were, for the most part, avoided, and people drank—or didn’t—while we figured out what everyone was doing with themselves. We told stories about high school, but only the good ones, and somewhere in there, all the stuff that went wrong—all the errant sorrow of those years when our class seemed to get particularly unlucky time after time for such a small community of young people not really prepared for the world to start throwing elbows—simply stayed in the past where it belongs.

And afterwards we fanned out over downtown Mount Vernon, inundating the popular bars—Honey Buckets, Flapper’s, Rookie’s—where you can buy four Bud Lights and four Jello shots for $17 ($17!). I saw my freshman-year crush (who has now read my book, so score one on that count) and failed pathetically in talking to the younger sister of a girl I used to ride the bus with in middle school. And after it all, I had my mom pick me up next to the house of my high school girlfriend, whose wedding I attended and whose parents I’d eaten dinner with just a few days earlier in order to catch up on all necessary Mount Vernon gossip. 

People always romanticize small-town Middle America, mostly in an effort to pretend as if that’s the only paradigm that has any authenticity. “Real Americans,” we are told, come from places like Mount Vernon. I obviously don’t buy into that whatsoever, and hang it up next to all the other kinds of false nostalgia trafficked by hucksters and propagandists, but at the same time, I see no problem in adoring the place you came from. I see no incongruity in admitting the place you live now is the place that feels temporary, that you only feel like you’re home when you are home.