I wasn’t going to go.
I never do…so why start now?
We’ve been bred to dread these events. Yet, like so many other things, what’s old is new again. More appropriately in this case, what was out may very well be in again.
What could I possibly be talking about?
My High School Reunion.
The 30 year edition.
Thirty. Fucking. Years.
Sweet Jesus. When did that happen?
Oh, yes. I mentioned it was complicated. Here’s the skinny. When I was a boy – I think the aforementioned timeframe affords an un-ironic pass at using that phrase – we had grade school, middle school and then high school. The breaks, at least in my district, were K-6th grade, 7th-Frosh and then Sophomore to Senior to wrap it up with each jump from one school to the next being fed by several feeder schools. When I finished 6th grade at Jennings Lodge Elementary, me and my classmates were routed to Ogden Junior High for the start of 7th grade along with I don’t know how many 6th grade graduates from other schools.
Well, during the summer between the end of my Freshman year at Ogden and the beginning of my Sophomore year, my family moved from Portland, OR to a little place named Atchison, KS – pretty much known for being the point of origin of this and her.
Click, bitches. You know that you can’t resist finding out.
So, instead of going on to join in the potentially anonymous ranks of three or four other feeder middle schools and graduate high school as a Pioneer like my childhood friends, I was relocated 1750 miles and up to three decades into the past from my hometown for the start of my Sophomore year to attend an all boys Catholic high school and graduate a Raven.
To say that I was less than excited was a typically Xtopher contradiction. On the one hand, I had friends here…but on the other, I considered myself to be one of the Freaks and Geeks types of my class. So, I was kind of on the fringe of a lot of groups. This was a chance to start fresh in a class that had all of 36 people in it…all teenage boys. I mean, really, on some level you have to know that my sprouting sexual identity was doing a happy dance, even as my conscious self tried to push that shit down. Who needed one more reason to be different at that age? In a class of 36, there wasn’t going to be a lot of getting lost in the crowd.
It was a huge educational culture change.
Actually, just an avalanche of culture changes. On the one hand – do you get the feeling I’m an octopus with all the hands going on in this post? – I had never before felt like Portland was a big city, it was pretty vanilla. Literally. There was one black family on my little block in Milwaukie and one African American kid in my class in junior high.
On the other hand, Atchison.
Atchison has a street named Division, just like Portland, only in Atchison it is an openly discussed street that was named because it essentially divided black and white households. Even in the 80s, it was still strangely aligned with blacks on the north side and whites on the south – an amusing juxtaposition of our national distribution of the two races. I say, “even in the 80s” but to be completely fair, that was pretty situational. It was just that way it was.
That the town was growing to the west, and Division kind of ended up morphing into highway…is it highway 7? I forget. Anyway, Division becomes this highway that curves to the north and the city was growing westward on the other side of – let’s call it – highway 7. Still not a lot of black families in that new part of town.
So, it was weird for me to settle into that kind of “it’s the way it’s always been” unintentional racism.
On yet another hand, Maur Hill Prep – where I was going to school, in case you didn’t click that link, you lazy bastard – was also an international boarding school.
So, how about those dichotomous crackers.
See what I did there?
What ended up happening is that at this school, my type was the cool kid. Smart and bookish were premium qualities. What’s even stranger is that that didn’t mean that jocks weren’t cool. It was an amazingly tolerant environment. Particularly for a Catholic school, in my opinion. This is where I learned a lot of the values that I still hold today – or at least had the values that my family had instilled in me strongly reinforced.
Sometimes reinforced under the threat of multiple eternal damnations, but whatever. I think that anyone that didn’t have a Brother John Peto type teacher was truly deprived of a very colorful part of the educational experience.
So, when I say that I was transported up to three decades back in time, it’s situationally true. There was a very passive racism still in effect when I lived there. But there were also very timely and typical American problems present for that time, too…like teenage pregnancy and teen suicide. I mean, maybe suicide. It was a Catholic town, after all, we’re gonna cover that shit up.
I don’t want to brag, but we kind of had it all in Atchison.
From the 60s era Friday night cruising of Main Street to the 80s era fashion trends of Z Cavaricci and Polo – but not together. Never together. We weren’t animals.
From family dinners and businesses that were closed on Sunday – all of them, not kidding…even the supermarket closed at like 5 pm – to underage drinking. My Honor Roll homies, aka: the cool kids, would meet to do homework and study together at a little bar on the river called Kiby’s East. As far as I know, there was no Kiby’s West, but perhaps they planned to expand someday.
Who knows? In three years, I was out of there. College bound. And as if to declare my intent to return to the West Coast at the earliest possible convenience, I chose to go to Kansas State University instead of following the majority of my 33 or 34 classmates who went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
But at least today I can just say that I went to college in Manhattan.
Where I ended up repeating the rebuilding of friendships once again in my short life as I had literally stranded myself at a college where the only familiar face was my sister’s. So, I did have that going for me! Thank gawd.
Now, thanks to social media, we have an embarrassing amount of resources available to us to keep in touch with friends from days past. From MySpace up to the Facebook, I have been able to almost literally go back in time and re-establish some of the relationships that I built those few years that I spent matriculating all over Kansas and hastily abandoned as I continued on my path of evolution and self awareness.
That only took about 20 years.
Which means that I missed my 10 and 15 year high school reunions in Atchison. But that 15 year reunion happened right after September 11th and I was content to let the terrorists win that one.
I didn’t get invited to the 20th.
But, I did have a great deal of social activity with friends from my days at Maur Hill as well as from its sister school Mount Saint Scholastica Academy – for girls, yo, they deserve the book learning, too. I was happy to have them. I also had a proportionally larger roster of social friendships associated with my days of almost being a Pioneer.
The strange thing about that is that some of those connections are people I remember vividly and others are people whose names are familiar but the memories aren’t as dynamic since our circles sometimes overlapped but were distinctly different. I also have some social friendships that are based solely on me and them having mutual friends.
Them and I?
Anyway…I swear, that’s the truth! Then again, I also have friends based on Facebook searches for Chris Galbreath that resulted in my fairly active Facebook friendships with a few folks from Tennessee, so I am definitely not opposed to social network aspirational friendships.
As fate would have it, I returned to Portland just in time for the conversation about the Oregon City 30 year reunion to start. Of course, true to Chris-form, I was on the periphery of said conversation. Also, it hadn’t occurred to me that I had been out of high school for 30 years, I’m still dating people who haven’t had a 10 year reunion yet. All that said, I guess I was granted honorary Pioneer status, which truly warms my heart, and was expected to attend.
The wrinkle here is that now – after kinda looking for two years – I had found a job that I really like. Naturally, this being my life, it requires my attention on Friday and Saturday nights…aka: Prime Reunion Time.
I’d pretty much ambivalently resigned myself to missing the event, I am just an honorary Pioneer…and I had leveraged that by forming a sort of solidarity with a friend who also was pretty sure she wasn’t attending. “80 percent not going” was how she put it. I was pretty sure that the 20 percent of her that was going wasn’t going to get far from the rest of her physical person.
So, I wasn’t the only one.
Yet, I had tentatively agreed to go and put the onus of planning the evening – ok, getting the tickets for the Booze Cruise – on one of my junior high gal pals slash gay boy crushes. Since I never heard confirmation on those plans, well, I was totally in the clear, right?
Wrong, Galby, you dumbass.
I had mentioned the events of the weekend earlier in the week at work and my team was totally excited on my behalf. Come Saturday night, one of the junior leaders in my store was attempting to steer me out of the business, telling me that I should go. “I got this”, he assured me.
But I stayed.
There’s a lot of newness in my team and also a lot of experience that just happened to be out of the business because of scheduled vacations and work related trips. I felt pulled to remain present to support the team, despite my peeps practically holding the door open for me.
But at 9, I started talking myself into leaving. Wondering how the cruise was going, it had been a lovely sunset. By 10 I was checking the bus schedule home and was surprised that it was as sparse at 10 pm on a Saturday as it was at 11.
Portland, you are still a small city in so many ways, my precious hometown.
So, I booked an Uber – hey, it’s not that small.
Which is about when the junior high gal pals slash gay boy crushes joined forces and let it be known that my attendance was not optional and that I needed to “get my ass onto the boat”.
Well, sure, I hadn’t expected that a booze cruise for a bunch of people staring down 50 would be tearing it up on a cruise that started at 11 pm.
I did not see that one coming.
Still…I had groceries that I had bought to get me through the next couple of days off. Beer. I had beer. I had to feed Myrtle. If I was going out, I had to wash a 10 hour day of work off. And it was so late! How had this happened?
So, I run into my building and jab the elevator button to get my hustle on and get my ass to the boat in less than an hour. There are some benefits to living blocks from the waterfront.
And…the elevator was out of order.
Up four flights of stairs with my groceries and the clock is ticking.
I put my stuff away, toss some wet food into Myrtle’s bowl and jump in the shower.
I get out of the shower and find some clothing that appropriately hides the shame of my semi-lazy free time. 10:25. Wow, I’m really low maintenance.
Cracking a beer, I spend a few minutes playing with Myrtle who is uncharacteristically happy to see me. Figuring that my friends had all been to dinner and had a couple drinks on board and that I may as well start on catching up while also forgetting that I hadn’t eaten anything all day except some Cheesy Poofs at work. But they were adult Cheesy Poofs – Cracked Pepper and Asiago, YUM! Nonetheless, I showed up at the boat at 10:57 with no idea where my people were, a slight buzz and a scratch on my hand.
This is my life.
I am looking around the boarding area trying to distinguish familiar faces from other booze cruisers and generic passersby out for an evening stroll on the Willamette and see no one. Someone asks me if I’m alone – some 20-something with a man bun – and I think, this is my life. Responding in the affirmative, I am asked to join his group so that they can get a discount for being a party of 8 versus their existing birthday party group of 7.
Maybe Man Bun is the odd man out, who knows?
I do, now. But that wasn’t the point of me being there anyway, which is why I also kept my “Just pay the damned price” thoughts to myself and graciously helped them deprive The Spirit of Portland of $80 in revenue.
I am then, honored honorary member of the group that I am, stuck behind 7 people who are taking forever to pay the admission and getting antsier by the minute. Plus, it’s 11:07 now and we are still docked. Why can’t things happen on time?
But, three minutes and a flight of stairs later, I am embraced in the reason that I joined this motley crew of 80s refugees as I climb toward the ballroom and before I hit the top step, I am spotted by a classmate from junior high and immediately feel like the center of attention. She introduces me around and I get my first glimpse of “Oh, yeah…Chris Galbreath” as I am introduced to someone I know that I don’t know that hasn’t come to the same realization yet. I’m pretty sure she got there and wasn’t sure how to laugh her way out of it, so I excused myself to find a bar. While I’m in line, I see my friend that originally shanghaied and welcomed me onto the boat leaving said bar and let her drift and do her thing. I’ve already decided that this is kind of like prom, everyone wants to be seen – which is fine, just 180 degrees from where my usual social behaviors lie. I watch her attend to different groups and drift here then there as I leave the bar with an IPA that would never pass muster on dry land in Portland and plan an intercept course. She tells me that I have to check out the upper deck, that that is where everything is happening.
So I open the door and before I get my foot on the first tread have run into the Fifth of The Fabulous Baker Girls who is wearing a prom dress and a pair of Chucks that matches my own. It was amazing! I hadn’t seen her in about 4 years, since I took a quick trip down to SoCal to deliver her fur baby, a surprise that my boyfriend’s cat had smuggled into our house and she instantly fell in love with on Facebook. And who wouldn’t?
At one point on the river, after we had passed under all the major bridges that cross over Portland’s central river and east/west side border, we were somewhat stagnant as the boat spun to head back upstream. This was just off the shore of an island in the middle of the Willamette and someone remarked how dark and empty the view from our perspective was. Truly, it was like looking into a void. It rendered the group I was with silent for several moments. I thought about how unaffected I was by the magnitude of the emptiness and uncertainty that I stood observing, so vastly different from the boy I had been when I graduated high school and stood figuratively looking into the vast uncertainty of the days to follow that first day of the rest of my life. These weren’t the people that I stood with that day as I snatched one of the three dozen diplomas awarded by my alma mater, but there was no denying the bond we shared nonetheless.
The rest of the night was a buzz fueled gab fest where I got to actually see and experience some of the people I have known longest in my life in real life 3D.
My crush from the 2nd grade.
People – a surprising amount of people, actually – that had crushes on me, oblivious to that fact as my awkward kid self was.
People who had migrated to lands far off and those who had stayed within a 20 minute drive from where we all met.
Couples that had been together since high school and couples that had reconnected in more recent years.
Perhaps a certain birthday party partier getting carried off the boat “sick” after we were forced to return to the dock mid-cruise.
It was 150 minutes of memories, those relived and those made only moments before.
And utterly un-missable.
I don’t know why those castaways on Gilligan’s Island were always trying to get back to the real world, I could have stayed here much longer. Although, I would have needed food at some point. And I would have negotiated residuals, unlike those Sherwood Schwartz folks.