(This story is for beloved Thom Brodkin)
Of course Missy was making a scene at the registration table.
Thirty five years had not blunted Missy’s expectations that her very presence should cause red carpets to unroll and doves to be uncaged. Over her carefully coiffed blonde head read a welcome banner: “Class of ‘85 - Still Alive.” Black and gold balloons attempted to make the musty gym more festive, but offered an oddly funereal pallor.
“Well, just check again. I’m sure the registration forms were filled out.”
“Missy, you aren’t on the list. It’s $25,” we said.
“My husband assured me he sent everything in on time. He’ll be here any minute. You remember Todd—”
Yep. We remembered Todd. Todd the Rod. The only student in our grade that was prettier and more shallow than Missy. Except that while Missy kept her knees tightly locked together, Todd ran through the lot of her fellow cheerleaders and—rumor had it—a few of the young substitute teachers, one or two lunch ladies, and possibly the PTA president herself.
After all, it was the Eighties.
“Todd will be by later to handle everything. I’ll just fill out this nametag.” Missy grabbed a purple Sharpie marker and wrote her name in large curling letters. She still dotted the “i” in her name with a little heart. She peeled off the backing of the nametag and fully slapped MISSY on her left tit.
“Okay, Missy. Have fun.”
Missy and Todd had never come to the previous high school reunions. We'd heard they’d moved up north. We'd heard she had quite a career that left no time for family, trips home, or old acquaintances. Strange, though, as Missy had been so involved in high school, in the local church youth group, in the community. But, like all small towns, more people decide to leave than stay. Gets worse every year. Those who do stay cleave unto each other especially tight.
We watched Missy expertly sashay into the small throng of middle aged people, her chin tilted upward to give her slightly crepey neck a more swan-like appearance. Her high waisted pencil skirt showed off a still-narrow waist and impressive calves, capped off by impossibly high heels. Our bunions hurt just watching her click around in shoes so orthopedically unsound.
The rest of us had accepted our fifth decade of life, happily shoveling potato salad and chocolate coconut sheet cake into our wide, laughing mouths, our ample bottoms overhanging cold metal folding chairs. We sat in semicircles, separated by genders. Our husbands talked of sports teams and politics and fart jokes. We older mothers talked about children graduating from college trying to “adult,” we whispered words like “cancer” and “biopsy,” and we laughed at our horrible hairstyles, horrible music, and the horrible choices of our youth.
After all, it was the Eighties.
But we all watched Missy from the corner of our eyes.
Missy widely circulated as people quickly fragmented, leaving Missy a lone gazelle among wildebeests. She saw one or two of her old friends who reluctantly stood and let Missy air kiss them. Like a game of musical chairs though, her form grew more and more solitary as friend groups found each other and intimately clustered.
Missy put on her most coquettish smile and walked slowly by the men. There was no pull tab for her entry. The men looked sheepish, offered her a small nod, and then resumed their conversation about the new highway exit ramp and the new chicken place that opened up near the hospital.
Her particular group of high school beauties had left town long ago for bigger lives in bigger cities. With each passing rotation around the gymnasium, we watched Missy’s chin droop, her eyes looking at the doorway expectantly. She looked at her iPhone. She put it away. She walked to the refreshment table. Poured a cup of punch. Tasted it. Threw it out. Crossed her arms. Tapped her long lacquered nails. Pretended to read the championship plaques on the wall. She pulled her iPhone out again and looked at it.
There was nothing here for her.
We looked at each other, we minor players in high school, the quiet girls in the middle of the schoolroom who said little but saw everything. Wordlessly, we moved en masse over to Missy, full of strange compassion for this aging beauty from days long past.
“Is Todd on his way?”
She seemed startled.
“Uh, no. Todd isn’t coming,” she smiled broadly. Her expensive dental work was breathtaking, her mouth still as lush and young as when she called out cheers on the football field. Her lips were undoubtedly emblazoned with some new plum color with a French name we probably couldn’t pronounce, preferring the small black tubes of Chapstick to keep our own lips soft.
“Oh, I guess we’ll see him another time.”
“Absolutely.” She continued to smile, a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “He was really hoping to see you all again.”
Todd the Rod would be hard pressed to remember any of our names, we thought.
“So, are you visiting for a while?”
“I’m home for the duration,” she said flatly, dazed, as if standing in her old high school gymnasium was not at all what she expected. She looked around, distractedly, attempting to find her bearings. Everything both familiar and not.
“If we can be of any help—” we offered.
“Thanks, but I’m good. I’m—We’re really good. I’m just back in town for a little while,” she added and quickly turned her head. We collectively envied her thick blonde hair, obviously cared for with biotin supplements and hot oil treatments. Our hair was generally brown and frizzy, clogging up the shower drain more and more as it disconcertingly thinned.
Missy had finally had enough. With a final look around the room, much smaller now than she remembered, she took decisively long strides to the exit, not saying goodbye to anyone before departing. She quietly pushed open the door to the parking lot and disappeared into the night.
We watched her leave, odd waves of nostalgia trailing in her wake. But her presence wasn’t missed.
In the closing moments of the reunion, there were dishes to clear, tables to fold, Tupperware to return, and balloons to pop. Someone took down the “Class of ‘85 - Still Alive” and rolled it up for next year.