When We Were Kings

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I’m feeling emotional as I sit here at home in Olympia, Washington, while my 30th high school reunion is happening in Juneau, Alaska. I never had any great longing to attend a high school reunion, but now that it’s underway, I feel some regret that I’m not there.

I loved high school, despite the fact I never had a girlfriend. I once received a bit of feedback suggesting I may have tried too hard and thereby came across as intensely desperate, which, apparently, is not what your average teenage girl is looking for. I didn’t let a dearth of romantic entanglements prevent me from enjoying all that my senior year had to offer, including the prom. At the time, it was generally understood that the prom was for couples, so I asked an acquaintance named Angela who was equally interested in attending and equally single. I had a great time, and I think she did, too, aside from the pre-prom dinner we had at the fancy Gold Room restaurant in the Baranof Hotel. I ordered escargot because I appreciate it as a garlic and butter delivery system, but I didn’t insist that Angela try it. Of her own volition, she bravely downed one of the mollusks and excused herself to the restroom. My romantic resume wasn’t helped by that incident: Intensely desperate and makes girls sick. Despite what you may think, I wasn’t afraid of seeing Angela at the reunion. I was, however, a little afraid to see a girl named Dawn, who I once slow-danced with but was so nervous that I shook involuntarily, which, to be clear, was embarrassing. Intensely desperate, makes girls sick, and tremors. What’s not to love?

The last time I gathered with a significant number of my high school friends was towards the end of the summer after our senior year. We took skiffs and motored to Eagle Beach, outside of town, to camp overnight and toast each other’s greatness as we embarked on our next respective post-high school adventures. I did my part, convincing my mom to contribute to the delinquency of minors and buy the beer for us, but somebody blew it in the food department. Our menu for the evening consisted of Rainier Beer, corn chips, hot dog buns, eggs, and Swisher Sweet cigars. We tried to overcome the lack of meat by going fishing but were unable to stop laughing and singing, which is not what your average salmon is looking for. It was an epic night.

I should have been eager to recapture a bit of the magic from those days when we were kings, but I was anxious about the reunion. After I moved away, I lost touch with most of those friends, and I feel guilty about it. Who was I to think I could just walk back into the room thirty years later and expect them to be interested in me. I dreaded the thought of hearing (or saying), “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you.” I like to think I keep my self-loathing to a minimum, but it is there.

Someone created a Facebook group for the reunion, and over the last two days, I’ve been looking at the pictures my old classmates have been posting. It’s hard to recognize the 48-year olds that had been my fellow Crimson Bears, and I’m sure they would say the same about me. Life and time has a way of changing our appearance. While we all look more seasoned, they all look great, and I cracked many smiles as I perused the group selfies.

One of the pictures was of a small memorial that had been set up at the reunion dinner: a display of yearbook photos of classmates who died. I saw the picture of my friend Tony, who died in a car wreck when I was a sophomore in college. In my second book, I wrote about Tony and me sneaking into his older brother’s room to look at his copy of KISS’s Alive album, which was forbidden fruit. We didn’t even listen to it, as it would be too dangerous. Tony was a good friend, and his death hit me hard, but the blow has softened over the years.

It was the photo of Brian Fisher on that display that punched me in the gut. Brian was not a close friend in high school as he was a “stoner,” and I was not. I have nothing against people who smoke marijuana, but, as an asthmatic, smoking anything was a bad idea for me. Brian was also a fan of metal music, and that was where we connected. I was becoming a serious metal head in my high school years, but I didn’t have a lot of information. I knew the popular hard rock and metal bands of the time – AC/DC, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, etc. – because I could see them on MTV and hear them on the radio, but I wanted to know more. I read about bands in Circus and Hit Parader magazine that sounded exciting and dangerous – Celtic Frost, Slayer, Agent Steel, Venom – but I had no way to hear their music. They weren’t on the airwaves, and they weren’t for sale in our local record stores. How did we survive before YouTube and Spotify? Brian was a potential source for this darker side of metal. In my junior year, I acquired a copy of Metal Church’s album The Dark, and it quickly became a favorite. I thought it was pretty extreme stuff, so I asked Brian if he had heard it. He was familiar with it and thought it was o.k. While he was not especially impressed with my awareness of Metal Church, it at least provided evidence that I was serious in my interest. A few days later, he brought an album to class for me to borrow. It was one of his favorites, and he thought I needed to hear it: a live album by the English band Venom, called French Assault. I was nervous and excited when I got home and put it on the turntable. I knew Venom was considered a satanic band, and I feared for my immortal soul, but I was finally going to hear the hard stuff, true metal. The recording was rough, and, to be honest, I hated it. It was just noise to my ears. It would take a few years before I found my way back to Venom by way of my college friend Sean, but I’ve always given credit to Brian for making the introduction even if it was a bad first impression. Brian had touched my metal nerve and encouraged me to explore the extreme side. It’s a path I’ve never regretted taking. Thanks, Brian. We didn’t know each other well, but I have always thought of you as my original brother in metal. RIP, my friend. \m/

To my other Juneau Douglas High School Class of ’87 classmates, I’m sorry I’m missing the party just because I felt guilty about my 30 year absence. Whether we knew each other well, we were part of each other’s lives. Thank you for the part you played in mine. I wouldn’t be who I am without you. We grew up together and became a royal family of kings and queens in 1987, ready to take on the world. I hope you enjoy the party tonight, and I hope the rain is soft enough tomorrow for you to gather around a bonfire on Sandy Beach, raise cans of Raindog and sing “Never Say Goodbye,”the Bon Jovi ballad that served as the theme of our senior prom. Bon Jovi isn’t quite metal enough for Brian and me, but it’s our class song. It’s probably a good thing I’m not there for that. Can you imagine if Dawn wanted to dance with me for old times sake? Intensely desperate, makes girls sick, tremors, and gray hair. The complete package. I’m so grateful that my wife puts up with me.

And Bucat, I’m going to drink a Rainier in your honor tonight, you beast! Cheers, Class of ’87. Go Bears!

P.S., For those readers who aren’t from Juneau, I should explain that I’m not in that picture up there at the top. I’m in this one, from prom night.  No, I’m not high.  Just intensely desperate.

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5 thoughts on “When We Were Kings

  1. You are missed, Todd! Very much wish you were here. As another grad who has little contact with all those folks of our youth, I can attest it’s comforting and welcoming to be back in this place among these friends. See you in ten years, my friend.

    Rod

  2. I haven’t gone to any of my reunions. Any FOMO pangs I might feel I long ago realized were actually Fears Of Missing Out on what _other_ people might experience at _their_ reunions, people who had more friends, more fond memories of those green, green salad days. I’ve reconnected with some of the important folks from my high school years on Facebook, and that works better for me than reliving four years’ worth of rejection, humiliation, and ostracization over overpriced cocktails and overcooked chicken Kiev.

    • I’m sorry high school wasn’t more fun. Male ballet dancer who plays viola…yah, that wouldn’t have gone over too well in my high school either. You seem to have done o.k. since then. Thanks for your mentorship. You have certainly made a difference in my life. Cheers.

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