Any investigation of the report cards residing in my parents’ basement would reveal my struggles in math classes at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. Algebra, Geometry, Analysis — the actual title of the class didn’t matter. It it involved numbers, I had problems. Math remains a weakness. But I actually wish I was even worse. I sometimes wish I didn’t even possess a basic understanding of addition and subtraction. That would keep me from playing the numbers game that’s always going in my head.
“Magic Johnson won his first MVP 26 years ago. Twenty-six years from now you’ll be 64. 1987 feels like yesterday, 64 will feel like tomorrow.” “I remember seeing E.T. in the theater. That was 31 years ago. I’ll be 69 years old and, well, if not dead, feeble.”
Normal stuff like that. And here’s one that’s been especially relevant this year: I graduated 20 years ago. Twenty years from now I’ll be 58 and…where has the time gone and how can I slow it down?”
The JWP Class of 1993 is holding its 20th reunion this weekend. There’s a gathering at the Friday football game, a picnic in the Janesville park Saturday afternoon and dinner in nearby Mankato that night (you know those annoying chain emails — or Facebook posts — about 150 Signs You’re From a Small Town? I’m adding one. When you have to hold a reunion in a different town).
But even though I’ll be 1,500 miles away in New York City my thoughts will be back home. Because no matter how much time goes by and no matter how many years I spend in the big city and no matter how little interaction I have with my former classmates and no matter how many years it’s been since I’ve walked the halls that don’t even look the same anymore, a part of me will always still be there too.
We were the first graduating class of JWP that spent all four years in high school together, coming together our freshman year when Janesville and Waldorf-Pemberton combined. The Golden Bears and Colts went away and the Bulldogs were born. Some of us met the newcomers for the first time at football practice a few weeks before we walked the halls, the tentative early intros quickly giving way to new friendships.
According to the number of pictures in the senior yearbook, we had a graduating class of 89, although there’s always the chance someone wasn’t included. Yes, I have my senior yearbook on my NYC bookshelf, although it’s actually not called a yearbook — it’s the Bulldog Legend. I know every one on every page and have distinct memories of many of the pictures — and not just because one is of me shooting a jumper with the I-didn’t-write-this-but-I-would-have caption, “Shawn displays that perfect shooting form.”
The hairstyles betray the year, as do the length of the basketball shorts. Numerous pictures still amuse. Me with a black eye for the team baseball picture, courtesy of a classmate — and future police officer — who didn’t see the humor when I accidentally sat on his glasses and taunted him by waving them in his face in our hotel room at the boys state basketball tournament. I can laugh because it didn’t shatter my orbital bone. The JWP girls basketball team struggled, winning just four games. I can remember sitting in accounting class that year when some of the girls looked over the year-end recap produced by the coach, which he titled, appropriately if somewhat cruelly, “Another Long Winter.” As noted in the yearbook, “The girls worked so hard to score points while the opponents seemed to score so easily.” I apologize to the girls of the class of 1993 — and the ladies of 2013 — for still chuckling at the line.
Another favorite picture involves my cousin Matt jogging to first base for a putout while I watch from behind at second base. Matt looks annoyed in the pic, perfectly capturing his emotions for much of that season, as he was relegated to first base when not pitching, an arrangement that culminated with him having to play first during our game in the Dome — and not getting to hit as the DH took his place. There’s an 80 percent chance Matt has torn that entire page out.
There are pics of dress-up days, band concerts, color prom shots, and graduation.
Most mysteriously? A picture taken on a bridge during the senior class trip to a Mankato park. Everyone’s there, lined up four or five deep. My group of friends stand in the back. Matt, John, Martin, Travis. I was there that day. I should be there in the picture. I’m not. I’m either somehow in the crease of the page, was kneeling down to tie my shoe the moment someone took the picture or I was later Photoshopped out for unknown reasons. I’ve shown the pictures to others. No one has an answer. Maybe someone at the reunion knows.
Unfortunately I won’t be there to ask, a victim of a life without Facebook, which is where the reunion was originally announced a few months ago, an event I didn’t learn about until last weekend when Matt texted me wondering if I was going to the reunion. Having missed all of our other reunions — the sixth (yes), 10th and 15th — I’d been hoping to make this milestone one. There might not be a large crowd but I’d get to see some people I hadn’t seen in, well, 20 years. I can’t say I was best friends with all of them but I’d be curious about all of them. And by the time 25 rolls around I might carry a lot more weight and a lot less hair; this could have been last chance at vanity, the final opportunity to look something like the buzzed-cut 17-year-old in that yearbook, even if you have to squint a bit these days to see the resemblance.
But even if I had made it, and no matter how many do, all of our reunions from now on are marked by who’s not there. Five classmates have died since our graduation, five out of 89. It’s a devastating, staggering number, rivaling the number of classmates who have died from my mom and dad’s classes 30 years earlier. Five in 20 years. Accidents, suicides, cancer. A brother and sister from our class died nearly a decade apart. They’re all in the yearbook — senior pics, in the halls, on the bridge, in clubs or classes. We’re now a class of 84, and that’s the worst number of all.
I don’t know how many will show up this weekend; sounds like it could be pretty small. Jobs, kids, geography or bad memories can keep people away. But I wish I could be there, because it will always be home, even if it will never officially be that again. Twenty years can’t change that, even when they change everything else.