On the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend, I was sitting in the Victoria Street Cafe when a man about my age went up to the counter and ordered a coffee. He made conversation with the young woman behind the counter, and I overheard a few words. "Excuse me," I said, "did you say you were in town for your twenty-fifth high school reunion?"
I told him I was in Connecticut for the exact same reason. His school was one of the ones in the local area - northeastern Connecticut - and I went to school in the Manchester area. He introduced himself as Ben. We compared notes about high school. "You know," I said, "it was good to go to my reunion. I had a really hard time in high school, and some of the kids picked on me pretty bad. But I made it through okay, and it was good to see my old friends again. You know, people change - we all grow up."
He nodded agreement. "Did you have a similar experience in high school?" I asked.
He grinned sheepishly and shook his head. "No - I had a 1.37 grade point average. I was one of the assholes.
"In my senior year, there was this one kid that I used to torment mercilessly. I'd threaten to beat him up so he'd give me his excuse notes and I could cut class. One day I was so stoned I forgot to put the note in the teacher's mailbox, and we both got caught. We had to do detention together. We got to talking, and by the end of our detention we'd become friends. I took him out for beer afterward."
[The legal drinking age in Connecticut was 18 in those days.]
A few days later, I spotted Ben driving in as I was crossing the parking lot, and we waved at each other. Ben drove around the lot to find a space, and must have crossed paths with some guy in an SUV. I don't think there was an accident, just a dispute over a parking space. The other guy got out and started yelling at Ben, calling him names, and threatening to kick his ass. Ben just drove out of the parking lot, shaking his head nonchalantly. When his car passed me for the second time, I caught his eye and jerked my thumb toward the other driver. "Hey," I said, "looks like some people never grow up!" Ben laughed and drove off.
2. "Better them than me."
I got an airport limo to take me back to Bradley from Putnam - not that much more expensive than renting a car, and a lot less hassle. The driver was a short, wiry woman named Jean. It was a long drive to the airport, so we got to talking.
"In grade school I was getting beat up all the time, because of my size," she said. "When I hit high school, I decided it was going to be different. I got tough. My philosophy was, Better them than me. I'd walk down the hall and people would make way for me. I started going with the two biggest guys in the class, and I'd walk around with them on either side of me. Instead of taking all the crap, I started dishing it out.
"I didn't finish high school - got expelled in my sophomore year for fighting. Eventually I got my GED, and went into security work. I got a technical degree and went to work installing electronic security systems. Then I had to leave work to start a family.
"When I went back in the workforce, my degree was obsolete. That happens fast, especially in technical fields. So I went to work driving for the limo service. The pay isn't as good, but the hours are regular. I'm hoping I can get back to school soon so I can go back to what I was doing before.
"I hated being scared all the time as a kid. I'm glad I learned to take care of myself. But if I had it to do over again, I think I woulda done it different."