A friend of mine told me that this weekend was her 20th high school reunion. Immediately, I was transported back to mine, back to one of the best nights of my life, back to when someone who had bullied me showed everyone else his true colors.
My hometown was a wealthy suburb, a place where rich, well-schooled, successful folks go to raise their families. A town filled to the brim with liberals who mostly commute to New York City, just a short train ride away. A town of folks that raise their kids to be liberals too.
My classmates and I were at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, old enough to protest the Vietnam war but not old enough to serve. Old enough to remember and mourn the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr., to have seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We participated in protests, celebrated the Women’s Movement, went braless through high school, and believed that all you need is love.
My family landed in town when my father bought a run-down Victorian house, sight unseen, in 1963. Kids in the neighborhood thought it was haunted; we moved in on Halloween. My two brothers, two sisters and I started school the following Monday.
Within a week, I had ruined my life.
You see, in 2nd grade, every Friday at my new school, we had Show and Tell. I bet you did too. But I bet you didn’t, well, show and tell quite like I did that very first week.
You remember Show and Tell, I’m sure. Everyone gathers together on the floor and everybody raises their hand to perform; three or four kids are chosen every week. They sing songs, tell jokes, juggle. That first week I anxiously raised my hand, but the teacher didn’t call on me. I performed anyway. There in the middle of the circle, I wet my pants.
I do not recommend “showing” in this manner if your goal is to one day be voted “Most Popular.”
I don’t remember what happened for the rest of the afternoon. I don’t know if I went home early, if my classmates got wet and ran screaming from me. I have buried that memory. I do know that it started four years of hell.
Tommy was the lead bully. He dubbed me “Weenie Girl” and teased and tormented me through 6th grade. He was truly cruel, and tried to keep others from being my friend. I hated him. I saw him less as we got older, but he was still a classmate when we both graduated in 1974.
But by the time of my 20th reunion, I had more or less gotten over my shame over the incident. And I did it with a very public therapy session. One night, when I had had way too much to drink at a bar, I climbed onto a table and told everyone in the bar my hilariously funny/sad story – how I ruined my own childhood during Show and Tell. I had always feared that someone would find out and ridicule me. Instead, there I stood, making the room love me, as I showed them the humor and the pain.
It had taken me years, but I had to admit it was funny. I mean after all, I didn’t do it during naptime. I didn’t do it during storytime. I didn’t pee while learning long division. I wet my pants during Show and Tell! Why hasn’t anyone put that scene into a sit com?
So on the night of my 20th reunion, when I saw lead bully Tommy heading towards me to say hello, I had forgiven him. Completely. And although I thought of all the things I could say to the nasty bully, I smiled politely, chatted amiably to him and his wife, and moved on with my life. It was a proud moment.
But the night got better. Much, much better.
You see, Tommy was the MC of the evening. It was his job to introduce particularly successful classmates, tell who was living in exotic places, and what surprising career choices had been made by a few. He showed pictures of us when we all still had hair, when we were thin, when we were young.
And Tommy did a good job speaking to that extremely liberal crowd of editors and publishers, doctors, public interest lawyers. People who still wanted to save the world. Good people, people with heart and soul. Liberals.
And then it happened. Towards the end of the evening, Tommy stood up on the dias and started to wind things down. And he said to my extremely PC friends and classmates:
“My wife told me not to tell jokes tonight. But I’m just going to tell the one.”
“Why is a man like a linoleum floor?”
Tommy paused for effect.
“Lay him right the first time;
walk all over him from then on.”
The room went silent, as one by one, each head turned towards the dias and each person either thought or said aloud:
“What an asshole.”
And after realizing that everybody agreed on that one point, I cracked up.
“Hell, I’ve known he was an asshole since 2nd Grade!” I said.
I’m pretty sure that when I am taking in my last breath, I will still be smiling about that night, knowing that in this life what goes around really does come around; sometimes it just takes a while.