Mudik for me meant two overnights in airplanes and a dayroom shower at the Tokyo airport. But I was also heading back home during Idul Fitri week to attend an event universally guaranteed to stir up memories and revive forgotten fantasies.
My high school reunion coincided with the end of Islam’s holy month, so I was happy to merge my annual US visit with the latest gathering of classmates. It had been 10 years since our last get-together, and the first since I took up residence in the land of mosques and malls.
“The reunion committee wants you to be MC,” said the e-mail a few months before, so I had an “official” purpose in going. But I was much more curious as to whether fellow Kalani Falcons felt as young as I always say I do.
You see, when you’re past 50, there’s no hiding the graying hair and daily aches. But I honestly feel no older than 35 on most days, and live life based on feeling.
Reunions are usually attended by those who have had stable lives and moderate, scandal-free career success. I don’t think Bill Gates returns to sing his school’s fight song. And I’d bet the beauty queen corruption suspect isn’t on the guest list for her next alumni gathering.
So I thought I knew who and what I’d be seeing in the banquet room on reunion night. Was I surprised!
If you’ve ever attended one of these, you know the routine. Find your buddies that you still see and grab a beer. Seek out old girlfriends or boyfriends and reminisce about the kiss behind the gym. Table vote on the hottest guy or gal in the room and try to figure out what’s their secret.
When I hopped off the stage and began making the rounds, my eyes zeroed in on a familiar but still mysterious face.
“Donna? Donna, is that you?” I asked with big hope in my voice.
“Yes. Hi, Dalton,” she replied with a Mona Lisa smile.
Donna was the girl I never had. And I mean that with all due respect. When I first saw her in 11th grade Japanese class, I remember being captured by her perfect look of the times. Straight, long black hair. Short, flower-print dress. And a classic cuteness that could win hearts in any language.
But I could never bring myself to go beyond perfunctory greetings, let alone ask her out on a date. Until this moment more than 30 years later.
“I haven’t seen you since high school,” I said. “Where have you been?”
“This is my first reunion,” she explained. “I was just always too busy.”
I would learn that she worked as a human resources manager, raising two daughters with a husband of 33 years. But more angry than sad, Donna revealed that this was likely her last year of marriage due to problems that emerged unexpectedly and were too big to solve.
We danced, talked more, and then I gave her my flower “lei” garland of white ginger blossoms I had been presented as MC earlier in the evening.
Before we knew it, the reunion large and small was over. Until I read what Donna wrote on the back of my program.
“It was great catching up with you … I hope we meet again.”
And we would the very next night, her words sparking nerve stored up for decades. I called her to have dinner at a restaurant in my old neighborhood.
It was a second delightful evening in a row, filled with comfort food and comfortable laughter. For a few moments, it felt like being back on campus. And this time, the reality was much more satisfying than the fantasy.
“We have to grow old, but we don’t have to grow up,” a classmate had told me the night before. He was right.
Hawaii native Dalton Tanonaka is the anchor of Metro TV’s “Indonesia Now” program on Saturday mornings at 6:30 a.m., and host of “TalkIndonesia” on Sundays at 6:30 a.m.. He also anchors “Asean Today,” a monthly program seen throughout Southeast Asia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..