My high school alumni association has tried to get in touch with me for years. The only address they had for me was the one in the student records. My mom still lives there.
"Mater Dei wants to invite you to the class reunion," my Mom says.
"They weren't exactly my best days."
"They keep calling me. Can I give them your number so they stop calling me?"
"Please don't give them my number. Tell them I was sucked up by a tornado while storm chasing in Oklahoma. Tell them you think I'm in Oz."
"I see them at church every Saturday night and they ask me about you."
"Tell them I'm wintering at the South Pole and am subsequently unreachable."
"Why don't you tell them yourself?"
"Because then I wouldn't be unreachable."
My sister lives in the same house as my mom. So does my brother-in-law. He was in the same high school graduating class as me. They go to the reunions.
Richie says, "You should consider coming to one. Brian Williams came to the last class reunion. He said he remembered you. You should come to this one."
Brian Williams is the anchor on NBC News now. In high school he was a tall lanky guy from the track team who was one of those in-between guys. Not a jock. Not in the "cool" crowd. Not a geek. Not a loser. Just one of those guys we went to school with, like me and Richie.
Richie installs gas furnaces in Newark. I run an international engineering team. Brian Williams is on TV every day and flies on Air Force One. Life has taken us all in weird directions since high school.
I ask Richie, "What would I say to people?"
"What do you have to say?"
"What did Brian Williams say?"
"He said,'Hi. Nice to see ya.' He shook everyone's hand. He sat for dinner with me and your sister. It was nice. Like the old days."
"I don't know about you, but I had a pretty rotten time in high school. Richie. You remember -- nobody actually liked me. I hung around with the public school kids."
"Nobody remembers a damn thing. They all think they liked you."
"But they really didn't."
"It's fun. I'm telling you. Seeing all these guys with gray hair. It's a scream."
"We have gray hair, Richie."
"Like I said. It's a scream."
My high school alumni website has an obit page.
I scanned through it. I recognized all the names. Some of them, well, we always figured they wouldn't last too long. Others are a surprise.
"Look at all these dead kids," I say to the blonde haired girl.
"They're not kids."
"I don't have any compartments in my memory where I know them as adults. They're all kids in my memory."
"You're living in the past. You should go to a reunion and see how everyone turned out."
"-- Sharon Luchenbach. I can't believe she's dead. We used to sneak Mars bars into study hall. I asked her to homecoming and she wouldn't go with me. Actually, nobody would go with me."
"I find that hard to believe."
"She went with Bill Hamel. He was a wrestler."
"No. That nobody would go with you."
"You didn't know me then. Girls didn't like me. I asked three different girls to the junior prom. It took me nearly a month to get up the courage to ask each one."
"By then they had other dates."
"They were waiting for certain guys. They all wanted to go with John Gianni. They told me. They asked me if I could get John to go with them because they knew I sometimes hung with him. I took my sister's girlfriend. She was a Sophomore and was dying to go. She would have gone with me if I had ulcerous leprosy."
"Don't you think you're overstating things just a little?"
"You weren't there. It was awful. I was so happy to be out of there, I didn't ask anyone to sign my yearbook at graduation."
"Sounds pretty petty of you."
"Look at this. Jennifer Nelson. Gone. Good lord. I think I asked her to one of the dances. She wanted to go with John, too. Can't believe she's gone. My God...Craig McCanns. Damned nice guy."
"It's bound to happen."
"Cut this out. Read something else."
"They keep bugging my mother. They want to rub my nose in my high school persona."
"Is there any possibility they just want to stay in touch because...ahem...they actually liked you?"
"What in the world happened to you in high school?"
"It was awful."
"Come on. Tell me one thing."
"Gimme a break. I have PTSD. I don't remember any of it and it's never coming back. It's sealed in the inner reaches of my psyche and giving me high blood pressure."
"Just one thing."
The only person of my generation I know who liked high school is my brother. He was immensely popular. Girls swooned over him. He dated a different girl every month. Sometimes two at a time. Everyone liked to be around him. He was magnetic. Funny. Always getting into situations that could become good stories later.
He organized my bachelor party. Got me so drunk in the first half hour that I passed out. They took me back to my apartment and tossed me in the bedroom.
I'm told my bachelor party was great after I got dropped off. Even now I have a sketchy picture of what happened that night.
"I remember your sister's fiancee ate a Heineken bottle," says one of my friends who was there and is now living out here in California. We were sitting in his back yard at his house in the hills overlooking the bay and San Francisco. I was on my second boilermaker - Boddingtons and Macallans.
"Not Richie," I say.
"Nah. The biker dude. What was his name?"
"Yeah. He was pretty colorful. Must have been shitting blood for weeks. Can't believe he didn't wind up in the hospital. He divorced your sister, right? Ever hear from him?"
"My mother says he's selling tires in south Jersey."
"I remember he drove away with some girl on his bike. I think she was naked," he says. Then adds, quickly, "It wasn't your sister."
"I've heard. That's probably both good and bad at the same time."
"So you've said."
"The alumni association wants to know where I am."
"Engineering School? Don't tell them. You'll never stop getting the calls for donations."
"Too late for that. They already have me. This is the high school."
"I don't want to talk to them."
"They won't leave my mother alone."
"So talk to them."
"I hated high school. I don't want to relive it."
"How can you possibly relive it? Do you know how long ago that was?"
"Maybe you don't know me. I can harbor a grudge for a really long time."
"Apparently. By the way. Your brother told me his 20 year high school reunion was a total blow out. The restaurant had to kick them out at 2AM. They were dancing on the tables. Even the spouses got along. They all needed to get cab rides home. You went to the same school, right?"
"Yah -- but he was three years behind me. My class was different."
"Why didn't you go to your reunion?"
"I heard Brian Williams was there and everyone had a great time. You could have talked to Brian Williams about what it's like to hang around presidents. The guy goes to war zones and interviews combatants. He has to be interesting as hell."
"You know, your brother has a lower blood pressure than you -- by a lot."
"How the hell do you know that?"
"He tells me. He tells everyone."
"You really need to find a way to make peace with this whole high school thing. It would be good for you."
"I take pills. They lower my blood pressure."
"People would like you more."
"I'm not kidding. I may be the only person who can stand you. By the way, there's more of that in the refrigerator."
"I'm switching to Guinness."
"Go get your own. All the ones in the refrigerator are for you. Nobody here touches the stuff. On your way back grab that bottle of Stag's Leap."
Ravi comes into my office, arm outstretched. In his flat open palm is a bright orange fruit, the size of a doll's head. Shiny and smooth.
We usually speak every day for the better part of an hour. We talk about technology. We talk about customers. Sometimes we go to lunch and talk about our childhoods. I grew up in New Jersey. He grew up in India in a town whose name I can't pronounce.
He was poor. He was determined. He came to America without any money. He got off the plane and just wandered out of the airport to find some friends he knew had moved to somewhere in California.
I admire Ravi for all he has done for himself and his family. He built his entire life. He didn't give up.
I don't like to tell Ravi about New Jersey. We had too much. We had heat and electricity and sewers. We didn't have to have an entire family working in near slavery to get us into school.
When Ravi comes unexpectedly it is to complain about something. Or he comes in to warn me about something about to happen. He's my canary in the coal mine. He's watching my back.
My mind is bracing for impact.
The water supply is contaminated with arsenic. Everyone's getting smallpox. The Russians accidentally launched all the missiles and we've got 30 minutes to live. They're turning off gravity.
His hand is steady. His pose is awkward, but comfortable. Like something Boticelli would have painted that he would have had to pose for, remaining still for days.
The fruit is iconic. I think of that word as if it is pushed into my head from above. Icons mean something, I think to myself, like someone says it to me.
"Do you want a persimmon?"
"I like persimmons." I take it. It's cool and heavy. Organic. Living evidence the earth tries to provide.
"We have a tree. I came out of my house and it fell onto my head. I thought of you."
I was speechless, so I did what speechless people do.
Ravi says, "Most people don't like persimmons. Yet there are so many trees around here."
"Some are good," I say.
He says, "Well, there was something I wanted to talk to you about."
Here it comes. Aliens have crashed all our computers. Ravi stares at the ceiling. He looks out my window. He examines the map of Antarctica I have on my wall to remind me I once breathed the air there.
He says, "No. It's Fred I have to talk to. See you."
He leaves my office.
Leaves me holding the persimmon. In the middle of my e-mail. In the middle of the phone calls. In the middle of the worrying about tomorrow's meeting. I am not typing or talking to someone. Just holding an orange globe. Had you said to me an hour before, "In an hour you will be sitting in this chair holding a tree fruit," I would have said you were crazy.
Then the impulse. I went on line and typed my address into the alumni association website. I gave them my e-mail address.
I looked at the obit page and thought about the kids I knew who are dead.
We look at obits so we can sneer at God. I'm still here. You didn't get me.
I thought about Jennifer. She turned me down for homecoming dance. Nobody remembers that but me.
How much is now lost forever, gone with them?
Ravi pokes his head in my office. "Now I remember what I was going to say."
"Are they firing all of us?"
"No, it's the thing you said yesterday about your old classmates. You know I went back to India, to my old school."
"How was it?"
"We have saying. It doesn't really translate. It's sort of like, 'This is the way it is. You got all the way here. Be happy about it.' We all take different paths, you know?"
"I think so."
"You worry too much. You know that you have nothing to worry about."
I thank him. He winks and leaves.
This guy who grew up on the other side of the earth from New Jersey.
Came all the way around to the other side of the world to hand me a persimmon.