Our Jamaican driver, plainly spoken, warned that whatever ludicrousness was in store for our weekend of old high school friends reuniting after years apart, there would be no smoking and no fighting on our way from New York to Atlantic City. Yet, plainly understood, as long as we didn’t light one up or aggressively rearrange someone’s face, everything else was on.
We had exploded from the halls of high school and dispersed throughout the country – Northwestern, USC, Baylor, MIT, Claremont-McKenna – miraculously able to reconnect over breaks long and short, wonderfully indebted to the ties that continued to bind. One of us went to Tibet. Another just got a tattoo. One has been with his girlfriend for two years, at least two months of which the rest of us knew about. One of us lives the high life in New York City. We have all made our way here – dutiful fish headed upstream and moths consumed by a flickering flame, that green light on the pier of the fading past.
For two hours on a cool New York night, we are all together once again. We eat at a Chipotle near Wall Street – the location is different but everything is the same.
The conversation degenerates immediately to which girls were the hottest in school, who we’d punch today if given the chance, how great it was, that one time that we agreed we’d never speak of again but still know how it felt and how we promised ourselves we’d never forget. There’s less serious talk too, about jobs and pay and lives diverging and connecting in mysterious ways, about plans for an uncertain future, about who will get married first and who’ll be cold, ugly and lonely forever.
Soon, one of us says he’s feeling sick and needs to head out. His lady-friend is waiting and she doesn’t like waiting. Responsibility, he says, is important.
The four of us now head uptown to an open bar where more secrets and drinks are spilled. Someone in the bar is having a birthday; we toast to them but turn back to ourselves. This is our night, not to be hijacked by any other.
Way leads on to way – good flashes – someone is trying to speak Polish to our cab driver who is from Bangladesh – someone pounding a table demanding MORE and laughing MORE and judging LESS – someone goes horizontal on a bar stool and disappears – a sudden pact to meet up again, immediately, soon, whenever possible, sometime, maybe.
We lose one more to a flight to Chicago the next day. Only three of us make the journey to Atlantic City.
The boardwalk is slicked with rain when we pass the empty ferris wheels, steamy rickshaws, popcorn stands and a sinister, paint-peeled pier with the air of a clown crematorium. We gamble; poker puts us down, penny slots pick us up, roulette sets us back. We are up, down, up, down and all square, all balanced and all keenly aware of how with heat and pressure we fuse our jagged pieces together into a clear and honest whole.
I say goodbye the next afternoon after bagels back on 113th and Broadway. The subway pulls away from me with the remaining two who will soon part. We add this weekend to the vault, smile in faith and hide our keys until next time.