Ordination, Reunion, and a Late Visit
There are the days that remind you of exactly where you have been and where you should be going. I had one of those days.
Yesterday morning, I went to a young priest’s ordination. He graduated with my younger sister and is friends with my parents. Since my parents and my sister could not attend, I went. I got to church a smidgeon late. I thought that I probably wouldn’t see a face I recognized except for a handful of the priests. I was definitely wrong. Everywhere I looked was a familiar face. I didn’t get a moment to chat with him after the 2 hour service, so I went to the reception at the local Catholic high school.
As I walked in, I saw a framed picture on the wall of my friend Adam who passed away when I first started law school. He had a memorial fund and scholarship set up in his name. I stared at the wall for a solid minute before I felt a bit sheepish as the herd of a couple hundred people were walking through the entrance to get out of the 90 degree heat behind me.
It’s strange to be somewhere where people are genuinely happy to see you or at the very least happy enough to ask questions about your family. Then I ran into the deceased friend’s younger brother. I hadn’t seen him in a couple years since he moved to Austin.. I asked about the family and what was going on in general. It burned me inside because I wanted to ask how he was coping. I wanted to know if he was ok. He was a bit younger than the whole lot of us and was treated like the baby brother of the group, and I just wanted to know if he was ok, but I just didn’t have the heart to bring it up at an event where everyone was all smiles.
After standing in the receiving line for the newly ordained priest, I finally had my chance to walk up. Before I utter a word, he says my name and tells me it’s been a long time since he’s seen me. I haven’t talked to him in 14 years. I probably haven’t seen him in 10 years. Of course, he’s more than happy to give our family a blessing and wanted me to say thank you to the rest of the family.
As I was driving home, I made a phone call to one of the guys who I consider a good friend who survived the high school through college transition to ask if he was attending our reunion that night. He said he was. I hadn’t really considered going before I called him.
Of the guys who stayed close to me post high school, one just had a kid, two were in Baton Rouge, one was in California, one was hanging out in New Orleans for the weekend, one was dead (not the memorial one, but another named Stelly), and one came into town and was debating it. Of the girls I stayed close to, one called me the day before to double check to see if I was going. Once I told her I wasn’t, she was a no go as well. Another lives in England. Another is currently in Pennsylvania. My post high school knit of friends weren’t going.
So my friend Jordan, who was debating, and I went out for dinner. We did a lot of venting, and it became more clear to me that I’m just embarrassed of where I am in life. I’m ashamed of myself. Nothing in my life is in presentation shape, and I just didn’t want to face the crowd. We make our way to the default bar in town.
Jordan is harassed by text messages to come by one of the organizers. My friend who I had called earlier to see if he was going mentioned there was a nice memorial for our deceased friend Stelly. Because I have dragged Jordan into hundreds of awkward situations, he decided to return the favor.
The reunion was from 7-11. We show up at 10:20 PM. I follow Jordan to the door, and I’m quickly reminded why I love the guys from my high school class. Each direction was another hug, butt slap, hump, or a kiss to the side of the head. Only shaking hands isn’t something most of my class of nearly 400 did. Then, I spot a friend walking out the glass doors.
“Ummm… Matt just made the DJ turn off the music, and he announced that you showed up.”
I’m mortified, embarrassed, and not remotely surprised at the same time, but as Matt walked out with his wife… that son of a bitch had a Cheshire grin on his face. “Good thing you showed up. Ed is stealing your thunder as the most popular Asian.”
I made my rounds and started telling everyone hi. I kept it pretty brief and tried to avoid getting in depth about my life except for those who are in the same boat (i.e. everyone who graduated law school which is a whole lot of us). The same group of boys who are out during all the holidays were the same boys who showed up with the exception of Matt coming in from San Antonio and Brian coming in from Chicago. The strange part was the girls who showed up…. tended not to show up with their significant others. I was kinda baffled. After years of the girls separating from the rampaging pack of single boys, they actually came back to hang out.
I hadn’t paid for the reunion. Neither had Jordan. We were party crashing and I knew that the Student Council girls had worked their butts off to get this thing together. I honestly didn’t want them mad at me. It’s a ridiculous thought now, but I remember how much time and effort it took us to organize things together when we were in high school. I can’t imagine how much of a pain it was to do it now.
So as I was getting in my car to meet everyone at the after party at the default bar, I hear a voice call out my name. It was one of the girls who put it on. Her mom was our Student Council sponsor (with whom I had locked horns with from time to time). I was relieved she was just happy to see me and grateful I understood how much of a pain it was to fork over the money for this event while having no idea if she and the other girl would make the money back. (We have an account to pay for such things, but there has been drama with some of the members involved and access was an issue.)
The bar was a free for all. I somehow managed to be part of several rounds of drinks without paying for a single round. As much as I dragged my feet, as embarrassed as I am about who I am, what I am, and what I’m doing… I’m absurdly grateful to my friends who are just happy that I’m alive. However in that moment… I thought of Stelly.
It’s been 8 years. I still visit him in the cemetery all the time. He should have been putting me in a headlock and giving me grief for being late, but he was just a picture on a table. After some post bar activity, I drove to the cemetery. After 3 am, it’s not exactly the ideal place to be, but I know the exact entrance, the exact turn, the exact spot I park, and the exact grave… without any lights.
I don’t often pray. I generally only do so as a coping mechanism, but tonight I meant it. I felt a lot of love from my friends and it was obvious the love some had for each other. I really wanted Stelly to somehow feel that I’m still thinking of him. (Yes, there was plenty of hatred too, but no one confronted someone they hated from what I could tell.)
As much as I get frustrated with my home town, the people, and the attitudes, I know this is a huge part of who I am. In a time of difficulty, it’s a comforting reminder that if I fall flat on my face, lose everything I love, move home, stay an old single guy, and not make a damn thing of myself… that there are still a lot of people who are just happy to see my face and will immediately buy me a drink. I don’t even mind the red headed drill sergeant who still enjoys embarrassing the living crap out of me…. because he knows and I know the 4th grade red headed white kid in a mostly black elementary school who needed a friend… and the 16 year old ginger punk who got in a fist fight at a party and had two friends who stood by him in his house afterwards when he was in tears.
I feel like I’ve been there for a lot of the worst moments in my friends’ lives. Little did they know that a lot of them did a bit of good in one of the worst stretches of mine.