Monday, June 21, 2021

Life & Style

My Old School

A couple of columns ago I wrote that I had a high school reunion coming up and that I wasn’t going to go. Well, I lied.

I drive from the relatively cool shores of the Connecticut coastline to the balmy suburbs of central New Jersey. I say relatively cool because the entire East Coast is entombed in a heat wave of Saharan proportions. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or where you’re going to, it’s hot as the devil’s own back porch.

The reunion is being held at a country club in town. But before that is a tour of my old school. When I walked off the football field on graduation night, I remember thinking that I’d never go back into that brown, hulking building with its yellow lockers and odd smell of carpet glue mixed with mimeograph ink mixed with graphite. Never say never, right?

From the parking lot, things look the same as they did then. Flagpole, grass, brown brick.

Back in the day it was a modern school. This means that it was constructed without windows and the classrooms had no walls. We enter through the main doors, which lead to the large cafeteria, or commons as it was called then. The cafeteria was “The Commons,” history was “social studies,” English was “language arts.” Modern school, modern names.

Somehow the place still smells like mimeograph ink.

We’re a group of former students from different classes and none of us have been back since graduation. It feels like walking through a museum with a tour group. We chat amicably and make jokes about what we see. The desks are piled high and the boards are bare, but it’s easy to remember the classes and the teachers, if not what we should have learned.

It still feels a bit like a prison. A loud, distracting prison where I heard every word in every surrounding classroom under the glare of fluorescent lights. The teachers were great, the atmosphere, not so much.

I haven’t grown since junior year but somehow I expected the place to seem smaller. It doesn’t. In an Alice-in-Wonderland way it all seems bigger. Like someone gave me a bottle of something out by the flagpole and it was the one that shrinks you. How did I get from class to my locker and then to another class?

As I’m marveling at how big everything seems we reach the gym. The gym was always the gym. No rename.

“Ahhhh, the gym. Scene of so many nightmares.” I can’t help but say it out loud as someone fans open the double doors and we walk in. I was a late bloomer of nonexistent athletic ability, so the gym was a carnivalesque hall of mirrors. I never knew which way to turn or where to go.

I feel a sense of relief and power now as I walk onto the squeaky-shiny floor and don’t have to elude flying objects. Everything is still there, though. The bleachers, the ropes, the storage rooms where the dodgeballs were kept. Above the door there’s a mural of our mascot, a pirate with a knife clenched in his teeth. Gym was awful, but our pirate was always cool.

We then go to an area that’s been added on. The door I snuck out of during last-period pep rallies now leads to an entire new wing. (I went to one pep rally in the autumn of my freshman year and decided one was more than enough. I never graced another.)

The heat index outside is 120 degrees and they’ve shut off the air conditioning for the summer. Sweat makes rivulets down my back and my skirt sticks to my legs. Some things look the same, some don’t. Rooms are not where they should be. The music rooms are now one big art room. What did the art room become? I can’t recollect where it used to be. It all feels like a fever dream.

After the tour is over, a bunch of us go for ice creams. At the end of the reunion weekend, I head back north. Back to where there are walls with windows and the heat index is only 105. Back to the beach, back to the breeze. And not a dodgeball in sight.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at

Juliana Gribbins is the Columnist for Zip06. Email Juliana at .

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