High school sucked, but my 20th reunion was one of the best days of my life
When I moved to Davis after 5th grade, I didn’t have any friends.
My parents were twice divorced and I was an overweight “outsider.” I was the target of jokes and insults on more than one occasion. Physical bullying was minor, but did occur. Davis doesn’t always do the best job at rolling out the welcome mat for newcomers, and junior high is a nightmare no matter who or where you are.
Still, it’s easier to take the “hits” when you have a couple of friends at your side.
As a result, I ostracized myself. After a couple of years of feeling you don’t belong, you find yourself moving closer and closer to the perimeter of the school, and you remain there, pacing, until the bell rings and you anxiously return to class, where hopefully the teacher stays sufficiently on topic to keep you out of public focus.
But that’s not what this column is about. Not explicitly anyway.
Here comes the plot twist: I love the class of 1998. I sincerely believe my cohort has turned into (or always has been — but more on that in a moment) some of the finest, thoughtful, charitable, and friendly people I know. A few are literally my best friends. A few more are quickly joining the ranks.
It would be a fellow nerd (“nerd” is a compliment in my book) who became my first, true Davis friend. Brad Ferrer and I bonded over computer games, movies, and the SF 49’ers. I was fiercely loyal to Brad and vice-versa, and we remain friends to this very day, despite the fact he lives in Tennessee.
When we were both 19, Ana Feliciano and I clicked. A gorgeous, former amateur model, Ana moved freely between and integrated all types of people: punk rockers, rappers, computer gamers, outcasts, jocks, stoners, breakdancers, gays and lesbians, cowboys, hippies, martial arts types — anyone who was down to chill, and who was down to chill with others, was welcome in Ana’s circle. Ana, along with my best man David Weinshilboum (not class of 1998) would be the first to really break me out of my shell.
To this day, she is one of my closest friends.
When I worked at The Davis Enterprise during its golden years, I learned how to re-socialize with people. I interviewed folks from all walks of life — from crime victims to politicians. From Steve Young and Jerry Rice to UC Davis’ chancellor and county supervisors.
It was here I also really began to interact with Chris Saur.
Chris and I had crossed paths repeatedly since we had both worked at Emerson’s junior high newspaper together. He and I were both Davis Enterprise adoptees during our teen years, but it wasn’t until our 20s that we began to really hang out, both one-on-one and in larger social circles.
Where Ana and David pulled me out of my comfort zone, Chris helped me to feel more connected to the class of ’98 specifically. There was room in the group for the taking if I wanted it, and I seized it. I developed friendships with Jake Macleod-Roemer, Andy Beetley-Hagler, Leah Jin.
Shortly before my 30th birthday, I co-founded this very blog site, and one of our earliest writers was Christy Carl Sillman (’98). Post-divorce from my first wife, Christy would set me up with a friendship get-together with her bestie Lauren Keller (’98), also a new divorcee at the time. Eventually Christy and her wonderful husband Steve even came down to visit, and the four of us had an epic night that spanned from Orange County to Los Angeles and involved karaoke, a bloody collapse, and a broken phone.
There’s a column about that somewhere on this site if you care to check the archives. 😉
They and others would also join me on numerous other occasions, such as when I sky dived for the first time, or during multiple social justice marches in downtown Sacramento.
Chris and Jake pulled me into a Fantasy Football league, and while I had always been a Niner fan, the league helped me connect to home on a regular basis while I was living in Southern California. I bantered with Ethan Shaeffer (’98) and Adam Hunt (’98), the latter of whom I got to hang with (and get legal advice from) before watching Andy rock out on the drums at the iconic Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles.
Online, I began appreciating the political messaging of Patrick Solem, Breanna Gonzalez, and Ian Cipperly (’98, ’98, ’98). I have standing beer dates with each at the earliest opportune moment. None could make it to the 20th reunion, but each retains a connection to Davis and will inevitably be back, at least to visit. Rocky and Andy also reached out regularly (’98 and ’98).
Eric Johnson (’98) gave me a generous wedding gift and, more importantly, he specifically recalled that I had given him pirated computer programs and games back in high school.
I’ve been invited to parties by Shea Stratton (’98), a King’s game by Pat Geis (’98), and a drink with someone I have long admired: Bryan Hollar (’98). Chris Buckpitt (’98) insisted I hit him up next time I’m in Santa Barbara.
Most recently, I had the opportunity on a couple of get-togethers with Chris to hang out with the inimitable Susan Alcauskas (’98). We had orbited similar spheres in the two decades post-graduation, and she was also a close friend of one of my dearest friends, Jenny Rihl (sadly, not class of ’98 in Davis). On one of our first and few get-togethers, Susan confided that she too never felt truly comfortable in high school, despite important lingering friendships she had made.
But Susan also found her wings apparently, as she currently has the most adorable daughter and an accomplished husband. Just as importantly, she is one of the kindest people I have met.
Last Saturday we had our 20th anniversary. I initially had a lot of trepidation about attending, even if I had come to love and appreciate so many in the class. After all, it’s difficult to escape entirely the pains of adolescence, whether inflicted or self-imposed.
But as I developed relationships with so many members of the class of 1998, I came to realize that all of us were navigating our own way through murky, uncharted waters. We were all some combination of angsty, hormone-driven, scared, hyper, acne-covered, chubby, insecure, dorky, loving kids — each just trying to find our way in the world. Inventing and reinventing ourselves.
When I shared my anxiety about going with a few of the reunion committee members, I was touched by the responses.
Sigrid Asmundson (’98): “I completely understand if you don’t feel comfortable coming to the reunion and I don’t want you to feel pressured to do so. However, I know I speak for all of us in saying we would love for you to come and it would be great to catch up in person after all these years.”
My dear friend Christy Carl: “We all have been on journeys and our lives are colored in many different ways. I think it’s normal to feel anxious. I know Steve (my hubby, for those that don’t know him), would appreciate having you there, as he won’t know anyone else aside from Bryan Hollar. I’m here for you, and if you do decide to come know that you have all of us to lean on.”
And finally, Pat Geis, the day after the reunion, sent me this: “I’m so fucking happy you came out last night. … You’re a good dude. Let’s stay in touch. I’ll be in Sacramento a lot soon to watch the Kings suck at basketball. My [phone number redacted]. Can’t say you don’t have my number now. Ball is in your court. Oh wait, Kings turned it over. FML.”
At 12 years old, I would have never predicted that being a member of the Davis Senior High School Class of 1998 would be one of the best parts of my life.
I wish I could go back and tell that once-shy kid to move away from the perimeter of the school, and walk a bit closer to the middle … where the people were.
The people I’d ultimately fall in love with.
A special thank-you to the Reunion Committee: Sigrid Asmundson, Nicole Boosembark-Baker, Chris Buckpitt, Patrick Geis, Selina Higgins (Carboni), Katherine McCormick, Heather McGee, Todd Morrow (Graphic Designer), Emily Reeder (Hodell), Christy Sillman (Carl), Marie Vaughn Collet (Graphic Designer).
And as always, thank you, Chris Saur and Ana Feliciano.