O.K., so it’s been a while since I’ve checked in; I’m blaming it on the bossa nova and my high school reunion. Set in the overtly homogeneous Raddison Hotel in Whittier, the reunion was an interesting amalgamation of nostalgia, pretense and perplexity from which I’ve barely recovered. I mean, how would you like it if you walked into a room full of classmates, and John Bean walked up to you and said, “Cheryl Bellos [I know, your name’s not Cheryl]. I don’t believe it. I’m still thinking about that graduation kiss. [He touches hand to heart.] That long, ten second kiss I will never forget.” Well, if you were Cheryl Bellos, you would be standing dumbfounded, mouth agape because you never kissed John Bean…at least you don’t think you did..did you?
And then Dick Stevenson looked at me with regret saying, “I knew I should have asked you out.”
The drive to Whittier had been all mapped out by the husband who was not invited, mostly because my friend Jackie said that her group of friends were not bringing spouses. Fine with me. The trek from West L.A. involved several freeways and an exit on Beverly Boulevard, which surely must be the longest street in Southern California. (It either begins or ends fairly close to home.) The main drag through the heart of old Whittier, Greenleaf Avenue (for John Greenleaf Whittier, Quaker poet) was so charming, I almost teared up. There were cobblestone streets and trees along storefronts that bespoke of a gentler time. As complicated as we want to make high school, there’s no escaping the idea that things were simpler then. Now when we look back, the worries seem smaller, the crises less frequent. All I wanted was for Stan Cole to smile in my direction. How green was my soul…then.
When I found my friend Jackie at the entrance of one of the ballrooms (for want of a better word), she said, “See that guy over there? That’s Joe Jennings. He asked me who I was waiting for and when I told him, he said, ‘I was in love with her all the way through high school.'” Wow. That was news to me.
I bought Jackie a whiskey sour in honor of our 1965 trip to New York. We drove cross country in her overloaded Simca, lived with her aunt in a Brooklyn Heights basement apartment and worked for Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith. 70 Pine Street. You could order bar drinks if you were over eighteen and every night after work, we would go out and have whiskey sours. Two cherries each. So, I was sipping this whiskey sour when John B told me about the graduation kiss. He said, “You don’t remember, do you?” Well, how could I admit to that. I smiled coyly, raised my eyebrows in a “let this be our little secret” and went to find my table.
I figure I was about three whiskeys in when Phil Starr asked me to dance, and I turned into Uma in Pulp Fiction. Huh? Go figure that one out. Was I showing off? Back at the ladies’ table, Jackie told me that Mike Barrymore said to her, “I always thought you had great breasts.”
“I still do,” she replied.
But it all, just all of it, felt like we were back in high school. The guys with the lines. The girls with their pencil skirts and coy retorts. You could claim anything, tell anyone about what did or did not happen, and they would believe you. We were all doubting ourselves. Our memories.
Later, John of the long graduation kiss, came up to me and said, “Cheryl, when did you get here?”
I rest my case.