This Saturday is my brother’s ten-year high school class reunion.
He wasn’t invited.
Now, it’s possible that Matthew’s invitation was lost in the mail. Or maybe they didn’t even send out invitations and assumed that word-of-mouth and the Internet would provide the details for the people who are interested. A third possibility is that it was a conscious decision.
We spent all of last week with my brother — and the rest of my family — on a cruise ship in honor of my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. We all had a great time, in our various ways, but my favorite part was spending so much time with Matthew. I got to see more of him than I have since before we moved to New York more than seven years ago. He made RZ and I go swimming every single day, as well as putting us through a grueling cardio-and-weight workout in the boat’s gym.
I may be the only person in the history of the world who has ever lost weight on a cruise. Thanks Matthew.
Every so often, he would bring it up: “My class reunion is on August 6,” he’d say uncertainly. By the fourth or fifth mention, I could tell he really wanted to go.
By using 100 percent of my emotion-moderating skills, I was able to swallow the iron fist of rage gripping my esophagus long enough to say, “Dude, you don’t want to go to a class reunion. Those things are for complete douches. People get wasted and barf all over the place and cry in the bathroom. I didn’t go to mine because I am awesome.”
This was not insincere. I didn’t go to my ten-year reunion — not because I think I’m awesome, exactly, but because I find contrived social situations with long-lost bullies embarrassing.
But he doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, he’s super social. All week long, people in the boat’s hallways, dining rooms and elevators would say, “Hey Matt! What’s up buddy?”
“Matthew, who is that?” we’d whisper.
“A guy from the pool,” he’d say.
One evening, we were sitting in deck chairs after dinner when Matthew turned and tapped the middle-aged man sitting next to him on the shoulder.
“I’m Matt,” he said.
“Hi, my name’s Jim.”
“Do you have a wife?” I wondered where this was going.
“Yeah, I have a wife,” Jim answered.
“I had a girlfriend,” Matt said. “Sometimes people get dumped.”
“Yep,” Jim agreed. “Just about everybody gets dumped at least once.”
And just about everybody doesn’t get invited to the party at least once. This happened to me for the first time in a long time last year. And man, it didn’t suck a whole lot less than it did in high school, even though I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway.
It’s the thought that counts.
If my brother’s lack of an invitation was intentional, I’m assuming that the anti-inviters assumed that he wouldn’t find out. Ah, the layers of assumption — it never leads to anything good. Because, of course, he did.
It was through a co-worker at the uber-hip place where he works (a place that, just saying, invites him to parties). The co-worker graduated from high school with my brother and assumed that he was in the know about the festivities. So my brother asked my mom about it.
Neither my brother nor I have lived with our parents for a long time. Our parents do, however, live in the same house they have lived in for 36 years. It was the address that my ten-year invitation arrived at three years ago — the one that’s publicly listed in phone books and on the Internet. This is what led our mom to conclude that, not for the first time, Matthew had been excluded.
She’s probably right. And I think that he can’t be the only one.
When my mom told me about it the first night on the boat, I didn’t say much, but I went back to our stateroom and stared at the ceiling as a fiery anger filled my soul. I fantasized about tracking down the people responsible and, after a requisite kicking in of their teeth, forcing them to invite my hilarious, interesting, witty brother to their bullshit party. Possibly as tears of remorse, and also pain, streamed down their face(s).
But I won’t. Not because of my stated policy of non-violence, which doesn’t apply to people who screw with my family, but because I only ever want people to accept Matthew for himself.
Social workers talk about something called the dignity of risk. It means that full independence and inclusion in society means that sometimes you will be excluded and treated unkindly. Sometimes you will fail and feel embarrassed, just like everyone else. And it means that sheltering a person from these terribly uncomfortable and ordinary situations is demeaning.
My brother doesn’t deserve to be excluded from his class reunion, but he especially doesn’t deserve to have a well-meaning family member force people to invite him.
On the last day of the cruise, our boat was surrounded by dozens and dozens of killer whales. We stood on an upper deck and watched them spout, flip their fins and wave their tails in the air. It was amazing.
Matthew turned to me, “It’s like a John Lennon song.”
“What? How is this like a John Lennon song? What song did he ever sing about whales?”
“I’m just sitting here watching the whales go round and round, I really love to watch them roll,” he sang, and then chuckled at his own cleverness.
I’m giving the people in charge of the Mountain View High School Class of ’01 Reunion the benefit of the doubt. I know that if they knew my brother personally — the guy who knows what it feels like to be dumped by a girlfriend and who loves John Lennon, lifting weights and swimming — they would have invited him. I know that if he really was specifically not invited, it was based on a superficial judgment that has little to do with his personality.
But I will also say this: If you are in charge of sending out class reunion invitations, don’t be a dick and exclude the people who were in the special ed class (you know, that shed out back).
Other sisters may not be as forbearing as I am.