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How I learned to love my high school reunion

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
  • Jeff Pearlman says he dreaded revisiting the traumas of youth at his high school reunion
  • He forced himself to go (says you should too), and had one of the best nights of his life
  • He hung out with cheer leader, chatted up the sports star, found all had become equals
  • Pearlman: MS-stricken friend at reunion was powerful thing to witness

Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for

(CNN) -- The year 1990 was not so great for me.

Let's see:

John Degl beat me up.

Teresa McClure rejected my invitation to the senior prom.

Michele Sheehan rejected my invitation to the senior prom.

I lost my fifth-straight student council election.

Andrew Honohan doused me with chocolate milk.

I was given detention for cutting school.

My dream college, Penn State, accepted me -- to its Altoona campus.

A mole the size of Lake Placid sprouted beneath my nose.

From September 1989 through June 1990 -- the span of my senior year at Mahopac High School in Putnam County, New York, -- I never kissed a girl or even held a girl's hand. I never drank a beer, a shot or even a raspberry wine cooler. (Stop laughing -- they were big back then.) I was invited to two parties -- both thrown by my mother. My pants were too short, my haircut was in the shape of a cereal bowl, I ruined the car (a sweet 1980 Datsun 510 that I accidentally drove through a lake) and Alf was canceled after five seasons on NBC.

So why, last Saturday, did I attend my 20-year high school reunion?

Easy -- because life is short. And boring and dry. And if we don't occasionally force ourselves to face the most uncomfortable of situations, we shrivel up and die in front of the television, a half-eaten bag of stale Fritos in one hand, the remote control in the other.

Hence, I entered a ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in White Plains, New York, took a deep breath and confronted the nightmare that was my youth. I stared down the cheerleaders, the bullies, the jocks, the brainiacs. I looked them over, one by one; thought about all I had gone through; all the anger and resentment that had built up deep inside my guts, and I ... and I ... and I ...

Had one of the best nights of my life.

Really, I did. If you have a reunion coming up, Go! Without hesitation. Never again will you have a better chance to cleanse yourself, to make peace with the past.

Without making an official proclamation, the reunion served as my farewell to any and all longstanding bitterness. I left grudges at the door, and sought out the goodness in those whose formative years had paralleled mine.

I danced with Lori Raffa, the girl from the smoking section (seriously, we had one). I chilled with ToniAnn Guadagnoli, the popular cheerleader (and our class celebrity. She's the author of "Chitter Chatter," my daughter's favorite book). I shook hands with Ray Mahoskey, the star running back, and chatted up Pete Lorenzini, the shotputter who was voted track captain over me.

For the first time, we were all equals -- all nervous, slightly insecure 30-somethings commiserating over Rodak's Deli and Carmello's Barbershop and those disgusting slabs of pizza that passed as school lunch.

But in particular, I paid close attention to the plight of Frank Zaccheo. Back in the day, Frank was one of the most dynamic athletes we had. A staple of the traditional Sunday morning flag football games, Frank ran like the Flash, charged a quarterback like a bull and threw deep bombs with uncanny precision. Twelve years ago, while playing in one of those games, Frank began to inexplicably trip. He went to see a doctor, who diagnosed him with Multiple Sclerosis.

The ensuing years have been arduous. Now permanently in a wheelchair, Frank suffers through unspeakable pain and exasperation. Yet when he heard of the reunion, something in Frank -- like something in myself -- stirred. Just as this was my chance to eradicate the suffocating bitterness from my youth, here was Frank's opportunity to travel back in time, to relish four hours not as the wheelchair-bound MS sufferer, but as Frankie Z., the cocksure Italian teenager from long ago.

To watch Frank roll into the room; to watch the hugs and the high-fives and the long embraces he received from our classmates -- well, it was as powerful a sight as I've ever witnessed.

My memories of Mahopac High School haven't changed. I'll always be the geek who couldn't kiss a girl or win an election.

But, for the first time in 20 years, I want to go back.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.