I'd been amiably divorced for three years—we had kids we didn't want to emotionally maim, and we weren't assholes, anyway—so I had nothing romantic to protect when I went to my 20th high-school reunion.
Though my parents were hippies-turned-wheat-farmers who didn't believe in God, they still sent me to the tiny evangelical private school 50 miles away. I was the vaguely talented quarterback of a definitely horrendous team, had longer hair that forced me into theological debates with the teachers and preachers ("Didn't Jesus have long hair?"), and was a vegan (which ironically made me exotic in a meat-eating rural community). In other words, I was a faux-rebel who was sexually attractive to my conservative Christian female classmates. So, yeah, I had a lot of sex for an awkward teenage boy.
But I never even kissed, let alone made love to, the prettiest girl in school. Her name was Janis (after Ms. Joplin or Ms. Ian?), and she was the valedictorian and captain of the basketball team. I think I loved her. And I kept loving her—or my memory of her—for two decades after graduation. So I certainly had amorous ambitions when I walked into the reunion.
I'd gained 40 pounds over the years, but Janis was exactly as beautiful as she'd been when she was 16. We said hello and talked about my busted marriage and her typical one (her husband was home with her three sons).
"Well, you know," she said, "I love him. But marriage is—well, I guess you know what marriage is sometimes."
We didn't talk again for the rest of the evening, though we made plenty of eye contact. Sort of sexy, I guess, but she was married, so I left early and alone.
I drove over to the hamburger joint. I fondly remembered its milkshakes. Slurping the vanilla, amused by our constant need to be teenagers again, I was surprised to see Janis pull up beside me in her car.
She smiled and waved. She kept smiling and staring at me. A silent invitation, I think. How often do people get laid at their high-school reunion? I wanted to get into her car and drive with her to some dark dirt road between wheat fields. I wanted to get her naked in the backseat. I wanted her to tell me that she'd always loved me.
But I only smiled, waved back, and drove away. I want to believe it was because I didn't want to commit adultery, but it was truly because I was still intimidated by her. There was no time in her life or mine in which I deserved to be that close to her beauty.