The most memorable classmate attending my recent high school class reunion was a guy nobody remembered. He wasn’t even there, but everyone was talking about him by the time the evening was over. You know how there is somebody from high school you vaguely remember, that quiet girl or guy who wasn’t involved in much and probably lived out in the sticks away from civilization? That was Doug Johnston in our class. At least, I think that was Doug Johnston.It has been 45 years since my class graduated at Wyalusing Valley High School, so we have two or three of those shadowy figures you almost remember. You see their photo in the yearbook and you’re thinking, “Okay, I think I remember him. Wasn’t he the kid who never took a shower in gym class? No, he’s the one who got sick all over his desk when we were taking our geography finals.”Someone suggested that Doug came to one of our first class reunions. He got a bit upset when the owner of the establishment where we were congregating wouldn’t let him bring in his own beer and departed grumbling about how he would never be able to make it through an evening with us without another six pack on top of the one he had already consumed. That did happen, but it wasn’t Doug. In fact, the guy wasn’t even in our class. He showed up at the wrong class reunion and is probably, all these years later, still complaining about what a bunch of snobs his fellow high school alumni were.Doug came up during the after-dinner program at our reunion a couple of weekends back. Several of us had put it together very late in the summer, after debating whether we should have one at all and just hold out for the 50th. We decided to go for it and actually got a pretty good turnout considering. There were more than 70 there—39 or 40 of them classmates—and we had an enjoyable evening. It was also nice that two attended who had never been to a class reunion before. Doug couldn’t make it.I have to be candid and say that nobody really missed Doug. His name wasn’t even brought up. You know, there is always a handful people ask about: “Whatever happened to so-and-so?” Some of those people actually live within a few miles of you, but you never see them. Perhaps it’s that you see them but don’t recognize them. No such inquiries were made about Doug. If it hadn’t been for this last-minute letter we received from him, memories of Doug would have become even dimmer, if not extinguished.Some people don’t have warm and fuzzy memories of high school as I do. They may be painful, even traumatic, and that appears to have been the case with Doug. Usually they don’t send a letter to read to the class like Doug did. It was my job to sort of emcee the program, which mostly consisted of guiding classmates through introductions of themselves and whoever they may have brought with them and then trying to coerce somebody into volunteering to organize the next reunion. There were the usual prizes to the person with the most grandchildren, who had been retired the longest and who had changed the most. I was one of the frontrunners for that last one, by the way. Then there were several notes and letters from people who would have liked to have been there but couldn’t. They may share their own memories from their schooldays or let everyone know the course their life has taken. I guess Doug’s letter would fit into the latter category.I believe I got the letter just the day before, and a casual reading of the opening paragraph indicated that it was standard sorry-I-couldn’t-be-there fare. It seemed a little long, but he was probably bragging about all his grandkids or maybe how well he had done in life. I put it with the other letters and, during the social hour and dinner, I asked a few people if they remembered Doug Johnston.“Yeh, I think I do,” Ralph Tewksbury said. “Didn’t he wrestle on the JV team when we were sophomores?”“He was pretty quiet. Didn’t say much. I think he was a friend of Stanley Sobiech,” Dave Yeager suggested.“I really don’t remember him, but the name rings a bell,” Stanley Sobiech said. “Didn’t he hang out with Dave Yeager?”And so it was that I came to read the letter that would make Doug Johnston unforgettable to his aging classmates. In fact, when the ballots were counted later in the evening for who had changed the least and who had changed the most, Doug won in both categories. That’s pretty good for not even being there.I won’t give a detailed account of the letter. A recap will suffice. It started with a cheery greeting to the class and how he couldn’t make it. When he made the comment that his years at WVHS had ruined his life, there was a ripple of uncomfortable laughter. It got worse from there.I was mentioned. He said he heard I was shot up real bad in Nam and was now a vegetable who couldn’t even feed myself. He said he recently saw my photo on the Rocket website and added, “Obviously, somebody’s been feeding him.” Stuff like that. Instead of being offended, people started laughing. I wasn’t so sure. Then he said something insulting about Bill Gannon, who laughed along with everyone else.Well, almost everyone else. A few people were still looking at each other as if to ask, “What’s with Doug?”He then mentioned two of the girls in our class who he had a crush on when he was in high school. I won’t mention their names, but he said that their rejection of him crushed his self-esteem and his relationships with women. He had been divorced seven times, he wrote, and he laid the blame at our feet. He told about going to Vietnam because his high school failures screwed up his attempt at college. He was captured by the Viet Cong and ended up a P.O.W. in the Hanoi Hilton. He didn’t try to escape, but his captors actually returned him to where they captured him with a note explaining they’d rather have him on our side than theirs.People were still laughing, which I thought was rather cruel. I was actually starting to sympathize with Doug. Anyway, he reported that he was now homeless and living on the street in a Magnavox Big Screen TV box with his new wife, who was already talking about cashing in the marriage chips and becoming the eighth former Mrs. Johnston.Okay, I’ll confess. I made it up. There was no Doug Johnston in our class, but I needed a common name that might seem familiar. It was a great way to loosen everyone up by making fun of ourselves. Most everybody realized the joke before I got too far into the letter, though several spouses had to be reassured it wasn’t for real.In fact, if we had an election for the most popular in our class 45 years later, it might very well be Doug Johnston. I expect we’ll be hearing from Doug again at our 50th reunion if he makes it through the next few winters in that cardboard box.
Wes Skillings is a Pennsylvania-based copywriter whose recent emergence into this field brings a freshness and vitality that will make the words on your website, newsletter, direct mail marketing or news release reach out and grab the customer base you are seeking.