Next year it will have been twenty years since we left that building as students for the last time. We return as alumni and for me, it's a once a year return. Some of my friends have kids who attend that school and they return day after day to drop off and pick up, for cheerleading practice and football games, for parent-teacher conferences and for PTA meetings. As the nominees for Homecoming king and queen were announced, one of my friends predicted both of the winners and as I looked at her in puzzlement, she just shrugged. "I have kids who go to this school." As if that explained it. I couldn't have predicted who would have won the year I VOTED for king and queen.
I got there early and walked into the school, past the band members milling around half in uniform and half out, half-heartedly tuning instruments and standing in crooked lines, into the cafeteria, into the bathroom. It smelled the same - hairspray and the undefinable funk of teenager. I put on my long underwear, a sweatshirt with my high school mascot on it that I purchased for just this game, swiped on some mascara, and walked back out into the cafeteria just in time to see a junior varsity cheerleader fall onto her head after a missed handspring. I nearly rushed over there to help her until I realized that there were already three coaches heading her way.
I remember these friends, these people who are sitting around me, look exactly like they did back then, I swear to you, but then I look closer. Maybe I am that old. My friend's daughter is one of the sophomore class banner holders during the half-time show. We scream when her name is called, hooting and hollering like we never did when we were actual students at this school. When she came up to us during the third quarter, she rolled her eyes at me when I asked her if she heard us cheer for her. Her presence, this beautiful daughter of my good friend, her existence is the real clue that yes, we are older. And that's okay.
We laugh at jokes that are decades old now, we ignore the glares from the guy sitting next to me who is actually watching the game, and we critique the marching band's performance. We clap at the introduction of the parents of the senior football players and cheerleaders. My ears perk as I hear the names of some of my former classmates out there. We marvel at what a perfect football night it is, I silently marvel at the endless cornfields surrounding the campus, and the crowed trickles out at the end of the third quarter when the result of the game is no longer in question. This is what Friday nights are about in small towns all across this country and I can't help but be glad for it, for right now.