THE GRADE SIX REUNION
I woke up…. but this was not my bedroom. In fact, this wasn’t a bedroom at all. I was on a park bench in the middle of the city. There was a puddle of vomit next to me – I was fairly certain it was mine.
I was still drunk, that was for certain. My hands grappled in my pocket for my mobile phone, I riffed it out and stared at the glowing display.
It was 5am.
So, you’re probably asking yourself: how did I manage to wake up at 5am, alone, on a park bench in the middle of the city, with only a fuzzy memory of how I got there? Well, it’s a funny story really…..
I want to make it clear here: the reunion idea didn’t solely form with this book. It had been kicking around in my head for a while, an idea that would occasionally pop into my head and I would dismiss it as being too much effort or because my attitude at the time was more akin to thinking: I’m just ONE guy! I couldn’t possibly organise it all on my own. After all, who has a Year Six Reunion anyway?!?!
What I’m saying here is: there is a reason I came up with the idea way back when I was trying to contact Paige. It was not the first time I had the idea.
The origin of that idea dates way, way back to the Fifth Grade.
Now, for me to properly tell this story you have to know that I suck at sports. I have no hand eye coordination whatsoever. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I still have no hand eye coordination. I used to dread Phys Ed through most of my schooling years.
Except for one day in the fifth grade.
Our class was playing “Croccer”: essentially a combination of Soccer and Cricket. I walked up to the wickets to have my turn to bat/kick. Like everyone else, I expected this all to be over in a few moments. The soccer ball would fly past me, hit the wickets, and I go back and sit with the rest of my team.
The soccer ball came towards me, and suddenly the universe turned on its head. I swung my foot out and actually KICKED THE SOCCER BALL. The ball went flying, everyone looked in shock, and I started sprinting full pelt between the wickets.
After numerous runs, the ball came sailing back towards the wickets but it was just as I arriving. Adhering to the rules of the game I swung my foot out I as ran toward the wickets and it collided with the soccer ball AGAIN! And AGAIN the BALL WENT FLYING! I made numerous runs between the wickets, and wouldn’t you know it, the situation repeated itself a third time again.
When my batting/kicking finally came to an end, panting, I walked over to my friend Rachael Simpson who excitedly said to me:
“Wow – that’s something you’re going to remember at a Year Five reunion!”
“They don’t have Year Five reunions,” I told her. “They don’t have even have Year Six Reunions!”
But Rachael was adamant.
“Well, one day I’ll organise a Year Five Reunion!”
And that, my friends, is where the idea was born.
It was not the last time I would think about it. Six years later I was sitting around at a friend’s place and people were reminiscing about their primary school days.
“I’ve always wanted to organise a year six reunion,” Jodie had said.
“That would be crazy,” My friend Mat offered. “Not having seen people since you were 12!”
So I told them the story about game of Croccer in Year Five, and then the topic seemed to turn to primary school sports, while thoughts of a Year Six Reunion still entertained themselves in my head.
Then of course we come to the present, where I’d started writing this book, and Year Six Reunion had sort of arisen from that. I had started making some pretty concrete plans when something threw a rather nasty spanner in the works.
It was 7am and there was someone knocking on the front door. I was very hung over, so to me it sounded like pounding.
The night before, Sangas movie had premièred at a local cinema which supported independently made films. Afterwards, he’d then thrown a party to celebrate at a club close to the cinema. I’d had way too much to drink, and left my car in the city opting to take a taxi home and then collect my car the following day.
Which brings back to the hammering on front at 7am the following morning.
I stumbled to the front door wearing some track suit pants an no shirt, severely hung over, and found myself greeted by two police officers.
“Is Liam home?” They asked.
“That’s me, I’m Liam,” I mumbled.
“When was the last time you saw your car?”
I related the story of being too drunk to drive home.
They related the story of how my car had been stolen, taken for a joyride around Canberra, and was then set on fire behind some suburban shops.
I took the news surprisingly well, at first. Until the police had left and I was left alone.
I called my brother and we went to check out the car that afternoon. It was wrecked. Whoever had torched it must’ve doused it in petrol. The seats had burnt down to charcoal and nothing remained of them but the metal frames. All the windows were broken and one of the back tyres had partially melted into the ground.
The only satisfaction I got was that there was a fairly sizeable dent to the front of the car, and I hoped whatever they’d hit had hurt the driver something savage.
So there I was: No car and no money to buy a new one. It was time to start saving and anything else that cost money would have to put be put on hold.
This included the Year Six Reunion, which in some ways was a relief, I emailed Paige a photo of my car, and a note saying that while the reunion was cancelled, the book was still going ahead.
The reunion was dead.
For the time being at least.
Weeks later I’d almost paid off the car my sister was selling me and I was attempting to get in contact with Jessica. For those of you who read her chapter, you’ll note that while on the phone to her uncle, I mentioned I was organising a reunion.
In all honesty, I panicked. I didn’t think her uncle would approve if I’d told why I was really contacting her, and in the heat of the moment I’d told her the first thing that came to mind.
By the time I actually spoke to Jessica, I figured this was the universe’s way of telling me the Year Six Reunion was actually going to have to go ahead.
In a weird way, one could argue that the Croccer game, the conversation with Jodie, and the book itself had all lead up to this.
It was time to plan.
In a quick scavenge through my old school reports I found an class photo of my entire Year Six class taken shortly before the end of the year. Ninety kids crammed in with their faces visible and the names listed at the bottom. Granted, it was only their first initial and then their surname but it was enough for me to go on.
I called in sick to work one Friday and went into the electoral roll office. Now, I should mention at this stage that you can’t actually print off anything from the electoral roll. If you want any information you have copy it down by hand.
So I searched the database to the best of my ability. Some people were, surprisingly, not on there at all, some had multiple entries, and some, I discovered weeks later, I managed to accidentally miss entirely.
I then drove to the club and booked one of the function rooms, the manager was surprised at the idea of a Year SIX Reunion.
I got home and whipped up an invitation on my computer. It looked pretty cool, from my perspective at least, and I made certain to include the words: There will be a tab at the bar.
After all, who doesn’t want to go to a place with free beer?
I dropped them in the post box and wondered just what the hell I was getting myself into.
Now, this was about three months before the reunion date, and I figured I’d have time to save the money for the bar tab in that time. Three months was plenty of time to scrounge together the two grand I was planning on using to cover the bar tab and the extra five hundred dollars I was planning to spend on the finger food.
Oh how wrong I was about to turn out to be.
The first sign of doom came in a random phone call from my landlord. Like almost every renter, especially those in share housing, part of me always cringed when my mobile told me it was my landlord calling. This day was no exception.
I was on help desk. I hated help desk. I hated taking abusive phone calls from people who didn’t understand what I was talking about. I hated having to be polite to said people as they tore me to shreds. And the thing that absolutely drove me insane was that help desk was the one job I was actually fairly good at, which is why I constantly found myself placed back there whenever a co-worker was off sick.
So there I was, talking to a caller who was thoroughly annoyed at the fact I wasn’t telling him what he wanted to hear, when my mobile phone rang. Not wanting to tip off the caller I was putting him on hold for personal reasons, I told him I was putting him on hold so I could check something with my supervisor. As the hold music began to play for him, I answered my mobile.
“Hi Liam,” My landlord greeted me in a friendly voice. “Sorry we didn’t get in contact with you sooner, but we’re having a valuer come over to the house this afternoon to look at it for insurance purposes. Is anyone going to be there?”
I hesitated before answering. The short answer was Yes, I was certain Stu was going to be home that afternoon. The long answer involved me trying to buy us more time so as to actually clean the house up before any respectable human being could assess the value of the house.
Since I couldn’t come up with a logical argument as to why the valuer shouldn’t come by that afternoon without tipping off our landlord about the state of the house, I resolved to let it all happen.
The valuer did not think highly of our house. You couldn’t blame him really.
The unventilated bathroom had large amounts of mould forming on the roof and the walls of the shower. The basin had Alyce’s caked make up and beauty products splattered all over it. Ben’s sasquatch-like hair was scattered all over the house. The backyard was littered with cigarette butts. The water in the swimming pool was green, and the garage had a mountain of garbage that had been consistently growing for years as various housemates moved out and left their junk behind. Not to mention the fact we’d forgotten to put the bins out for collection for two weeks in a row.
The valuer reported all of this back to the landlord who phoned me right back and demanded a house inspection in a week’s time.
In a nice twist, all five of us pulled together and got the house to superb cleanliness once again. Phil took to the bathroom with a few bottles of domestos and a hose, Ben cleaned up his sasquatch-like hair from all over the house, Alyce disguised the pile of junk in the garage with a tarp and a few old mouldy blankets, and Stu and I found a hiding place between the garage and the tool shed that was unseen to anyone not on the roof of the garage. Collecting every bag of garbage that would fit we conducted a two man mission to shove the garbage as far out of sight as possible.
In our defence, if we’d had other means to dispose of the garbage within a week, we would have. Without a trailer or extra bins we were left to improvise. We wisely chose not to tell our other housemates about this stash of garbage, not even when weeks later Phil would complain I didn’t do much to clean the house up for the inspection.
We passed the inspection with flying colours. The landlord was thoroughly impressed with the house, the only thing we hadn’t managed to do was clean the pool water, but considering it was winter at the time, she let that one slide.
So when we called her up the following day to tell her that Stu & Alyce were moving out, it came as a complete shock that she was planning to sell the house and we had about 60 days to find a new place to live.
Now we had a problem. We weren’t going to find a housemate to rent the extra room for only two months. Nor did we want to cover an extra room’s rent for another two months. The landlord cut us a deal: if we willingly decreased our remaining time in the house from 60 days to 30 days she’d cover the rest for Stu & Alyce’s room. We complied.
So the money I had intended to go towards the reunion instead went to bond for a new place. We didn’t have a bond for the old place, but to make peace with the landlord for the state we were about to leave the house in, I gave her money for a bond that I did not intend to get back. Throw in the cost of hiring a trailer and petrol costs for repeated trips to the tip and between my new house and my old house and the reunion fund was now down to zero.
Luckily years of living on a seemingly low income has taught me ways of getting by on a small amount of money. So I went into “Savings-Liam Mode”. I ate cheap food, I opted to go hang out a friend’s place instead of the more expensive options such as movies/bowling/dinner at a restaurant.
Sure enough, as the date for the reunion loomed I’d managed to secure myself with $1500, $1000 of which I used to put on the bar tab, and the extra $500 was for finger food.
With the finances sorted I found myself constantly trying to plug the reunion through every means possible: it was like I was a man obsessed. I constantly scanned Facebook searching for names of my old classmates. I checked websites like schoolfriends.com. I saw people at parties and made sure to mention the reunion, and if given the opportunity I casually mentioned the size of the bar tab. (This last one didn’t seem to work – everyone who I told failed to show up!) I even placed the invitation in the newsletter from my old primary school.
Ben Nemeth was the first person to officially RSVP. He did so shortly after the invites came out. He was a good guy, Ben, and it immediately gave me hope that the night wouldn’t be a fizzer.
More RSVPs flowed in. People from interstate sent me emails telling me they were coming to town just for it. Other people RSVPed that they would not be attending, and the most common reason for this was that they were overseas.
The reunion date got closer and I got more and more excited, people were coming, the Year Six Reunion was a go! I was actually going to pull it off.
Then about three days before the reunion, panic mode suddenly set in. In the space of 24 hours, 10 people who’d previously RSVPed “Yes” had suddenly changed their response to “No.” I panicked. For the first time, I allowed myself to panic.
“Oh god,” I groaned to my friends. “It’s going to be me sitting alone in a hired out room drinking beer for four hours, isn’t it?”
Then, as if the universe was responding to my question, ten more people who I hadn’t previously heard from contacted me and said they were coming. My nerves were quelled – all was good in the universe.
The day of the reunion came. That afternoon I’d had to go to my nephew’s birthday party. We were sitting around talking when my sister-in-law Mayumi asked me the million dollar question.
“Are you going to be seriously out of pocket if people don’t show up to the reunion?”
I hesitated before answering.
“Uh, I didn’t charge anyone for coming….” My voice trailed off as I witnessed her expression. It was an amusing mix of shock and horror.
“Liam!” She reprimanded. “You self funded the entire thing? Are you crazy? Talk to me before you organise an event!!!”
I leapt to my own defence. Unfortunately, I had not properly thought out this argument. Luckily, my quick improvisation skills saved me.
“Well…. you know, what is so great about normal? If I were normal there would be no book! Normal is boring,” I smoothly argued. “Besides, it’ll make an awesome chapter,” I added as an afterthought.
“How much are you putting on the bar tab?” My brother Steve asked.
Lie. A little voice inside me commanded.
“Uh, $500…..” I tried, thinking that by halving the amount I had actually put forward, my family would think it be okay with it.
APPARENTLY I was mistaken.
“FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!?!?” Three family members seemed to simultaneously say at once.
“YOU’RE NUTS!!!” As you can see, this is why I’m used to this being said quite often.
“No one puts five hundred dollars on a bar tab!” Mayumi argued.
“I’m not ‘no one’ I’m Liam,” I tried. It didn’t work.
Steve tried being rational, figuring if he was it had better chance of getting through to me. It usually worked.
“If you put it on thinking you’re not going to spend it, you’ll definitely break it. It always happens! Just change it to like $50 when you get there, it happens all the time. People put on the invites that there’ll be a bar tab, but it’s only a small amount and everyone ends up buying their own drinks,”
Okay, so it usually worked. I never said it always worked.
“You know,” I said, going on the offensive “Last year when I held the Party For No Reason, I put $2000 on the bar tab and no one tried to stop me, you see when you get to partake in the bar tab people don’t mind as much.”
I smiled. I was on a roll, the reunion seemed to be working for me that night, the book was going well, really it felt like I couldn’t lose.
“Actually,” Steve laughed. “I did try and talk you out of it then.”
I laughed too. He was right, he had, and just like now, I hadn’t listened then either.
That night I went to the room I hired for the reunion, I set up the sound system (including five hours worth of songs from 1990-1996) and placed the photo board I’d made up on one of tables. And then I sat and waited.
I wanted to drink so I got a lift in with my housemate. This unfortunately resulted in me arriving a little earlier than I’d intended. About half an hour before the reunion was set to begin, the girl who’d been assigned to the bar attached to our function room opened the bar itself.
I asked if I could grab a beer even though it wasn’t set to start for another half hour. The lovely girl agreed. I sat alone in the room for a while drinking my beer, relaxing and hoping that the night wouldn’t crash and burn.
The bar girl asked me what time it started and I told it was set to start at 8pm. It was currently 7:45pm.
“So it’s not sad yet,” I joked, and then I ordered another beer.
Shortly after 8pm people arrived. And then more people arrived. And then even more people arrived.
Everyone talked, joked and got along.
Shortly after the first lot of people had arrived, when there was a large portion of the group there, one of the guys, David Gregory turned to me and asked
“So the question on everybody’s lips, who’s funding this entire thing?”
I hesitated, not having come up with a believable lie, I opted to go with the truth.
“I am,” I told him. People applauded. They were stunned, but they were happy. The night wore on, people joked about old times. People reminisced about those that weren’t there.
I got drunk. I got VERY drunk.
I began to realise that I was getting along with almost everyone that had come. I was even getting along with people I hadn’t gotten along with in school.
At one point in the night, I heard one of the girls trying to convince one of Paige’s friends, Kim, to drop by the reunion. Something she’d said had peaked my curiosity, so I tactfully enquired on what I’d just heard. It was Vicky, another one of the girls that was there, that answered my question for me.
“Paige thinks you’re only organising the reunion cause you’re still in love with her,” Vic revealed. I stopped, had I heard that right? Paige thought I organising the entire night cause I still in love with her?
“You serious?” I asked, trying to contain my laughter. More than one person nodded an affirmative. This was about the funniest thing I’d heard all week. All month, even. Possibly even since I started writing the book.
Paige thought I’d harboured a crush on her, for what….. eleven freaking years?!?!?! I laughed, and suddenly something made sense – one of Paige’s other friends, Andrea, had sent me an email about a week beforehand informing me:
“I don’t think I should come because I’m friends with Paige.”
That was the entire email. Start. Finish. End.
And when I thought about this in my drunken state, with the knowledge Vic had now provided me with, well I started laughing so hard my sides hurt and I started coughing.
Vic, who I generally avoided for the majority of high school cause she was friends with Paige, was actually a lovely girl.
The night wore on, I joked, I danced. Ben tried to get numerous people to remember him by referencing the “comb-over hair style” he’d donned for most of primary school. People asked me how I’d managed to track down everyone so I told them. People took photos, and almost everyone got fairly drunk.
Something that probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, was that Tom, a guy who’d been pretty much my nemesis in primary school, had actually turned out to be an okay guy. We got along like a house on fire. We’re still friends to this day.
The function room I rented had to be evacuated by 1am, but the majority off us headed out to a nightclub. Personally, I’m normally not a fan of nightclubs, but the night of the reunion I seemed to surprisingly enjoy it. Maybe cause it was the people I was with, maybe cause I’d never been that drunk at a nightclub before, or maybe it was cause after a couple of months of planning the reunion had gone off without a hitch.
I felt invincible.
My buddy Lan paid my cover charge for the night club, and people continued to hand me drinks as the night wore on. I drank beer. I drank Jager Bombs. I drank sambucca. I lost track of what I drank.
I danced. Yes, for everyone reading this, I was drunk enough that I actually DANCED!
One of my new found friends suggested going to another nightclub, “Shooters!”
“People only go to shooters to pick up,” I pointed out. “Just pick up someone here!!!”
Moments later I turned around to see him hooking up with someone else from the reunion.
Unfortunately, my memory gets a little fuzzy. I remember ducking out of the night club with the strong urge to vomit, and doing so on the median strip. I’m certain the first two times I did this, I successfully got right back in the club without any hassles.
So it must’ve been third time when everyone lost track of me. Everyone including myself.
I have vague memories of the bouncers telling me I couldn’t back in. Not being able to get hold of anyone else on my mobile phone and then….. well…..
Then I woke up on a park bench, a few blocks away from the night club, a puddle of vomit next to me, and virtually no memory of how I got there.
In a dreary and still fairly drunk state, I pulled out my phone to check the time. 5am.
It was time to get a taxi home.
I stumbled down to the nearest taxi rank. The line was huge. I found my way to the back of it, and waited. Ten minutes later a taxi cab arrived, and one person got in it. A few people from various points in the line complained that they were wasting a cab.
Another ten minutes passed, this time two people piled in. There were more complaints.
“Come on! More than two people can fit in a taxi!” The guy in front of me shouted. I looked at the length of the line. At this rate, I might make home in two hours.
I weighed up my options, filled with the confidence that the awesome night had instilled in me, and still partially drunk, I stumbled up to a couple second from the front.
“Where are you guys headed?” I asked.
“Dickson,” the replied.
“I’m headed to Kaleen,” I informed them. “If you let me jump in with you guys, I’ll pay the entire cab fare.”
Hours later I awoke in my own bed, feeling more hung over than I had in years. I surfaced only long enough to get some water and aspirin. I crawled back into bed for the better part of the day.
When I surfaced late in the afternoon, I checked my email, and noticed various emails saying how awesome the night was.
It was true. The night had been awesome.
I stumbled out of my room grinning broadly, despite the extreme hang-over I was still experiencing. My housemate Tam saw my expression.
“You look pretty happy for someone as hung-over as you are,” She noted.
“Damn it’s fine to be alive!” Was my only response.
Because it was.