Origin Story - Reunion
If you haven’t read Reunion please do so before reading the following. There will be spoilers!
Like my very first post on Substack, Me, You, And The Tiramisu, I wanted to involve my friends in the process. I liken the approach to the cooking competition Chopped where contestants are challenged to make a meal with the basket ingredients. For me, the basket of ingredients are elements within the story and their inclusion has to be significant. I can’t simply take an item and casually drop it in and be done with it. The item or items has to be impactful and memorable.
I asked for the following:
1. Name of a guy (Logan)
2. Name of a girl (Celeste)
3. Song from the 1980s (Eddie Money’s I Wanna Go Back)
4. A city in the United States (Memphis)
5. Theme (Romance)
Essentially, this tells the tale of Logan and Celeste, who had a “thing” for one another in high school but they just never connected. The opportunity now presents itself to reunite at their 10 year high school reunion. Complicating matters is Byron, a brute of a man, who serves as sort of an obstacle.
Reunion took me longer to write than the other pieces. I’m sure it happens often to people but I started this and then scrapped it a third of the way in. Just wasn’t working and I will expound upon it further below.
Humor me for several sentences.
As a kid, my world was everything within a two to three block radius from my home. Anything outside of my small city of North Miami Beach felt like a foreign country. Even traveling four hours north to Orlando, Florida was like visiting another planet. With my entire world view restricted to my small city, which at the time, felt like a country of its own.
Growing up in the 1980s, I, like many of that period, was a huge fan of John Hughes. The run of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink was incredible. These movies, especially The Breakfast Club, totally impacted my youth. John Hughes, through The Breakfast Club, made my world much smaller. It was the first time that I could remember watching or reading something where I didn’t just connect with one or two aspects of a character or get lost in another world or be transported into a totally foreign place. John Hughes movies (written or directed), “hit different” as kids these days would say. Aged as they are now, I still connect with them and not just for the outlandishness of some of the storylines, but for the connection I felt with the characters and their own little stories. But as a youngster in the 1980s, I could actually point to a John Bender or Andrew Clark on the screen and say, “I know that guy!”. And I did! I knew someone who was just like them, if not physical carbon copies of them.
After soliciting friends for some ideas which yielded the framework above, I wanted to try to write my own John Hughes inspired story. I immediately thought of a high school reunion as the setting because, truthfully, I always wondered about the folks I went to school with and what they were up to. And, no, I didn’t go to any of my own reunions. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve kept up with a few, reconnected with some, and been stalker-y on the internet with others, Googling them to see what they looked like and what they were up to. Not proud, but I’m not the only one. As for this story, I’ve always fantasized what it would be like to run into the girl that I had a crush on and discover that she always had a thing for me, too!
Logan, Celeste and Byron are different from anyone in Pretty in Pink. I didn’t want the two main characters to be popular people with outsized personalities adored by all. I wanted them normal, unremarkable in many ways, and, yet, very relatable. I could see myself being a Logan and, aside from the gender, also a Celeste. Both characters had a little bit of me in them. With regards to Byron, the antagonist, I wanted someone at the other end of the spectrum. He was everything that Logan was not. But isn’t that normally how heroes and villains work? Rarely are they ever on the same playing field. The strength of the hero is seemingly always juxtaposed against the strength of the villain, which often happens to be a weakness of the hero. I mean, is there no denying that Batman, in a straight up fight without any weapons involved, would just demolish Joker? Here you have Logan and Byron. They were David and Goliath.
For their look, I will say that I took them totally from that era. Logan was dressed as Blaine (though he should’ve been more of a Ducky) while his opposite Byron was dressed as James Spader’s Steff. To have her step a bit out of her very narrow comfort zone, Celeste was Madonna, in the white lacy dress from her Like a Virgin performance on the MTV Awards in 1984.
I have a challenge with telling a very straightforward story. And I swear that I had all the intentions of doing just that with this piece, which was to be a simple tale of love between two people. So why did I jump around? Truthfully, I just couldn’t help myself. I’m trying to learn that I can just make french fries and not make French fries accented with responsibly harvested sea salt and zero carbon footprint truffle oil. I initially was going to tell the tale in the same manner as Kurosawa’s Rashomon, giving the varied and biased perspectives of three people and then, ultimately, present the truth. I really gave this some thought because such an approach really required some planning. Odd to say that when you’re writing, isn’t it? I even took several stabs at the Rashomon approach and I have to say that, for one, it was hard, and, two, the most important of all, what ended up on the page/screen was pretty boring. It all felt forced and gimmicky. So I trashed it and decided to start over.
One of the reasons for A Few Thousand Words is for me to write freely, to write as the words and ideas and characters come to life in my head. Things always start out that way until, amongst the bushes, I discover a hidden path that leads me to a hidden and magical part of the forest. But with Reunion I was purposely planning long before I typed a single letter. Now, if and when I do eventually go full bore into writing a novel, I will be much more deliberate. But until then, I want this to be enjoyable for all, mostly for me, as I’m the one spilling the words onto the page, er, screen. So I ditched the Rashomon approach. Writers (which I loosely refer to myself as) know that when you’re really into the story, it shows. Things just get onto the document. So rather than the Rashomon approach, I settled more on a Pulp Fiction approach. Some things would overlap and click. This was manageable within the confines of A Few Thousand Words. I can’t imagine doing this if it was in a 300 page book. Most important of all, I didn’t want it to be a gimmick.
What’s In A Name?
I always struggle to come up with titles. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But as I write, I need to have something at the very top of the page in bold and in a slightly larger font size that sort of reminds me of the purpose of the story. Having a working title gives me a North Star to sail towards, even though I know that ten times out of ten I’m going to be changing it when the story is done. I’ve done this for all of the pieces I’ve ever written, including those on A Few Thousand Words.
Having a working title gives me a North Star to sail towards, even though I know that ten times out of ten I’m going to be changing it when the story is done.
When I was writing for a trade publication, and the subject matter was about—let’s say—food trends, I’d literally just write, “This is the food that people are going to want to eat” and leave it that way until the end. I’ve read that some authors wait to the very end to give their pieces a name. I haven’t come across any whose final title is the same as when they began. That’s not to say such a thing doesn’t exist.
Perhaps one day I’ll share all my working titles and have a laugh. Or cry.
The working title was The Get Together. Somewhere when I was about 90% complete, I looked at the title again (as I always do) and it just didn’t click for me. After reading the piece for the nth time, I decided to simply go with Reunion because I was tired of trying to think of something witty or creative or clever. But the more I read it at the top of my page, the more I started to feel good about it. It had a couple different interpretations. Literally, this was about a high school reunion. But much deeper, this was about the coming together of two people. It was about Celeste and Logan’s own reunion.
Social anxiety disorder is a real thing. I don’t know if I had it because I was never diagnosed but I did base Celeste’s symptoms on mine when I was very young. I hated attention of any kind. When it came time to do class presentations, I always went last as if postponing it would make things better for me. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. I was extremely introverted and preferred avoiding people. I could only really come out of my shell to a handful of people. Is this social anxiety disorder? Or was I just extremely shy? Who knows. But what I do know is that I did experience panic attacks wrapped inside of claustrophobia. Sometimes it manifested itself while walking through the crowded halls of my middle school as I moved between classes. Sometimes three people staring at me felt like three hundred people staring at me.
One of the things my father had once told me is that one day I would have to speak to people one-on-one, sometimes one-on-ten, and, if I was somehow fortunate, one-on-a hundred. I had to find ways to break out. Listen, my dad is a practical man. He isn’t from a time where you read a book or sought mental help. You just figured it out and moved on or you let it debilitate you forever. On his advice I decided to try to break out of it. I took Drama and (very, very briefly) joined Debate in middle school. If the teacher asked for someone to offer their opinion on a subject we were going over in class, I’d raise my hand (I envisioned bonus points for participation as the carrot at the end of the stick). I took public speaking classes when I got a bit older. I would volunteer to present early, if not first, when it came time to class projects. When I got my first jobs bagging groceries, I forced myself to engage folks in conversation. I have to believe that all of it helped, if even just a little bit. I still sweat a ton and sometimes I wanted to pass out right in front of the class. But the feeling of relief was such a rush that it helped me to be more comfortable with engaging. People who know me will probably say they don’t believe this about me, because they’ve seen me speak before hundreds of people. They’ve seen me flutter around like a social butterfly. Well, I’m still quaking. Everyone gets nervous, it’s just a matter of degree. When my daughter tells me she has anxiety over speaking or presenting because she’s not good at it, I tell her that it’s about repetition and practice. I also share one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Basically, everyone—EVERYONE—gets nervous. It’s learning to control it better. But to dress Celeste, not provocatively, but in a way that attracts attention, to me, is one way she is trying to overcome something that is debilitating her. In some ways, it was her sort of stepping out. As with anything I write and post on this Substack, if I were to expand on any of these stories to a novel-length, I would certainly delve deeper. If Reunion is one that I would expand on, Celeste’s anxiety would be one thing I would explore further.
Assault of Celeste
I remember listening to a girl (a friend of a friend of a friend) recount a story of being assaulted by a football player in high school. She never told anyone until she shared it with me and a very small group of people one night. She said she would laugh it off whenever someone would ask her about the rumors of her and this jock. The experience shaped how she saw herself. But years later it did affect her in some of her relationships with men. I didn’t delve deeply into this aspect only because I couldn’t possibly know or understand how someone feels or reacts. You see episodes of Law & Order: SVU or any number of movies that include such a topic and use that as your frame of reference. Frankly, it disgusts me. As a father of a daughter it disgusts me even more.
The Women’s Resource Center lists that one in five women are raped in their lifetime. One. In. Five.
In the four fiction stories that I’ve posted to date, I’ve never thought to do an epilogue. After reading the ending, I just didn’t think it to be strong enough. This is completely subjective, by the way. To have it end in the same manner it began, with the very first line being the very last line, seemed like a nice way to put a neat little bow on the story. But re-reading it as a whole, I became personally more involved in the supporting characters. They all contributed to the story and weren’t just throwaways. At least not to me. To give a tiny bit of an update on Memphis, Diane, Iris, and Esther felt like it completely closing the circle.
Celeste mentioned eating in the stairwell during lunch instead of the cafeteria. In my senior year, I transferred to a new high school. I didn’t know anybody. During lunch, I first started going to this one room where some kids would go. I forget if it was a club or something. It just happened that there would be the same people over and over. Anyway, they did their best to include me, but after a while I just sat apart from them. They probably gave up trying to include me since I really didn’t make the effort to include myself. The introverted side of me had reappeared. So rather than sit there and silently eat my lunch, I decided to go and sit in a stairwell. It was great for a few weeks until one of the school security people caught me and said I couldn’t eat there. Truthfully, it was actually pretty peaceful and calming to sit there and just chill.
The restaurant that I mention in the Epilogue where Logan and Celeste had their first date is actually based on a real restaurant called the Sundy House. No, not Sunday, but Sundy. It’s located in Delray Beach, Florida and was formerly an old mayor’s home that was converted into a restaurant. In addition to the main home, there is a sprawling garden with a little stream or brook that runs throughout the property. There are gazebos for larger parties but there are also small tables tucked away in semi-private nooks. This is where I proposed to my wife.
Celeste and Logan’s last child is named Camden. At first there were going to be two children—a boy and a girl. The girl’s name was easy. It came to me rather quickly. For a boy, I immediately thought of Cameron, which I totally loved and even considered for the girl. It was from a show I watched Halt and Catch Fire. McKenzie Davis played a genius programmer/hacker named Cameron. Anyway, it felt too common. Maybe, maybe not. But rather than get rid of the name, I added a third child and this time named him Camden. I truly thought it would be a cool twist to Cameron. To make sure that people actually named their kids Camden (and there are a couple) I went to Google. Not only did I discover that some people named their kid Camden, but it is actually Scottish and its meaning is “winding valley”. Winding valley is a good way to describe the long path that it took for Logan and Celeste to reunite.
Thanks for reading! I would love to know your thoughts not just on this story but on everything that I’ve written to date. Until next time, please keep reading. Hit me up at email@example.com.