A night at Reunions that did not go as planned

I am excited for my upcoming 30th reunion, just as I was excited for my fifth, 10th, 20th and 25th reunions. I do not include my 15th reunion in that mix as I spent one night hiding from the police behind a large bush on some wealthy person’s expansive front lawn.

I had been worried about going to my 15th reunion, but for other, less tangible reasons than handcuffs and a rap sheet. At the time, I was 37 years old and for the most part it seemed success had already blossomed for so many of my classmates. Some had risen so high it was as if they floated on clouds.

I was a nun’s receptionist. 

In my defense, I had recently left a respectable job to pursue being a writer, something I was sure I was in love with but couldn’t even get to first base with. Working with nuns was a temporary gig, I was sure of it, and the job was almost bizarre enough to sound cool or alternative — the nuns were all social justice warriors, working as liaisons for their orders to the United Nations. But that’s assuming I was comfortable enough in my own skin to sell it while wearing a tiger-striped beer jacket and getting drunk in Mathey Courtyard. I was not.

I suppose now is the time to add that I had grown a large afro that year along with a thick, droopy mustache. Think Jim Croce or Epstein from Welcome Back Kotter (at least the hair). For some inexplicable reason I also chose to wear a tank top on Friday night. Mostly, I looked like a butch Richard Simmons.

I was 37 years old and for the most part it seemed success had already blossomed for so many of my classmates. Some had risen so high it was as if they floated on clouds.

Some laughed, others cringed, many didn’t recognize me.

By Saturday night my sense of shame knew no boundaries. I decided I had to go back to New York City, immediately, where anonymity reigned and Sister Sonia from Brazil had never even heard of Princeton.  

I wandered off into the night, thinking I was heading to the Dinky station to catch the next train back to the city. But I took a circuitous route so I wouldn’t be spotted by my classmates and got lost. I suppose I had been drinking more than I thought. This was not the dark ages before cell phones, but of course I didn’t carry one. It just wasn’t something a nun’s receptionist was equipped with. 

The irony of walking just a few blocks from where my life had changed forever back in 1983, when I first entered the campus as a confused and frightened freshman, was not lost on me. After all, here I was so many years later, still lost, only now it was literal as well as metaphorical. 

It was too much for me and I gave up trying to find my way to the train station. Instead, I sat down behind a very large bush, which was set back from the road on someone’s front yard but also located far away from the house, which looked dark and empty. Then I went to sleep.

Later that night I was awakened by a pair of headlights moving slowly down the street. The car slowed down, backed into the driveway, and parked just a few feet from where I slept. 

I prepared for a family to get out, perhaps a dad carrying a sleeping child, and mom leading an older child by the hand. I wondered what I would say to declare my innocence and not set everyone to screaming. But nothing happened. Eventually, the headlights were turned off and I moved slowly to the edge of my bush and peaked through the leaves. It was not the owners of the house. It was the police.

I assumed someone had reported me, and now the police were mulling things over in their car, considering how best to take down a homeless vagrant without stirring up too much trouble. But time continued to tick by and nothing happened. I thought about running or turning myself in, but feared a very hairy apparition rising from behind a bush would result in gunshots. And so I stayed where I was, trying to make myself as small as possible, while the police also stayed put, parked on some sort of suburban stakeout I imagined.

READ MORE: Bill Eville ’87’s 2012 PAW essay on wrestling with the passage of time

It was the longest night of my life. For a while, I could hear the sounds of reunions calling to me from somewhere in the distance. But eventually all was quiet, except for the pounding of my heart and the murmuring of the police car’s motor. 

In the morning, near daybreak, the police finally drove off. Soon after, I walked to the Dinky Station which was now easy to find. There were other Princetonians there too, but thankfully, I did not know any of them.

That was 15 years ago, and a lot has happened since then. I no longer work for nuns, although we keep in touch, nor do I wear an afro. The mustache returns once a year, when I coach Little League, because my son says it brings us good luck. 

And when attending Reunions, I make sure I never leave the campus.

Bill Eville ’87
Ivy Ashe
Bill Eville ’87 is the managing editor of the Vineyard Gazette. He lives on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife and two children. 

This essay is part of a new series at PAW Online. If you would like to contribute to the series, contact us at paw@princeton.edu.