I always felt I was the odd one out in the group. This was partly fed into by my neuroticism and partly because I ¬really was the odd one out in the group.

I had a bad haircut - a bowl cut. Some of the cool kids at school called me "Haircut" and I pretended not to know why.

Intermittently, I tried to change it but I always seemed to end up with something worse. I got a flat top, which I figured would fix things, but I started getting called "Sarge" by kids as uncool as I was.

I had a strong moral compass and didn't drink or smoke. I wore polar fleece tops with tracksuit bottoms.


My group of friends weren't popular but they drank and smoked, had ragingly good haircuts and at least some girls were into them.

The important parts in the school drama productions rotated among them. I got kicked out of Romeo and Juliet for not learning my three lines and spent most of the rest of my school years in the stage crew.

They were into comics. I wasn't. They played Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter at Yifan's on Queen St but I had no money for that.

They smoked at night behind the tennis courts near our school. I sat there feeling cold.
We combined our first initials to make the group name MDJPGN (said Midgepigeon). I remember my upset at first seeing it written down - I think when Michael tried to tattoo it on his arm with a compass - and finding out that Jeremy's initial came before mine.

That told me all I needed to know.

So a reunion after 18 years apart brought mixed feelings. When I was about to leave to go to the reunion, I told my 18-month-old daughter I was going to meet my old school friends. My Mum said: "They were mean to your daddy."

I made it look like it washed over me, like I was too busy looking for my keys and suchlike and that obviously it was just one of those silly parental comments that meant nothing to me, because I'm an adult.

But actually it hit me hard. It stayed with me.


I repeated it to myself over and over on the bus into town. I couldn't get it out of my head. Was it true? Had the most important years of my life been spent with a group of guys who didn't even like me? And if so, why was I about to spend the night with them?

A recent photograph of Greg Bruce, Jeremy, Michael and Paul Ellis .
A recent photograph of Greg Bruce, Jeremy, Michael and Paul Ellis .

Earlier that afternoon I stood in the living room of a house in Glen Eden that belonged to a woman called Natasha and I listened as she had a serious telephone conversation with her husband.

"Love you," she said to him as she put the phone down on her breakfast bar. Then she turned to my wife and me and said, "It's yours."

And suddenly her phone was on our breakfast bar and I felt two years of real estate despair disappear into our indoor-outdoor flow.

The rooms off the hall and the back deck suddenly filled with the life we had ahead of us: the happy yellings of the child we already had and the one still inside my wife and possibly, if she were able to convince me and we were to increase our income considerably, the one still to come.

We filled in some paperwork, ¬shakily initialling and signing many dozens of pages ("ZG is my initials," Zanna reminded me), writing our old address in the space provided.

Then we left our new home and drove straight to Mt Eden, where a sono¬grapher smeared clear jelly on my wife and told us: "It's a girl. You're ¬having a girl."

I squeezed Zanna's hand and said, "My girls." I couldn't help but smile at the thought.

Later, my Dad said to me, "I guess there's a bit of disappointment you're not having a boy", which outraged me.

We watched her moving around, our little girl.

She was pure possibility, except for the fact her brain was already forming or had formed - who could tell? - with its probabilities and personality traits and limited plasticity.

The sonographer pointed it out: a throbbing, amorphous circle on the screen, with how much of her future already encoded on it?

I thought, as I have often thought of my first daughter, how much I hope it is heavily encoded with the past of my wife.

Because of the way our daughter was positioned, the sonographer was having trouble getting an image of the heart. This is a big part of the scan experience, the endless searching for important things and the continual parental worry that those things are missing.

The sonographer suggested that if Zanna went to the toilet, maybe our daughter would move and the heart would be easier to pick up.

While Zanna was in the toilet I called the real estate agent to clarify our ¬settlement date. She asked what we were having. "A girl," I said.

Back in the consulting room I asked Zanna if it was weird that the first person to know the sex of our baby was our real estate agent.

Neither of us thought so. There was hardly a more important person in our lives at that point.

We got home about 4pm. There was so much to celebrate. It felt like one of the most momentous days of my life.

I left Zanna at home with our daughter and my Mum and I went to the pub.

Midway through the first jug, Michael told a story about a woman Paul had been going out with when they lived together in London in their early 20s. She was 48, Michael said.
"She was 52, actually," Paul said, "but she was the most amazing lover I have ever had."
"What did she do?" I asked.

"Everything," he said. "Everything."

He appeared to be strongly affected by the memory.

The story went on. I think he might have used the words "warm and ¬generous lover". I was not surprised. Paul was the best looking of us all and has an easy manner and charisma that I didn't recognise when I was 16. Or maybe I just refused to recognise it.

I imagined the 52-year-old woman to be an ageing supermodel or a ¬brilliant and sensuous cellist.

Anyway, after a few minutes, Michael said the story wasn't true.

They had made it up specifically for the reunion. I don't know why. I don't think there was a specific reason.

There was another story, much less plausible but apparently true, from when Paul worked as a bartender at Nobu in London and made George Clooney a martini.

"Where are you from?" Clooney asked him.

"New Zealand," Paul said.

"Kia ora," Clooney said. "This is the worst martini I've ever had."

Later I asked Paul the age of the oldest woman he had been with and he told me she was 41 and he was 20.

Paul seemed to be the most excited about the reunion. Michael said Paul had wanted it to happen for years and had texted him daily about it in the lead-up.

He had made a list of conversation topics on his iPhone.

Jeremy told a story about contracting a bug that ate the muscles of his heart. He was in hospital for six months and in recovery for a couple of years.

Of four other people in hospital with the same disease at the same time, two died, one needed a heart transplant and the other was on life support.

I became aware of the old group dynamics: Paul laughed easily and ¬often, Duncan made pithy and insightful ¬observations, Michael took the lead on decisions, Jeremy told richly layered and enthusiastic stories.

I wondered what I did and how it was perceived.

I thought hard before committing to this reunion because I felt my relationship with these guys was like sediment that had settled and I didn't know how its stirring would feel.

As the night drew on, I was shocked by how easy it was, that there were no mixed ¬feelings.

At one stage, as we walked down Britomart Place, I walked behind my old friends and watched their gaits, still so distinctive after nearly two decades that I could identify them as easily as their faces, and I thought how completely we had changed.

I felt no tie between these people and the people I knew at school, when our relationships were defined mostly by my enmity and insecurity.

It was like meeting a bunch of new people with whom I had an unlimited quantity of shared conversational topics. There was that rush you feel when you make an instant bond, which I had not expected.

Later in the night, there was some talk about exchanging contacts.

I wondered whether I should engage in that. On the one hand it had been a great night. On the other hand. On the other hand.

It was noisy at Racket Bar and I said to somebody this was a terrible place for a reunion. We moved on to Brew on Quay.

There was nobody in the upstairs area. I can't remember what we talked about. I was pretty drunk.

We left and walked along Customs St. It was quiet.

We had never been into town at night when we were kids, not that I remembered. To me it had been a distant and dangerous place, where Bloods and Crips ran free of the rule of law. I was a nervous adolescent and suggestible to such stories.

Now I thought about it, the others had probably come here heaps.

We sat on some bollards somewhere near the Viaduct, which had not existed when we were last together. It felt like there were no cars and no other people, just us and the city.

It felt like we had helped make this place that had made us.

Duncan was in insurance, Paul in photography. Michael did something with financial publishing, I didn't know what Jeremy did. Nick was living in Sydney, and sent inappropriate texts throughout the night.

When we were kids coming into town on the bus in the school holidays, I had dreamed about how this city would become ours and how we would behold it.

And here we were, finally, projecting our adult selves on to it by reliving what we had once been.

We had lain in the sand at Orewa Beach at the end of our sixth-form year, drunk on rum and whisky that we had convinced some stranger to buy us at a liquor shop.

Before we puked into the basins at the KFC across the road we talked about our futures - who was going to be whose best man and how much we loved each other.

Now, sitting around some bollards on Customs St, this was where all that would end.

But I had thought that same thought 18 years ago, when I had moved out of Jeremy's parents' house in a hail of awkward silence, all my relationships with the others already fractured by who knows what? My neuroticism? My difference? Their indifference? The erosion of time and adolescence?

I will never see these guys again, I thought then.

I would reshape my life and redefine myself in a way that would leave behind who I had been and allow me to become something better, or at least something else.

Has that happened? Who can tell?

During our reunion I was aware that I didn't feel the need to be liked in the way I used to, but that's not to say I didn't feel it at all.

I didn't ask whether my friends used to think of me as a bit of a dick, but that's not because I didn't care.

It seemed enough that it had been a good night. But enough for what?

At Racket Bar, someone bought a round of what I think was tequila but might have been whisky. I think that was a big part of why I was starting to feel quite drunk.

While I waited for the others to decide where to next I looked up the bus timetable.

I had just bought a house and the thought of a taxi eating into my mortgage repayments was a bridge too far.

The last bus was in eight minutes.

"Two taps and you're out," somebody said, referring to the hugging ¬protocol.

I went around the group, eight taps, and I walked alone to the 11.38pm bus.