Monday, October 22, 2018

reunion

I went to my twenty-year high school reunion.

I have no idea how it's possible that I've been out of high school for twenty years.

I was nervous about going. And here's the thing--so was everyone else I talked to.

I only went because Monica was going (and doing most of the planning). But I had a really great time. I talked to so many more people than I really hung out with or talked to in high school. Because it took me twenty years (and a couple of gin & tonics, let's be honest) to not feel shy and self-conscious or like everyone else already had a friend to talk to.

I was so amazed by how vulnerable people were willing to be--confessing their anxieties, telling their embarrassing stories, talking about really hard truths like divorce and infertility and loss.

My high school was small and my hometown is small, but I think I spent a lot of time growing up feeling like I didn't fit in... and at the reunion it seemed clear that we were all misfits, at least just a little bit. There was just none of the pretense and posturing of high school. Nobody was pretending to be too cool (well, except for the people who didn't show up... but I think most of them who didn't come either had a real conflict or had anxiety that prevented them from coming.)

I can't speak for everyone, but in high school, I was obsessed with worrying about comparisons or measuring up. And now... it was amazing to be around the same people and BE the same person and suddenly not care about stuff at all.

I think after Eliza died, I felt that I would always be the Worst Case and Unluckiest and Least Successful. And now that doesn't really feel true--but it also feels like such comparisons or superlatives are pointless. I spent ALL of high school comparing myself to other people and feeling like I didn't measure up. I mean, yes, I was smart. But I wasn't cool or cute or popular. I had good friends and I embraced my love for theatre, and I was friendly with people who were in the "in-crowd" but there was still so much stress and anxiety just going to high school.

(Side note: One of my international students asked me if high school in the United States is really like it is in the movies, and I was like, "Kind of... yes.")

But at the reunion, I just noticed that the cliques I thought existed in high school among girls seemed to have completely dissolved. There is a big group of guys that all live in Kansas City and are still pretty close friends, but even the most cool and intimidating of the jocks was just... an ordinary guy about to turn forty. It sounds obvious, but it felt shocking!

It was liked I talked to people in my graduating class like they were actual human beings instead of freaking out that they were "cool" people who were judging me. And all that angst from high school... most of it was all in my head. WHY can't teenagers take all the good advice that we hear? I was definitely told that the stuff I worried about then was not a big deal, but it sure felt like one at the time.

Life feels like it has been so hard since high school... and I still maintain that it was hard in its own way during high school. I stressed out so much over meaningless things. Like I probably would have benefited from therapy and/or medication and/or regular exercise. And even though the worries weren't "real," the anxiety about them certainly was. At the same time, I have a lot of good memories from high school and I had a lot of fun, both in class and on speech & debate tournaments, and on weekends making not great choices with friends.

I really enjoyed talking to people and asking them about their lives and seeing pictures of their kids. It was fascinating to learn that one girl I graduated with has self-published and one owns her own business and one is teaching kindergarten and one is directing a local food pantry. And I didn't feel like we were comparing notes to compete or measure up against one another. It truly felt like a reunion--like we had this unique experience of growing up together (most of us since we were five or six years old) and even if we hadn't been friends in school, we were uniquely linked and connected in this way that made us comrades. I felt so warm and fuzzy toward everyone! (Could have been the G&Ts, but I still feel that way days later!) I just want good things for all of them.

I was so surprised by how comfortable I felt being there. After all the hype, it was not stressful. I mean, I already knew everyone. I did not feel the need to impress anyone. I just felt like I could be my genuine self, but also like I could introduce my genuine self to them because we didn't all know each other that well even though we'd known each other forever.

So now I'm wondering what kind of high school or high school reunion experiences other people have had... Am I an outlier in saying my reunion was a great experience? Was high school as equally fun and miserable for you as it was for me?

3 comments:

  1. I went to my 20th about a month ago! I still noticed the cliques, but I also noticed that people who I thought nothing of me in high school because I wasn't cool enough were genuinely thrilled to see me. I also felt the experience was surreal because even though I hadn't seen many of my graduating class in years (I now live across the country from where I went to high school), I was still so comfortable with them because of our shared past.

    I was struck by how vulnerable people were too. Most have bounced back or are in the process of dealing with their struggles.

    As I traveled home, I became really sad because it will probably be another decade before I see many/any of those people again. With the people who I was closest to in high school, it was like we hadn't skipped a beat (but it's been twenty years!!!!).

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  2. One thing about high school is that everyone is being measured on more or less the same yardstick. Some people might find success in sports, or theater, or I dunno, fashion? But for the most part, everyone is taking the same classes, going through the same experiences, and you know who is doing better and who is doing worse.

    And then you become an adult, and there are *so many different ways* to measure success. Are you making the most money? Do you have the cutest family? Did you complete a difficult course of study? Do you raise guide dogs for the blind? When you're an adult, *you* get to define what success is for yourself. It's wonderful and enriching to see people being wildly successful at wildly different things!

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  3. I started writing a response & it turned into a blog post. ;)

    https://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.com/2018/10/class-reunion.html

    My mom's class (28 graduates -- small town NW Minnesota) has had reunions every five years since they graduated... next year will be 60!! And for the past 10-15 years or so, she & her girlfriends have been doing mini-reunions every fall somewhere in central Minnesota (between the hometown & the Twin Cities, where many of them live now).

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