The first week of June, twenty years ago, I graduated from high school. And spoiler alert, I am not going to a reunion this year.
I attended the same school system in the same town from kindergarten through 12th grade. I think that was long enough.
I was a long-haired brunette and the younger sister of another long-haired brunette. [Why the long hair? Our dad is a total Hispanophile, having fallen in love with Rota, Spain during his Navy years.]
If I was well-known, it was by default. I never felt “popular.”
For someone who lived in the same house and the same town all that time, I felt alien in a lot of ways. We were a Navy family, not a storied last name in these parts. Our last name (my maiden name) was German, but not pronounced ethnically; we had to spell it on a daily basis. We were Catholic. We all had dark hair. In the South, blonde and blue-eyed has been the beauty ideal for a long time.
My circle of friends was the ‘nerd herd’, a circle of mostly girls and one guy who would graduate in the top ten. Most of them were in gifted programs (the ones that let you skip class for another activity several days a week), but I was not. All in all, they were a good circle to be in, even if sometimes I wondered if I belonged in their company. This circle was my date to prom for two years in a row. Somehow, even with my lackluster math scores, I managed to graduate at #9.
I am in touch with a couple of these friends on Facebook. One, my best friend, I’ve been in touch with the most. In the last twenty years, it has become apparent friends like that don’t come along very often. I was fortunate they came along twice: once with her, once with my husband.
This year, the reunion is being planned by former cheerleaders and their ensemble. Predictably, they’re choosing the activity, they’re setting a date, and they’re lobbying their circle to hunt down the outer limits of the class of 1994 on Facebook. It’s $65 a head to hang out with people I had no choice about hanging out with for the bulk of my young life. People who think they know me, people who probably think they knew me.
I think I’ve seen this movie and the ending is predictable. I will regret going, and regret feeling upbeat in anticipation. No thanks. And thanks to social media, there isn’t too much about my life people couldn’t figure out from a Google search.
I won’t say it was all bad, but school was a lot of other people telling me what to do and what I was capable of. Some of my strengths, but mostly my weaknesses. Early on, I scored high on reading tests, but because I thought through my answers before speaking, I was labeled slow. It took parental intervention to put me in an appropriate class. The word “introvert” was unheard of.
I was a daydreamer prone to petite mal seizures. I was bad at math. I was not athletic. I would take walks and listen to my headphones. I spent most evenings in my room drawing, reading, or listening to the radio. I was avoiding a grumpy parent who I was nothing like personality-wise or interests-wise, and that wasn’t okay. I lived with a lot of daily anxiety because I thought every stranger saw me as this parent did and it had me shaking in my boots. I didn’t have my own car. If I had, I might have left for good.
School is full of judgement. The clothes you wear tell everyone about how much your parents make. As your teen years arrive, you can add your acne to how you are being judged. Some teachers played favorites while being pretty cold to other students. If you were a younger sibling, you learned your teacher’s relationship with your older sibling mattered a whole lot in how you were treated (you know, because you weren’t being compared enough at home.) Some Christian teachers were nicer to the souls they felt were”saved” versus those who are not. Some students or teachers with a unique religion encountered repeated scandal and controversy from parents and faculty even though they were perfectly fine people. And probably needless to say, gay kids couldn’t comfortably ‘come out’ in a small Southern town. Even if it’s something didn’t happen to me directly, seeing it happen to other kids didn’t feel good. These were all unfortunate life lessons about the petty, shallow side of human behavior. Are any of these things worth reliving, or celebrating? In my mind, they are not.
When you run into people from your past, you get reacquainted with who you used to be, whether you want to or not. It’s not always a bad thing. But I think the question is, do you want to feel like that person again, yes or no?
‘No? Then don’t look back.
PS: Have a good life, class of 1994.
If you liked this post, you might like” Graduation, or Findings.”