So today my twenty year class reunion begins. And for weeks and weeks I’ve had it in my mind that I would write a big, somewhat ranty post about why I’m not going to my class reunion. I’m not going, by the way. For several reasons. But now that the day is here, I don’t actually feel like being ranty about it. Huh.
I didn’t have a good time in high school. In fact, my freshman year was probably the worst year of my life. Agoraphobia, therapy … it was not the best time in the world. But as I sit here I keep thinking that the whole four years couldn’t have been that bad, could they? Surely I had to have had some good times in high school.
One great moment that sticks out in my mind from my freshman year was the first time my friend Rita saw snow. Rita came with her family from Ghana the summer before. It doesn’t snow in Ghana. So there we were sitting in English class one dreary morning, the sky clouding up more and more. The air had that cold, dry, impending feeling. Then all of a sudden Rita yelped in joy. Class came to a screeching halt. It was snowing! Well, a few flakes were meandering through the air. Our wonderful teacher, who was from South Africa herself, let her class be interrupted so we could all go outside so Rita could experience snow. That was probably the only time she ever enjoyed the cold, wet white stuff.Another fun memory that sticks out must have been from my junior year. Brief background. We had “clubs” that were comparable to sororities in high school. Every year the sophomores pledge into the clubs. … Okay, no idea how to explain that to anyone who’s never done it. I guess it’s like hazing for sororities only much, much tamer and with no alcohol. Anyhow, my friend Jess and I were in charge of teaching the pledges our club’s motto, which is in Greek. I remember having so much fun as we wedged them two-by-two into a dark, narrow basement stairwell and shone flashlights on our faces as we chanted in Greek. At least I think we had flashlights. I mostly remember how fun it was to freak the pledges out … and how many of them came up to us later and said they thought our thing was the best.
Let’s see…. I also remember a balmy afternoon in the spring of my senior year. We had less than a week of school left. I was really starting to feel that soon, very soon, I would be free from the torture of the last 4 years. It was so liberating to finally feel like I could be whoever I wanted to be and not to play the role I had been cast in. I threw caution to the wind and got really goofy and started saying all of the funny things I’d always wanted to say. I forget what class it was we were having outside or how I ended up talking to Megan, who I had always considered one of the popular, cool girls. What I remember vividly is the smile on her face and the way she laughed in the sunlight at all of the silliness I was letting break out. And then she said, “I had no idea you were this funny!” Such a great compliment and so heavy with both possibility and regret. I realized in that moment that yes, I was funny … and I also wondered why I hadn’t been funny like that for all those years when I could have. It was a deep, beautiful moment. Thank you Megan!
But you know, it’s strange that as I sit here trying to think of my best memories from high school that I can’t come up with much. I don’t know if that’s because it was all twenty years ago plus or if it’s because there weren’t that many good memories. I have far more miserable memories. But I think a lot of that is because I was in a miserable place. And it wasn’t just my class that caused me to be there.
You know, the interesting thing about growing older is that you start to hear bits and pieces of what was going on behind the scenes of your childhood and the childhoods of the kids you spent all day with five days a week. Not only do you hear them, with age you start to understand them. You start to understand that the cool, popular kids were under tremendous amounts of stress. You see that the rich kids who had every material thing handed to them had absolutely wretched family problems. You come to understand that everyone was hurting in one way or another. What made the situation unbearable was the fact that no one knew how to deal with it all. So people lashed out. The anger and hurt that was inflicted on each of us could only stay trapped inside for so long before spewing out all over the easiest targets in our lives, our peers.I don’t know if my classmates have gotten the help they needed for those miserable childhood problems. I did and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. The road to recovery was and is a long one though. I had to smirk the other day when one of my classmates found out I wasn’t coming to the reunion and sent me an email which contained the phrase “It was twenty years ago, we’re much better people now.”
The fact is, it wasn’t twenty years ago. For some of us it’s every day. It’s every time we interact with family or stand on the verge of making a new friend or dealing with the opposite sex. The damage done by bullying, peer pressure, family destruction, the pressure to be perfect, to make things alright so that the pain has a chance to stop is every day. It follows us to adulthood and won’t let us go until we turn and face it. Even then it might never fully let us go.
For me the answer is to avoid the people and situations that rip the Band-Aids off of old wounds. I can’t stand to feel certain varieties of pain again, to be made to feel the way I felt at the worst times in my life. So I avoid. Some might argue that isn’t healthy. Well, maybe not if we’re talking about family or romantic situations or something that has to be faced. There is no rule that says I have to associate with my school peers again. They’re the past and it’s okay with me for them to stay there. I’m still friends with the ones I need to be friends with. As for the rest, I wish them all the health and happiness and healing that I firmly believe each and every one of them deserves. But I don’t need to deliver it personally.
So that’s why I’m not going to my twenty year reunion. We’ll see how I feel when our twenty-fifth rolls around. In the meantime, I wish the Class of ’92 every good thing and hope they have a spectacular time this weekend.