A friend sent me a link to photos of my high school reunion last year. I didn’t attend, didn’t even know about it until months after the fact, but it’s still left me feeling very uneasy and odd. I’m not sure I would have attended, to tell the truth, even if I had known.
I was a bit of an outcast in high school; the fat girl, the punk freak. I didn’t really fit in anywhere, and spent more time hanging out with friends from another local high school than I did my own. The day they handed me that diploma was the last I saw of my high school friends. When I got on a plane a year later and moved a thousand miles away, that was pretty much the last I heard from anyone.
Twenty years later, Facebook has allowed people to find each other very easily and I’ve been in contact with a couple of people who I genuinely liked back then. It’s been fun to reconnect, learn about each others’ lives and make plans to meet up the next time I’m home.
But these were the few people I liked and trusted. I’m not sure how I feel about my own personal “mean girls”.
One thing that shocks me the most is how these folks have changed physically. Twenty years is a long time, and everyone has aged. But they almost all look older than I imagine myself to look. I don’t think that’s vanity on my part – I don’t feel 38, and I’m pretty sure I don’t look it. But some of these folks look ten years older than that. It’s disconcerting.
And you never get an honest story from people at high school reunions, anyway. A friend who went pointed out that “people don’t really reveal anything… everyone wants everyone else to think their life is the shining example of success but no one really gets down and dirty and says, yeah, I had a drug addict boyfriend I lived with for a while… that sucked” .
So the whole exercise is about pretending. Did you turn out okay? Better than everyone else? Did you get fat? Skinny? I don’t remember you having that nose.
Which makes me wonder why we care. Why we still, two decades later, want to impress the people who made our lives so very miserable. Because no matter how mature we believe ourselves to be, walking into that room of our graduating class peers causes all the old lines to be drawn again. I’m told one gal showed up and refused to talk to half of the people there. Which begs the question of why she bothered to go in the first place.
As the outcast freak of my graduating class, I probably had/have more to prove than the whole lot of them put together. I would have had to go back not just better and stronger than who I was, but better and stronger than all of them. To prove that they were wrong back then. To show them that despite their teasing and torture and general hatefulness, I turned out not just okay, but great.
That’s where perspective comes in. Because while I think I did turn out pretty great, while I’ve had an incredibly interesting life up to this point, in their eyes it wouldn’t matter. I ran a record label, cooked for rock stars, and now run a successful web site with a staff of 16. But I don’t have two kids, a picket fence and a secure but boring office job. Based on their value system, I’d still be considered a failure.
In those photos, everyone looks so very normal. And conservative. Safe. No one is revealing the skeletons and dirty secrets they all must have. Last night I dreamed I did attend my high school reunion, only all the pretend shiny happy faces came as their real selves. One guy had lost an index finger and was a cross-dresser. The gal with the fake tan and the new nose turned out to be a junkie. Another had a massive collection of child porn. They stood up one by one and revealed who they really were. Because those people in the picture, all smiles and happy to see one another – that’s no where near the real story.