So a little while ago I blogged about how I absolutely, no-way, seriously was not going to my high school reunion.
I hated high school. Hated it. There was no fucking way that I was going to be talked into setting foot in that building again.
An old friend and I exchanged several emails coming up with long, detailed reasons for why we were going to miss the reunion.
Naturally, I ended up going.
A couple of notes about reunions:
1. If you blog about how you’re not going to your reunion, every one will spend all evening coming up to you and asking if you’re glad that you went after all. Not that I’m complaining about this – just mentioning, is all. You know, in case you were planning on emulating my life choices (note: I do not recommend this).
2. Everyone will tell you that you look exactly the same. This is meant as a compliment, although admittedly I didn’t initially take it as one. I mean, come on – the whole point of going to this reunion was to prove to people that I’m not the gross, ugly, greasy-skinned loser that I was in high school. But then I realized something – everyone is, in one way or another, an ugly loser in high school. I doubt that even the prettiest, most popular girls were immune from hating the way they looked. I also realized that, as hard as I was on myself back then, I didn’t look that bad.
I mean, sad, angry and consumed with ennui, sure. Wearing an ill-fitting velour shirt, yes. But not exactly the horrific, Medusa-like creature I’ve been picturing all these years.
Anyway, in response to everyone who is absolutely dying to know whether or not I’m glad I went: Yes. I am.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t overwhelming, because it was. The first part of the reunion, which took place at the school itself, was especially tough. I feel like I spent a good chunk of the afternoon wearing my I’m-so-emotional-right-now-but-I’m-trying-hard-to-smile grimace, so if we ran into each other and I seemed flustered and weirdly toothy, that’s why. It was just a lot of people, and a lot of energy, and a lot of complicated feelings all at once, you know? And by “complicated” I mean “run the whole spectrum of emotions from great to achingly terrible.
The “great” moments include running into friends that I haven’t seen for years and years and spending hours starting every sentence with, “Hey, remember when?” For example: hey, remember when John Winter told the drama teacher on her last day at the school that she had a beautiful body and he wanted to make love to her? Remember how our mascot was Johnny Rebel, the Confederate soldier, and we had a Confederate flag hanging in our foyer, and NO ONE THOUGHT THIS WAS A PROBLEM UNTIL 1999? Remember every fucking crazy thing that Jason Baker ever did?
I was also super happy to be able to see a bunch of my old teachers, including my two favourite English teachers of all-time (one of whom occasionally reads this blog, YEAH, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). Some of my old teachers barely remembered me (or else didn’t remember me at all but faked it pretty convincingly), but most of them seemed glad to see me. One of them, a music teacher, took me aside later in the night and said that she was really, really happy to see that I was in a good place with my life, and that was kind of gratifying because it meant that at least one of my teachers had noticed how miserable I was back then.
Another high point was finding this extremely adorable (if I do say so myself) picture of me from when I was fourteen:
This was from a writing “mystery tour” that happened in my first year of high school. It was a small group of students, and I was one of only three ninth graders invited along. They took us to various exotic locations around Waterloo Region (including the West Montrose Kissing Bridge and the boiler room of our high school), and at one point a photographer from the local newspaper showed up and took a picture of me sitting on a giant pile of tires behind Paleshi Motors in Elmira. The whole idea was that we were supposed to be inspired to write amazing things by all the places that we visited, and maybe that worked out for some people, but not me. Every word I wrote that day was terrible, and even as I was writing them, I knew they were terrible.
But you know what? My English teacher thought that I was a good writer, and that’s how I ended up being asked along on the trip. And now I look back at this picture and I think, Whoa, someone actually thought that I was a writer, and look, there’s me writing like a real gosh-darn writer lady.
Plus I am just super adorable. LOOK AT HOW SERIOUS MY FACE IS.
The less-than-great moments were watching the “documentary” that someone had made about the Integrated Arts Package and hearing people talk about how the program had absolutely, definitely, for-sure been a wonderful, life-altering experience. Because I guess the fact is that I’m jealous of those people, jealous in a gross, green-eyed-monster kind of way. I wanted to have been able to say that I, too, had come out of high school feeling brave and confident and talented. I wanted to be able to go on record saying that the Eastwood arts program was the best thing that had ever happened to me in my whole stupid life, but it wasn’t. The fact was that I couldn’t get my shit together, and not a whole lot of people there really seemed super interested in helping me get my shit together, and that was that. And, I mean, I did get my shit together later, and I have a great life now, and everything worked out fine, etc. It’s just that I feel sad that I missed out on this apparently amazing time that everyone else was having.
Except that not everyone else was having an amazing time – you just don’t find out until afterwards that pretty much everyone else was, in some way, miserable, too.
At one point on Saturday, while we were still at the school, I texted a friend and referred to Eastwood as the “pit of despair.” And like, I was kind of joking? But also kind of not?
I mean, I guess maybe that’s the thing – maybe high school is supposed to be a pit of despair, you know? Maybe that’s what these reunions are really about – reconnecting with people who went through this terrible, hormone-fuelled hell at the same time that you did. Maybe reunions are supposed to help you realize that everyone was so wrapped up in their own self-loathing that they had no time or energy to notice how much of a loser you were. Maybe you were fine all along and you just didn’t know it. Maybe.
Your high school classmates are like people that you lived with through a war, or a natural disaster, or some other awful event. You might not have a whole lot in common, and maybe they wouldn’t be the people that you’d pick as your friends if you were given a choice, but they understand something about you that not many other people do. Just the fact that you were able to push through and survive and make it out the other side with all of your faculties intact somehow binds you together, even if nothing else does.
I guess that one of the main things that I took away from the reunion was a realization that so many of these people would have been willing to be my friends, if only I’d let them. At the time I didn’t think that I was building walls and pushing people away from me, but of course I actually was. And I’m not saying oh God imagine what could have been, but still. I keep thinking about the part in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, when Francie graduates from the eighth grade and discovers to her astonishment that all of her classmates, none of whom were her friends, suddenly want to write in her yearbook and know what her summer plans are and where she’ll be going to high school:
“They’re nice,” Francie thought. “I could have been friends with them all the time. I thought they didn’t want to be friends. It must have been me that was wrong.”
I mean, I guess that’s the thing about walls, emotional or otherwise – they make excellent defences, but they can be isolating, too. If you’re smart enough, you’ll let the good people in and keep the bad ones out, but Jesus, who’s that smart? Especially when they’re fifteen?
I guess what I really want to say is this: high school. It fucking sucked, and maybe it didn’t have to. But it did, and that suckiness got me to where I am now. And my life now is pretty sweet, so there’s not much point in regretting any of it, or feeling bitter about it. I mean, okay, maybe I still regret some stuff, but on the whole I’m a lot more at peace with everything. And that’s pretty cool.
My only disappointment with the reunion was that they didn’t play this song:
Because you know what? I would have fucking nailed it.