Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Twenty

Though I sometimes like to pretend high school was miserable for me, it wasn't. It was, in almost every area, a good time. I had close friends. I liked my teachers and they liked me. I went to a small school where I was involved in everything from drill team to drama to student government. I got good grades. I went to a nice college. I had a date for the prom. But high school memories live in the portion of my brain that still is in high school. It's the portion that can recite all the lyrics to "Right Here Waiting for You" by Richard Marx, and that is embarrassed that my best friends were always the ones with the boyfriends and I was always sitting in the back seat by myself on the way to the dance, and that flips the personality switch into Tracy Flick mode when I'm not looking. It's the part that spent too much time feeling awkward and a little ugly even when I probably wasn't.

So I can understand why people balk at attending their high school class reunions. When the invitation came for mine, I had a second of doubt. Did I really want to see people on whom the last impression I made was a yawn-inducing graduation speech about Following Your Own Personal Star? Or, worse yet, they might remember me as the girl who didn't even know where the senior kegger was held, probably because there was a suspicion that she might call the cops. It's hard not to focus on regretful behavior, but someone wise reminded me that it's a very self-centered thing to do; most of my classmates probably don't remember the idiotic things I did, or if they do, they've got their own litany of idiocy to worry about.

I didn't let my thoughts linger for too long at the failed pep rally in my head, although it wasn't because I made a difficult personal decision to overcome my fears and grow stronger in this difficult time. No, mostly I went to 20-year class reunion because I wanted to know the rest of the story. I wanted to see where people were living and how many kids they had and if they had become even more handsome than they were in the eighties (odds were good, considering the perms and Cosby Show sweaters everyone was sporting in our graduation photos). And maybe I wanted the opportunity to shock them all by drinking a beer in public.

Damn, I'm glad I went.

I saw my child racing gleefully through a sprinkler with the kids of one of my dearest friends. She and I were just a year or two older than they are now when we met. It made me a little tearful, until Theo threw a matchbox car at her son's head.

I hung out with the wives of my junior high school crushes and it reminded me that small town boys have good taste (and so did I).

I heard a story about wrestling a mountain lion, masterfully told by a guy I could never persuade to be the prince in my four-year-old princess pretend games.

I recognized people by their voices and their walks which hadn't changed in two decades, and I could tell whose kids belonged to whom because they looked exactly like their parents at age ten.

I was reminded once again that I married well as I watched my normally shy husband spend day after day conversing with strangers and politely laughing at reminiscences that made no sense to him.

I saw a lot less bad hair than when we were in high school, but that might just be because there was less hair in general.

I heard stories about children and partners and how great it was to be back in Montana, if only for just a little while. I heard no bragging about jobs or houses or status symbols.

I ate too many cheeseburgers. I drank a beer in public, but no one seemed too shocked.

If you have a reunion coming up, you should go. Ignore the part of your brain that's embarrassed because you made out with that guy who never talked to you again, or worse because you dated that guy for ages and he might actually be there. Ignore the reminder that you never made varsity. Forget the suspicion that everyone might be skinnier/taller/richer than you. Instead, remember laughing together at your ridiculous World History teacher. Think about the time your car ran out of gas and the intriguing girl you'd never even talked to from homeroom offered you a ride. Expect to hear about the good stuff, the families and friends, because those are the stories that will get told. Don't skip it because you "don't want to re-live high school." There's no way it's going to be the same as high school because twenty years have passed and everyone likes a happy ending.

Just go.

Full set of photos here.

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