Does anyone really look forward to a 10-year high school reunion these days? Perhaps in a not-long-gone age before the dawn of ubiquitous social media, there was a certain nostalgia about seeing how people had changed in the decade since you’d last wandered the academic halls with them.
But for better or for worse, we now have the opportunity to see exactly what people have been up to. Who’s gotten married? Divorced? Had kids? Moved? Gained weight? Lost weight? We’re already privy to all the little triumphs and defeats of the past decade.
Truth is, in most cases, the people with whom we wanted to keep in touch — beyond the extreme casualness of facebook — we by and large have. There are a few folks with whom I’ve reconnected here and there, but in a class of 400-plus, it’s been rare. You hear about small-town classes of 30 or 40 who stay in touch and hang out, and the first thought is that it seems strange. But is it really? There are probably 25 or 30 people from high school with whom I keep in relatively regular touch; some graduated with me while others were a year or two behind or ahead. But we all create our own small towns, it seems.
And like many small-town folks, we are often loathe to leave our comfort zones. The outside looks weird at best and just plain wrong at worst, and nothing demonstrates this so well as the microcosm of the world via a high school reunion facebook group. In ours, we saw copious advertisements for spray tans, questionable profile pictures, multiple hopes for a night of wild drinking, and more references to babies and kids than a poor singleton like myself can handle without starting to feel like he or she is doing it wrong. By the time the calendar flipped to the reunion weekend, the notion that I’m some sort of Midwestern unicorn, always in the back of my mind, had been at the forefront for weeks.
Still, my childhood and and adolescent best friend was one of the organizers, and so I was obligated to go out of loyalty to her. I went into the night with the perhaps-unfortunate attitude of an outsider, bent on observing the event through an ironic and/or humorous lens. After all, the best comfort a writer has is that everything is material.
Some things I observed:
- It’s an interesting thing to know a fair amount about someone’s life and to yet feel totally awkward trying to make conversation whilst standing in line for the bar.
- I am not the only one who feels like a Midwestern unicorn. One fellow classmate, who was showing off her gorgeous new engagement ring, quickly jumped into an unprovoked defense about how the years of medical school and residency had delayed the start of her life. What sort of strange world do we live in where years spent in a big city in pursuit of the qualification to save lives is not a life?
- The way your brain still defines people after a decade can be incredibly singular and perhaps unfair. The girl who sparked a weeks-long debate on whether or not she had gotten a nose job over the summer break. The guy who really only ever talked to me because he liked the little red car I drove. The girl who did the overhearing in an incident involving a malfunctioning mute button and a conversation that wasn’t meant to be overheard.
- You will encounter secret pain in surprising places, and you will find people who write those secrets off too easily. Let me tell you this: a divorce without kids is not just another boyfriend. I heard this more than once.
- Gluten-free desserts are hard to come by, even when you have been guaranteed a gluten-free meal, and paid a good chunk of money for it. But if you annoy enough people, you might be given a voucher for a free breakfast buffet that you will probably never use.
- An apology costs nothing except perhaps pride, something which we often carry in excess anyway.
- The impact you can make by investing in the lives of youth cannot be measured. I don’t remember how many former teammates asked about my father — who coached soccer for a number of years nearing a quarter-century, taught hundreds of girls about hard work and self-respect and the value of loyalty, and never asked a dime in return — but it was a lot.
- Everyone is disappointed, and everyone is proud, and we are all poor judges of everything most of the time.
In the end, the night was not been full of the drama I’d half-hoped for (I beg defense as a writer on that one). It had not been particularly magical in any way. It felt, in an odd way, like the manifestation of a Tuesday afternoon — still recovering a bit from the Monday, looking forward to and dreading in equal turns the middle of the week, remembering the joy of the past weekend and hoping to feel that way again.
As I walked to the car, my feet having declared they’d had enough of my shoes, and my brain still buzzing from too much loud music for much too long, I found myself feeling relieved and yet a little nostalgic. And being the sort of girl I am, Bilbo Baggins’ famous farewell at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring jumped to mind.
I mused on how he must have felt that night (or, more truthfully, on how I was feeling on this night): the relief at escaping mingled with the regret of all he was leaving — indeed, had left — behind. So many ends, and so many beginnings. Life is both cruel and merciful in that the two can never really be separated.
“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve,” he said.
It’s an apology for the knowledge of such a failure without the intention to fix it. And it’s one we live most days, especially thanks to the global village of the internet. In the end, even after all my misgivings, I must say it was nice to have the opportunity to make amends, if only for one night, if only once a decade.