Last weekend, I attended my 20 year high school reunion. For a lot of us, this sort of thing conjures up all sorts of thoughts; John Hughes movies, anxiety-ridden lunchtime moments, locker room trash talk, not feeling good enough about ourselves- ever! – spring musicals and football games and back to school sales at Sears. For me, high school memories were mostly good. I wasn’t nervous for my reunion; thanks to Facebook, I think I have a pretty good idea of what people look like and do and what they are thinking. This eases the anxiety a bit because you can start conversations with “So I read on your last post…” or “I saw you got a new job” or “congrats on your new baby”! And then you take it from there. But you still find yourself falling back into the old patterns, conversations, and once again, your old selves.
Of course, I speak from a position where I had mostly fond memories of high school and good friends and caring teachers. I grew up in rural farm country in Upstate NY, where trips to the mall with friends would take about an hour, as opposed to a weekly Saturday morning ritual. And of course, you needed to know someone with a car to get there. Also, for a lot of us, we worked on the weekends. So the mall was out until we saved up enough money to actually buy a shirt at Abercrombie (back when they had huge flannels and good politics). As long as you hadn’t blown the money already on late night grilled sandwiches and fries at Perkins. We went to a school where it was mostly empty on the first day of deer season. We snuck wine coolers in peoples’ back yards and had bonfires in the woods (cause’ that’s safe!) instead of on a beach or at someone’s parent’s McMansion. We left our car doors unlocked and grew up as latch-key kids. We took late night drives through back country roads to scare ourselves on purpose. We made up our own stories, our own present, our own futures. And whether we liked it or not, we had done it together.
I have been home many, many times since the summer of 94′. But this time driving home was different. I looked at things differently; I drove past old friends’ parents homes and remembered late night parties in the backyard and pancake breakfasts at their kitchen tables. I drove past my old English teacher’s house with her white truck still sitting in the driveway. I drove past vineyards and family farms where we used to play and get lost in. Driving home, instead of taking a main route, I took a road that had been well traveled coming back from the movies, sleepovers or late night parties. In my head, I was 18 again. I saw storefronts and alleyways and sidewalks and homes through the eyes of a high school senior. And I drew in deep breaths of country air, of August turning into September, of soccer practices and new school crushes. I had to do this before I walked through the door Saturday night – to remind myself of what I didn’t know then, what I know now, and what I still don’t know 20 years later. I had to humble myself a bit from thinking I had found the answer to everything since I had pulled the tassel to the other side so many years ago.
When I saw familiar faces that night and fell into familiar stories and old jokes, my life back in Boston fell away. Things seemed simple and complicated all over again. Good Will Green Eyes was there, but like always, he seemed as if he had always been part of the picture, falling into my high school crowd with easy confidence. I hugged people I hadn’t seen in years as if it were yesterday. It was a good feeling. It was a feeling of knowing that at 20 years later, we still didn’t know a god damn thing about life. Jam packed into the local bar that an old high school friend now owned, stories of heartache, of success, of reality took command. Our stories – varied in experience and tragedy and triumph – hung in the air like cigarette smoke and humid August air. It was like a warm, solid hug from an old friend – because indeed, that’s what it was.
Sometimes, I do wish that I was 18 again. Not because I want to relive my 20’s, but because of the feeling I had when we all left each other. We were fortunate to have a small class and to finally have enough sense to let bygones be bygones in some instances and be good to one another. I remember the summer before college – where old cliques fell away and new friendships were formed – where we tried to shove the past 4 years of high school into one summer memory. And then we all went our separate ways – whether that was 5 miles or 500 miles, it was all still new to us. I think that’s the same thing today. It’s still all so new. Twenty years later, we often can’t help but look at life like an insecure 18 year-old; approaching it with cocky confidence or withdrawing from it in a sulky mood. It is comforting to know that I was in good company that night; that no one had it all figured out, and no one had done it perfectly and that everyone still had a good laugh about it all.
For those of you contemplating your high school reunion – whether it is 10, 20, 30 or 50 – do it. It’s never too late to go back. You may surprise yourself in seeing that everyone is too consumed with their own anxiety to worry so much about yours. And when you do return, take the back way. I promise you, it’s a good perspective.
Cheers to you PY Class of 94′! Let’s do it again this weekend.
Copyright Leah F. Gallant, 2014