Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Through the (Very Blurry) Looking Glass

Twenty years. Two decades. Four pentads. Two hundred and forty months. Eighty-seven thousand six-hundred and fifty-six days (give or take). That's how long it's been since I graduated from high school. Las Lomas Knights, class of 1984, to be precise. It's a long time, or at least it seems like it to me, probably because I have spent so much of the intervening years shoving those events as far down into the recesses of my mind as possible. The cloudy fingers of rememberances have further to travel for me to recognize them, but for some reason, the awful ones are always just within easy reach.

"So why go?" you ask. As well you might. Others have, you won't be the first. I wish I had an answer for you. I don't, at least not an easy one. I think I might now, but I didn't when I sent in my pre-registration form and made the reservations at the hotel. It just seemed like it might be the right thing to do, so I did.

I wasn't looking forward to it. I asked myself several times what I thought I was doing. These were not people I have spoken to, heard of or from, or even thought of for most of that time. In preparation, I dug my senior yearbook from out of the storage bin it has been in, neglected and dusty, with every intent of familiarizing myself with those faces from days gone by. Getting the yearbook out was the easy part. Opening its pages was not. The only thing it did for me was get the adrenalin pumping and heart rate going faster while bile rose in the back of my throat. And that's just looking at pictures of a bunch of punk 80s kids who mean nothing to me anymore! I quickly shut it and put it in a bag ready to bring with me for the trip.

I knew I was not going to be the person going to the reunion with something to prove. I guess I would have felt that way had I chosen or been able to go to the five- or even ten-year reunion. But my life has not gone the way my crystal ball said it should have, for which I'm very grateful, so I figured that after 20 years, it would be pointless to try to actually prove anything. Prove what, exactly? I would just try my hardest to be myself. I'm not saying that was easy to think about doing. I mean, high school is so very stressful. Each day is filled with impressing people so that you can be accepted. Willingly placing myself back into a social situation with the same people I had spent my formative years trying to impress even though I have nothing left to prove....? I was afraid old habits would die hard.

Then I remembered that we're all different, we'd all be bringing lifetimes of different experiences with us, and I'm not the only one who's probably gained a few pounds in 20 years or whatever. In fact, I was really hoping that there would be a lot of fat, bald people there. And that the men wouldn't look so hot either! Okay, I'm joking about that, but seriously, we'll have all changed, so I tried putting that stress behind me and walking through the door totally open to the experience.

My biggest fear was seeing Kim becase I still wasn't sure where things stood with her. I didn't know if I'd be able to fall back into the familiar habit of eating with her so that I could have a friend and not be a loner (see how easily those insecurities are dredged up?), or if we'd merely greet each other politely and get back to our lives.

The first person I saw who looked familiar apparently also had no problem recognizing me. It helped that I knew she was going, so I could easily come up with her name without having to look at her nametag. Brenda hasn't changed a lot, at least physically. She's still bubbly and gregarious and seemed genuinely happy to see me. She told me she had just re-read the entry I wrote in her yearbook and how funny it was. I thought, "Really? Someone thought I was funny?" It's too bad we're all hung up in our insecurities and self-centeredeness in high school and focusing on ourselves. If I had spent more time thinking about others and less about what others thought about me, it probably would have been a lot more meaningful. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I smiled at and made small talk with a few other people, finding that we're really not all that different after all. And no one really cared that I had gained weight (or if they did, they didn't say so) or that I wasn't married or that I'm not the CEO of a company. We were just a bunch of people in a room all facing the past in the present, and it was all okay.

Then I saw Kim. And her husband -- the one she's been married to for 18 years even after I was horrified that they started dating in high school. We greeted each other politely and got back to our own lives. And I thought, "Well, that was disappointing. I guess it's not all water under the bridge after 20 years," and went back to making small talk with other people.

Then a girl came up who hadn't yet registered so she didn't have her name tag on yet, greeted me by name, gave me a hug, and we started talking. I asked her what she was doing, where she was working, how'd she find out that was something she wanted to do -- having a perfectly lovely conversation with her -- all the while thinking to myself, "I wish I knew who this was." Kim came up and was glad to see this other person and said, "Let's get you a nametag!"

"Yes, let's," I thought to myself.

Since the mystery person hadn't registered on time, she was sure there wouldn't be a nametag for her, so she and Kim started shuffling through the copied yearbook pictures to find hers so they could make an impromptu nametag. Since I could provide absolutely no assistance in that endeavor, I idly looked at the other nametags on the table. Then someone else came up and said, "Look! Here's Cheryl!" I looked back down at the nametags and realized exactly who it was, smacked myself mentally on the forehead for not being able to figure it out on my own, and kind of shuffled away before they could figure out I had been staring at her nametag wondering if she was going to come.

It was a girl I had played softball with for three years and had various classes with. I couldn't believe I hadn't been able to remember her name.

The rest of the evening went smoothly after that. I actually ended up having dinner with Kim and Matt, and Sue and Mike and Allan, and it was all just fine after getting the initial jitters out of the way. Kim and I had a lovely conversation throughout dinner, which we would have happily shared with the rest of the table, but the music was progressively getting louder making it near impossible to hear anything that wasn't shouted directly into one's ear.

At one point, Regina finally wound her way to our table. She was one of my lunchtime buddies who I remember with fondness. It was good to talk with her and see what she's making of her life. It was also nice to have the courage and experience of being a grown-up now to tell her what I thought of her in high school. I was always so impressed with her ability to grasp nuances that seemed to flutter just out of the grasp of my consciousness. She knew things and expressed those things better than I ever could have. I always thought she was funny, if a bit cynical, but I admired that too, because it reminded me that high school was something to endure and get through, not a four-year cycle that would continue repeating itself year after hellish year. I told her that, and she was amazed. She thought she was the quiet

girl that no one ever paid any attention to.

I remembered again just how hard it is for all of us, no matter who we are or appear to be, we all have insecurities, fears, hang-ups and bad days. Wouldn't it be better if we approached people knowing that we're all human, instead of pretending that he's perfect or that I can't possibly offer this person anything? In fact, I stumbled across this the other day expressing this sentiment much better than I am capable of doing.

As the music increased in volume making conversation impossible, I decided to start heading back to the hotel. Kim and Matt also started making the same exodus. I hugged her goodbye, and asked for forgiveness for whatever stupid, childish, naive thing I had said or done that made it so that we weren't friends our senior year. She was surprised, then said, "Twenty years is a long time to hold on to something. If I said anything that was wrong, I'm sorry too."

Some say that revenge is sweet. I disagree. There is nothing sweeter in life than redemption and forgiveness. I gained a little bit of both that night, and nothing could feel better.

I think it will make it easier to face my past now, and not want to shove everything down into forgetfulness. Knowing that the past can be corrected in the present makes it easier to relive the past. I believe the past actually can be changed. I was no HG Wells time traveler, but my future has been changed because of confronting my past.


When I tell people that I attended my 20 year high school reunion this past weekend, they say, "Really? How was it?" Then answering their own question for me, "Surreal, huh?" I agree, because it's really too hard to explain any other way. But I'm going to try.

Taking a step into the past as I just did felt like taking my present life in the form of an overhead transparency, complete with current memories of people and places, then taking another transparency of my childhood and youth and placing it directly over the current one. When the two are projected together, they're so similar as to almost be the same -- what I've really lived and what I remember to have lived -- but with such finely defined differences as to make the current image a little blurry. I almost need 3-D glasses to view it properly. Failing that, I squint and move my head around trying to get the whole image into focus. Then I shake my head a few times trying to work out the details. It's not surreal because it is real, it's just all jumbled together. I expect that to change, though, as I believe I'm a little more capable of taking the past and reconciling it with the now.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Excited about: A real vacation next week, to

West Yellowstone
, among other places. I don't know when the next update will be able to happen, but I will be taking copious notes so that I can share them with or alternatively bore you to tears with them when I get back.

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