My 20th high school reunion is coming up in April. I’ve had mixed feelings about going, but I’m leaning toward doing it. It’s kind of funny…I didn’t actually graduate from my high school. I dropped out after my junior year, then registered at another high school for my senior year, did one day there, then quit. A year or so later I got my GED. But bless them, LTHS asked me back, anyway.
I left home when I was 16. My parents gave me an ultimatum and I bailed. It was a really unhappy time in my family life, and I had lost any sort of patience with cliques and parties and politics and learning trigonometry, which I knew would be utterly useless in my adult life. So I left home, left school, and went to work. (To you teens out there who read this blog, please be advised that this is a good plan ONLY if you want to make your life way harder than it would be if you followed a traditional education path. Trust me. WAY HARDER.)
Because it was such a terrible time, I sort of lump everything in from that time as having been terrible, too. I know for many people, women in particular and certainly myself, we would never choose to go back and re-live those years. It’s a time of painful lessons. High school is when you learn you’ll never be a skinny 5’10 with long, blond hair. You start figuring out that the body you’ve got is the body you have to work and make peace with. For many of us, that is a lifetime endeavor. High school is so often when you have your first crushing heartbreak. Your first real betrayals of friendship. Your first taste of working in a system that may not really care about you, personally. And of course, your first breaks with your family, as you decide that maybe you’re not exactly like your parents, or you need to establish some independence. It’s generally awful- except is it?
When I moved to the community where I went to eighth grade and then high school, I was coming from a much more liberal and diverse place. I found my new school to be a kind of conservative culture shock. I never quite felt like I fit in. I did make friends, from every group of kids. Preppy kids, artsy kids, athletic kids…but I wasn’t exactly any of those things, myself. I was a depressed kid, who felt like an imposter. By the end of my high school career, I was angry at the world, and I could count on one hand the friends I had who truly knew what was going on in my life.
When I left, I thought I was leaving behind a community of people who were mostly of a certain demographic and mindset. I thought I was leaving behind people with petty problems and narrow world views. I, of course, knew everything and I had IMPORTANT SHIT going on. So I left home and left our little community with a real attitude.
Then I married young, had a baby, and life just kept speeding up. Over the next decade, I made peace with my challenging family history. I think it’s pretty clear that I adore all of my parents, and I have special, close bonds with each of them. Most parents will understand when I say that there is nothing like having your own children to put things in perspective from your childhood. I feel like generally, the family wounds of my youth are pretty well healed inside of me. But that leaves the wounds of adolescence that were solely the products of adolescence.
I didn’t jump on the social media train as early as some of my peers did. I joined Facebook in 2009 only because Eden wanted to be on Facebook, and I wanted to keep an eye on her. But of course, once I was there, people from my way back popped up or found me. Over the years, I accumulated friends from middle school, high school, even elementary school! And we’d have little conversations here and there. “What are you doing now?” “How are your kids?” The usual small talk.
And I was hanging out with some of my friends from high school again. People I’d never really lost touch with completely, who maybe moved back from far away, or had kids and settled down…And I started writing, after several years of not writing, and sharing it with everyone I knew. I began getting private messages from people about pieces I’d written that resonated with them for very personal reasons. And then I started having deeper conversations with old friends, about heavy things and things that mattered then, and now.
There is a lot I don’t remember about high school and the years that followed. I was a bright girl, and I was very ashamed of dropping out of school. That, along with the trauma of leaving home and being emancipated by my parents, and dealing with a string of losses which included abandonment and death, caused me to block out large swaths of my teen years and even some of my early twenties.
When I began to reconnect with people from that period, sometimes they would bring up events or memories and want to reminisce together about things we’d done or said. I’ve had several conversations in which I have had to apologize and admit that I just don’t remember those things. Sometimes the prompt will trigger a memory for me, and it’s like finding something shiny in the sand and then marveling and turning it over in my mind. Slowly, I am starting to remember some of the things I had buried.
Some of the things I remember are pretty wonderful. I remember people who were there for me when I was lonely, or searching for something meaningful or questioning why horrible things happen that are beyond our control. I remember teachers who told me I had potential, and really wanted me to get my shit together and use it. I remember being on stage, listening to applause, I remember laughing with friends until I cried, I remember riding in a car with my friends while they tried to convince me not to leave, and that it just wouldn’t be the same without me.
Twenty years later, I see pictures of old friends’ new families, or read about their accomplishments, and the causes they believe in and fight for. I catch myself having these sweeping moments of nostalgia where I am transported to that age, and then I feel deeply grateful for the people with whom I was young. And deeply grateful that I still know them. They are coaxing me out of the dark, and I find that I may be ready to dig up my past and look at it in the light. Not all at once, but piece by piece seems to be working.
When I moved to my new school in eighth grade, I was desperately trying to escape some terrible events and become a new person. It was as dramatic as it sounds, and was a lot to process at such a young age. It’s true that it was a very different environment than I had come from, but then, if that had been so great, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave so badly. And when I got there, people reached out to me. They accepted me immediately. They just took me in and made me a part of the community. When I went away, they asked me not to go. And now that it’s time to reunite, they are asking me to come back.
Looking back with two decades behind me, I can see that the distance I perceived between myself and my peers was truly distance of my own making. Figuratively, and literally. And for all my talk about how I left, I didn’t even really do a great job of it. I now live within five miles of my high school. And it wasn’t perfect. I wouldn’t do it again. I would never want those years back in the sense of reliving them. The pain was real. But I do want the memories back. I do want to honor all of the things that were wonderful about those years, which I carelessly discarded or buried. They deserve the love and credit. It’s not every place that will take you in, let you go, and save a seat for you when you decide to come home. It actually takes a pretty special place to do that. And I’m humbled that there is still a place for me.