So much has happened in thirty years. How do I even start to begin a conversation with someone I haven’t spoken to in three decades? How do I conversationally cover all of the really important events that have formed the woman I am today? I am not the same person I was in High school. Not even close. To be honest, I don’t even think I had any idea who I was in High school.
High school was a time when I hid among the crowd. For me, standing out as an individual was something I avoided. I wanted to blend in with my friends so as not to be seen. I found great comfort in that invisible place. I was part of a whole. Literally and figuratively.
God, I wish I knew then what I know now. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy that time in my life, but I really could have enjoyed it so much more If I had cared less. Cared less about what other people thought of me. Cared less about offending anyone or crossing any imaginary social lines. Looking back, it all seems so ridiculous. At the time, it was anything but. I recall high school as a time filled with hormones, acne, anxiety, vulnerability and emotional drama.
On the few occasions I found the courage to stand up for something I believed in I found myself feeling lonely.
Back then, being alone was anything but comfortable. One of my earliest memories of this was when I was in sixth grade. There was a bully in our school, who I’ll refer to as Don. Don was an early bloomer. He was bigger, stronger and hairier than all of the other boys in our grade. Don used to chase a boy named Chip around the school yard on a daily basis. Chip was scrawny, and physically different than most boys his age. Chip realized this and didn’t much care about fitting in, he knew he was different and owned it despite other kids making fun of him. But I sense Chips mother had a difficult time getting him on the bus each morning for school. Who would want to endure pain and name calling day in and day out.
Each day at recess, Don would torment Chip. He would chase him around the school yard and when he caught Chip he would attack him with cutting words and jabbing fists. Everyone felt uncomfortable and knew that this was not ok. But few of us ever intervened.
I was a chubby kid. When I was in preschool it was cute, but as I got older, I wanted to be anything but chubby. Chubby meant different than everyone else. Chubby meant I would definitely be teased. Today, I wonder if that is why I spend so many years trying to blend in and not get noticed.
Until the day that I demanded that Don stopped bullying Chip. Don had been relentless and I felt I could no longer remain a bystander, so I decided to stand up for Chip. I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do, however my head advised otherwise. “If you do that, watch out...Don will turn on you and it won't’ be pretty”.
I remember the moment I yelled out to Don to “stop”. He turned his head in my direction and glared at me. “What did you say?” “I said, stop, jerk” and all I can recall is that my head was right. It was not pretty. Don turned on me.
The vulnerability and shame I experienced in that moment seemed unbearable at the time. None of my friends dared to side with me out of fear. This is a memory I carry with me to this day. Which is weird because I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.
This was a transformative moment in my adolescence, and not in a good way.
Much like the groundhog on groundhogs day, that day cast a shadow that would make me retreat back into my hole. A hole filled with insecurity. I would have to wait another twenty or so years to gain the courage to come back out and ignore any shadows that awaited me.
Part of me would rather put on my pajamas and head back into the turkey coma I have been in since yesterday and catch the reunions highlights on Facebook in the morning.
That is the part of me I have spent many years working on. When I begin to notice that I am in retreat mode. I choose courage.
I choose to go despite any negative thoughts or anxiety I may be feeling about reconnecting with strangers. That’s right, strangers. I bet I will be meeting most of the people at my reunion tonight for the first time. Many of them had similar experiences.It’s all part of growing up.
They are not the same person today that they were thirty years ago. Not even close. That is why my excitement grows as I write this piece about my reunion. I can’t wait to meet the people my classmates have become. I will attend my re-union tonight free from assumptions and pre-judgements about the people I once “thought I knew”. I will greet them all with new eyes and curiosity. I can only hope that they come with similar intentions. But I am not attached to any outcome. I will simply be present truly present and have a good time.