My time in high school was absolutely fine. It wasn’t traumatic in any specific or unique way; I did well academically, I had some good friends, I had extracurricular activities (choir, mostly) that I loved. By senior year, I even had a boyfriend who I would continue to date throughout most of college. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t unpopular, either. I just existed, mostly happily. Sure, there were the typical issues that come up within friend groups — some bickering, some un-returned crushes — but overall, I was happy enough.
I share this because I think my 20-year high school reunion experience is completely colored by my high school experience. Someone who hated high school, or someone who loved every minute and still considers it the best four years of their lives will likely have a different take.
My ten-year high school reunion was fine. I went with a couple of girlfriends, but I don’t remember seeing that many people who I wasn’t already in touch with. I do recall that one person brought a newborn, and that someone (I cannot for the life of me remember who) offered me a swig from a flask in the ladies room (which I took, obviously). But no one ended the night in an incinerator.
Last year, a Facebook group popped up to get people thinking about our 20-year high school reunion, and people posted updates on their lives. This was before we moved to London, so I mentioned we were living in Seattle with our cats, and also that I invented post-it notes. A couple people commented, getting the joke. Others were married or weren’t, had kids or didn’t, lived in the area or didn’t, had successful jobs or were taking care of their home. Nothing totally out of the ordinary. One person is moderately famous, and they posted in the group and seem to still be very nice, so that’s kind of cool.
Once Austin and I decided to move to London, I realized the reunion was at the perfect time for us to coordinate a visit. See our family, go to the reunion, pop up to Seattle and visit friends.
As the reunion approached, I checked the list of attendees and realized I didn’t recognize most of the names. My graduating class had over 400 people in it, and maybe two of the people who had RSVPd by then were people I would have considered friends while we were in high school. I recognized a few names, but some were just … brand new to me. The girlfriends I’d gone to the ten-year reunion with weren’t coming this time, and I started to wonder exactly why I was doing this.
(I’m still not entirely sure.)
The evening arrived, and I was nervous in a way I haven’t really been before. Austin gave me a little pep talk as we walked to the venue, which I didn’t realize I needed. Was I worried about what people would think of me? I don’t think so. I was actually more just anxious that there was no reason for me to be there.
With Facebook, it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with the people you want to stay in touch with. Even though I deleted my account for the summer, in the month that I’d been back I’d found a lot of the people who I’d be interested in meeting up with solo (as is my rule for Facebook friendship). It seems to me that part of the fun of reunions in the past was seeing people one had lost touch with but wanted to connect with. These days, it’s hard to stay disconnected even if one wants to.
But I was wrong. So, so wrong. I had a weirdly fun time. Part of the fun was indeed connecting with people who I’d lost touch with but still enjoyed catching up with (more on that later), but part of it was the utter bizarreness of being in a room with a lot of people that I recognized but just genuinely don’t need to be around. I don’t have good or bad feelings towards them (I mean, I hope they’re happy and kind people, but they aren’t ever on my mind.) We shared four years of our lives, sort of, and then went off into the world, and it all felt both the same and totally different.
It didn’t actually matter whether I interacted with any of the people who hadn’t been my friends. Once I’d chatted with four or five people (including my choir teacher, which was a delightful surprise) I could leave the restaurant at any time. It almost felt like a sociological or anthropological study.
There were some odd components. We were all wearing name tags with our senior photos on them, so people would walk by, look at the tag, and determine whether they wanted to stop and say hi. Also, the drinks were super strong, and there was not a lot of food, so folks got tipsy REAL quick.
So, the women: they all looked and seemed lovely. My mother has a theory that women who aren’t feeling like they look their best won’t show up, and maybe that’s the case, but every single lady at the reunion looked happy and healthy. It was great to see. I have no idea how any of them are in their personal lives (my guess is that many of them hold political beliefs that I would not be okay with, given where many of them live), but in the two+ hours we were around each other, they all seemed fine.
But some of the men: oh buddies.
The entire evening was surreal. I just kept looking around, thinking about how odd it is that 20 years have passed and most of these people seem … exactly the same. And maybe I do too. Some extra pounds, a bunch of tattoos, a couple of piercings, a fucking awesome husband, but I think the essential ‘me’ is the same.
Which leads me to the best part of the night: seeing some old friends. There are a few people who I’ve lost touch with but who were close friends during high school. We hung out near the F wing of school, and were a bit Freaks and Geeks ish. The guys were in a band (as was I, for a hot minute — I played guitar and the only song we played was Free Fallin’). There was a lot of talk of Star Wars. By the time I was a junior, I spent more of my time with friends from choir, but I have great memories of hanging out with the F wing folks.
And that night, I got to catch up with some of those folks, and it was fantastic. Guys who were kind, sweet, and funny teenagers grew into kind, sweet, and funny adults. They all have kids, and many have partners, but they haven’t grown into adult assholes. My memories of them are not false – I did have good friends there, and they were good people. I’ve found a few of them on Facebook again, and look forward to seeing pictures and reading updates about their lives.
I’m happy I went, for sure. It was a trip, and worth it for the conversations I had. Not sure if I’ll go to my 30th (unless Jen and Kelly promise to go with me again), but who knows. Maybe.