Graduating high school in 2002 was far from a special, celebratory event. It was a tedious affair, punctuated by a later revelation by my dad that my family was annoyed that I wanted to hang out with my friends in my room afterward instead of going out to dinner with them. (I hadn’t realized that was an option. Yes, please: Someone—anyone—feed me, I’m always down.)
And when I wasn’t feeling completely bored by the whole thing, I was gripped by anxiety. For one, a bunch of dudes had bought a $40 toilet, smashed it up, and gave everyone a piece to give to the retiring superintendent when they shook his hand. The last person to shake the superintendent’s hand also gave him the handle to the toilet. But even though I had been handed my part of the toilet, it wasn’t enough to convince me that I was actually invited to participate in this thing that the cool kids initiated. I wasn’t one of them, this was a fluke, this activity wasn’t really meant for me to take part in. It also felt like a trap, an elaborate setup that no doubt had a Carrie-esque finale. The bit of broken porcelain stayed in my pocket.
For two, two guys in my class sat behind me, and every time I turned around, they were looking at me. (Maybe it’s because I thought it’d be really cool to write VOW, the name of my website at the time, on my hat and wear a Boy George pin on my robe. One guy even asked about it, and I remember answering him coldly, fearing he’d ask me for more details. I always did things in hopes people would notice me, but never knew what to do with that attention when I had it.) I was tense throughout the ceremony; I knew they planned to throw a dildo at some point, and all I could imagine was them doing something to me when I, the last girl to get her diploma, went up on stage, despite that they really had no reason to.
I suffered through a thousand mortifying hypothetical situations in my head and how I’d react, but ultimately, nothing happened. (They did throw the dildo on stage when everyone flung their hats in the air at the end.) Afterward, I felt angry that I had to spend my graduation worrying if something would happen to me. I shouldn’t have had to do that.
The whole experience was just a lonely affair. Bamboo and I looked around during the practice and the actual ceremony, and I saw so many people I didn’t hang out with nor want to, and I was just so relieved that I’d never see them again. It stemmed from a self-feeding cycle: I didn’t feel cool enough to talk to most of my classmates and was hurt they didn’t try harder to bring me out of my shell, that they didn’t see my inner light just waiting to burst through—you know, like what teen movies and similar ilk promised all us weirdos would happen. But because it didn’t, I was resentful, and I didn’t try, and I was suspicious of any kindnesses, and hid my own light. (It makes all this rhapsodizing I seem to do about high school now seem extra odd, yes?)
Cut to 2012, when the first ten-year high school reunion was scheduled around TomHanksGiving. I hemmed and hawed about going, but when I was trying to explain to Esquire why I didn’t want to attend, I was aggravated by what I had to say. I sounded so childish and stuck. All the reasons I didn’t want to go were the exact reasons why I felt I had to. And so I stuffed a sock in Fear’s face and went with Esquire and his wife, T-Rex, who had left so much space under her name tag that Esquire wrote Esquire’s wife underneath it. (She’d also had a painkiller beforehand and we laughed about how she ought to get wasted at this reunion that wasn’t even hers.)
I walked through the door of the hotel’s meeting room that overlooked the indoor pool, my guts doing their best to murder me from the inside. It was easy to conjure up a multitude of horrible scenarios that might play out, just like I did on graduation day. If only I could just make it to the open bar—then everything would be all right! But Esquire meandered along, stopping to say hi, being excruciatingly friendly to everyone.
But unexpectedly, people were happy to see me. Two guys I hung out with in sixth grade immediately hugged me. A long-lost fifth grade friend said how I was one of her besties growing up. I had a conversation with a classmate I realized I’d never spoken to before and it was great. One of the popular gals (I still think of everyone in terms of popularity; it’s crippling) said she remembered how we had to do a report of some kind in third grade, and so she came over to my house and we couldn’t figure out how to use the word processor. This was a story I don’t even recall but it sounds about right. Another high school friend looked so handsome, and his eyes lit up when he saw me, all “SANDY?!” at the pep rally (everything always comes back to that movie), and was like, “You look amazing!” He and one of the other fellows told me how I used to be their schoolboy crushes.
I saw a couple pregnant former classmates, and despite being twenty-eight, it was still bizarre to me, as if they were still teenagers: “You’re allowed to do that?? Weren’t your parents mad?!” I was also excited about some of the physical transformations I saw. I DO love a makeover, especially when I mentally precede them with a montage of progress and a motivational gettin’-my-life-together-at-last song.
Mostly, though, while Esquire made the rounds, subtly showcasing how much of a reunion superstar he was with his wife, his law degree and job, and his not living anywhere near our black hole of a hometown, I dished and giggled with T-Rex. We attacked the cake and ate lots of cheese, and I drank a ton of Yuengling. She and I stood near the snacks (natch!) while our senior year class video played on the big screen, and it was like no time had passed; I remembered this video as if I’d seen it hundreds of times. It even featured some photos of me, in all my weird glory, and nobody booed or shunned them. Then it was over, and T-Rex, Esquire, and I teetered to the pub next door, where Esquire bought us food using his company credit card.
it was just such a great experience. I was so glad I went after all—I felt like I overcame something. When I saw everyone, it was like we were all seventeen and eighteen again, but there was something different about it, and that was that I just didn’t care. Everyone stopped being people I disliked or felt I couldn’t talk to for whatever reason. I discovered how normal they were—like vaguely familiar strangers. It was a wake-up call that since high school, people were off having lives, like me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it made me feel like I can stop being so afraid.
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