I grew up in a pretty small town, and the good thing about small towns is that you pretty much know everyone.
Of course, the bad thing about small towns is that… you pretty much know everyone.
I was not what you might refer to as a well-adjusted child. I mean, it wasn’t anything that ten or twenty years and thousands of dollars of therapy couldn’t fix, but still. Most of my childhood memories are not happy ones. Most of my school day memories are filled with cringe-worthy recollections of not being pretty enough, cool enough, confident enough, ENOUGH enough. I ended up graduating early and heading off to college because I figured a fresh start with people who’d never known me in my no-name jeans and rainbow suspenders was the way to go.
It presents an interesting conundrum when it comes to high school reunions, though, because the class I graduated with is not the class I went all through school with.
See, I became a senior halfway through my junior year. I was getting the heck out of Dodge as fast as I could. Last year marked 20 years since I graduated from high school, and I don’t even know if they had a reunion. I probably wouldn’t have gone even if they did. This year, however, was the 20th reunion for what I consider MY CLASS—the folks whom, in many cases, I went through school with from kindergarten.
I couldn’t go to this reunion because the timing with the kids starting back to school and everything just made it impossible. Though I probably would’ve crashed it, otherwise. I don’t think anyone would’ve cared. But thanks to the modern miracle of Facebook, I’ve been getting vicarious glimpses into the festivities. I’ve not only reconnected with a number of people from my childhood, I immediately arrived at two inescapable conclusions:
1) My classmates are a exceedingly good-looking bunch of people,
2) People are, in general, a lot kinder than I’m inclined to assume.
I went through those reunion pictures expecting to find a passel of fat, bald, old people. Because that’s what you get at a 20th reunion, right? Not here. Some of the women I remember from elementary, middle, and high school actually look BETTER now than they did back then. I mean, the fashion of the 80s certainly wasn’t doing any of us any favors (not that I didn’t wear my beloved acid-washed high-waisted Lee jeans until they fell apart), but still. Quite a few of the women looked SO GOOD I was relieved I hadn’t attended, lest I feel inferior all over again.
As I surfed around I kept encountering more and more of my classmates from years past, and I sent out friend invitations to many of them, and have since had umpteen email exchanges. Some of them were with folks I considered good friends, back in the day. Some were with acquaintances. And others were with folks with whom I’d had uneasy interactions in the past. And so far, everyone has been gracious and funny and entertaining.
No one has said, “Wait, aren’t you that weird girl who wore long john bottoms instead of tights under your wool skirt, who had giant frizzy hair and hung out in the band room?” (And no, I wasn’t even in the band. It was just a convenient safe haven for dorks.) No one has said, “How the heck did you end up being a writer?” In fact, several folks made comments like, “I can totally see you doing that.”
In a few beyond-the-surface conversations I’ve heard some interesting things from my cohorts of yore—comments about their own insecurities from back then, or mention of ways in which they wished they’d behaved differently—and it’s interesting to me to compare the self-absorption and self-deprecation of back then to the reality, which is (of course) that no one ever devoted nearly as much thought to me as I feared they did.
It’s been oddly healing, sort of a gentle reminder that everyone is dealing with their own demons and time passes and things change and memories shift. We share common ground in the past, sure, and now we survey one another as virtual strangers. But for some reason, we all seem to feel fondly towards one another, and that’s kind of cool.
Plus, you know, my hair is a lot more awesome now than it ever was back then. So there’s that.