Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On my class reunion.

I've had a few readers email or tweet or FB me, asking me about my 20 year class reunion I went to at the end of July.....and I've been thinking about how I wanted to answer that question. I wanted to meter my words, because I know they carry weight. I know that some of my old classmates read my blog (and books), whereas others do not. I know that some would be sensitive to my thoughts, and others wouldn't care. So I feel a lot of pressure to tread lightly.

You see, on one hand, going back to my modest high school and revisiting a place (and people) that not only stifled and weighed me down, but also built me up and helped to create the person I am...was a most excellent adventure. And I do love an adventure. But on the other hand...sometimes going backwards isn't such a great idea. Sometimes it opens old wounds and hurts. Sometimes it takes people back to feelings they've taken 20 years to work through...and that's no fun. No fun at all.

When the fact that I was embarking on my 20th post-high-school summer, I volunteered myself to help whoever was in charge with the festivities. In hindsight, I should have volunteered for something a little less awkward, such as underwear modeling, or swimwear waxing in nursing homes. Both of those jobs would've been infinitely less awkward than calling all 39 (yes, I said thirty-nine) of my classmates and announcing (and I'm paraphrasing):

Hi, this is the chick you all thought was a colossal geek in high school, calling to remind you about an event you probably couldn't give two craps about, that will likely cost you money to attend. It will be hot out, because it's hotter than a witches britches out on the plains in late July, but you're invited to come and stand around awkwardly while we all mentally assess which of us got fat, and which of us makes more money at our respective jobs. Hope you can attend! See you soon!

By the time I handed over all of my well researched connections to my high school friend (who had spearheaded the event, after nobody else except ME offered to help) I'd been through the gamut of emotions. For the first time since leaving my tiny school in the plains, I found myself wrangling feelings like inadequacy, self-consciousness, nervousness, and the dreaded body dysmorphia I'd struggled with the entire time I actually attended the school way back when. (Ohmigosh, I'm so fat! I'm so unattractive! I have the ugliest face in the class! No wonder he doesn't like me! No wonder they hate me! I'm repugnant!"|) Yeah. Class reunions bring it all back to the surface. And it feels fan-freaking-tastic.

Kidding. It feels like garbage.

So fast forward a few weeks when the actual even took place......

Now, I have to admit, I came into this reunion thing with some very "pie-in-the-sky" visions of having tearful hug-fests with my odd little band of five friends that I referred to as my "posse" in high school. I envisioned the six of us sitting around a table while cheesy music from the 90's played on speakers, all of us pouring over photographs, wiping away wistful tears as we brought each other up to speed on the last twenty years that somehow managed to go by, despite the fact that we were all apart!! GASP!

Yeah. Not so much.

Here's what happened: I ran into the following people, all of whom happened to be in my former "posse"....

1.) The reunion planner: the one who is running around doing 90% of the work, and is entirely too busy to stop, take a breath, have a conversation, or merely thank the person who put her very ego on the line by personally calling every member of the graduating class one by one. This person didn't really care whether I was there or not, and didn't put any loving, heartfelt Facebook statuses online about how great it was to see me.....or to get my help....or to, I don't know, listen to me kiss her arse for four hours. She was too busy, and just not as enthusiastic to see me, as I was to see her. It was a classic case of "she's just not that into you." *forehead slap*

2.) The completely disconnected one: this is the one who only breezed in for the last half of the last activity, merely long enough to say a breathless hello to everyone, air kiss a few people, then hustle back to her busy life. She didn't seem particularly happy or nostalgic to be at the reunion, and I would've equated her response to having our "posse" together again equal to the enthusiasm she probably feels when finding a most excellent sale on dishwasher tabs at Target.

3.) The one who never left our hometown: you know, I have to say, this one was pretty sweet and nice, during the times when we actually spoke. You know.......when that actually happened. I actually enjoyed my visit, however brief and wistful tear free, with this particular girl. Unfortunately, we no longer had much in common. It was like pulling teeth, and it kind of broke my heart a little.

4.) The no show: this one needs no explanation. She wasn't interested in coming to the reunion, and stopped responding to texts shortly after the plans started falling into place. At this point in time, I sort of think she was the only one of us that had our head screwed on right. She was smart enough to NOT subject herself to the hell-casserole that was going to my class reunion. I applaud her. No, I envy her. She was smart. And probably saved a fortune because she didn't have to buy a reunion dress.

(Though, in my defense, my dress was wicked cute, and I looked great in it. So there.)

And 5.) The show-stopper: yeah. This is the one who stung me the most. This is the one who deliberately showed up late to the reunion, so that everyone would notice her arrival. She came in with an air of self importance and pretension that shouldn't have shocked me, or anyone else, in the slightest. This is the person who talked and talked and talked and talked to everyone at the reunion, but never once managed to ask anyone a question about themselves, and always kept the conversations centered around her life, her job, her hair, her clothes, and, most importantly, her.

You know, class reunions in the movies are always so much more nostalgic and tender. The vintage music plays over the speakers in the gym, while crepe paper streamers dance on the thick summer air, and people mingle, with little regard to who dated whom, or who hated whom. Maybe that's just me having Peggy Sue Got Married visions in my poor, sad old head....but I had these grand visions of posing for these loving, tear streaked pictures with my arms around the girls I loved and valued most all those years ago. I envisioned using said pictures for my Facebook profile shots, labeling them with things like "It felt like no time had passed at all!" or "BFF's then AND now!"

Sadly, my visions were not at all realistic.

The day after the reunion, as I woke up and headed out on a vacation with my family, I realized that I'd apparently not been a treasured member of the posse as others. I saw that the reunion planner had posted a picture of the show stopper on social media, declaring how their friendship had transcended time, and how she always knew she could count on the show stopper for whatever she needed. Blah, blah, blah...you complete me...blah blah...you're the wind beneath my wings. You get the picture.

Um.....*tap, tap* (tapping microphone) "Is this thing on?"

Who humiliated herself by spending (literally) two months cold calling, emailing, and Facebook stalking the very people who tormented my entire adolescence, when the show stopper essentially refused to help? Huh. Alright. Okay. It's cool. The show stopper and the reunion planner must've stayed in touch, when I dropped the ball and lost touch for a number of years....or until Mark Zuckerman invented this clusterf*** we call social media. I guess I deserved that. I didn't keep in touch. They apparently did. And they're still besties. Got it. It's cool.....I'll do better in the future. I got phone numbers! I was told to text anytime! In fact, I'll send one now!!!!

Except that I was given a bogus number.

Yeah. At my 20 year reunion, I was given a bunk number, and told to text anytime.

This proved not only to be humiliating, but incredibly, indescribably hurtful, as well.

You see, it's okay that we've all grown apart. And it's okay that some of us managed to stay in touch, when some of us didn't. And it's okay that I'm yet again, even after 20 years, somehow finding myself on the outside, looking in. This is a position I was extremely familiar with in high school, especially within the bonds of my so-called posse. Two of the girls were sisters. A girl like me, with no sisters of her own, could never infiltrate that bond. Two the the girls were super pretty, super successful in everything, super tight and liked to spend their spare time together. A bonehead student, non-athlete, with horrid hair and giant glasses like me had no chance of penetrating that bond. They were in each other's weddings, for pete's sake! And finally, two of the girls became college roommates. Yeah.....I didn't go to that college. I couldn't have gone to that college with them, even if I'd tried. I had no shot.

Overall, at 38 years old, I realize that friendships grow apart, and that my Peggy Sue Got Married visions of my 20 year reunion were completely unrealistic. Unfortunately, I set myself up for failure right from the get-go, and I should've known I was getting too excited about the worlds most awkward evening that ANY adult in their late thirties can experience! I mean, come on. If those girls were ever my "posse", would they have allowed me to fall out of the fray so easily in the first place? Would we have lost touch with each other? Would we have somehow "forgotten" to invite me to the ten year reunion?


(Yeah. I noticed. And I call your BS. You knew where I lived, what my number was, and how to reach my mother, if nothing else worked.)

Now, before you all start pitying me, I have to follow all of this whining and griping up with what was actually sort of wonderful about my 20 year reunion....

Oh, yes, I am about to get all sorts of positive and heartwarming.

Here's what else I learned at my reunion: there are some people that you go to high school with (yes, even in a class of 39 people) that you never really get to know. And often times it isn't until you are 38 years old that you realize what a gem you let slip through your hand when you were a stupid, self obsessed teenager.

Here are the people that I met at my reunion: (Granted, I actually "knew" them when we were all kids, but it wasn't until I was well into my thirties before I realized what incredible people I'd been overlooking for decades.)

1.) The supporter: this is the girl who seems like my absolute, polar opposite. She looks different from me, acts different from me, lives her life differently from me, and if anybody saw the two of us standing next to each other, they'd probably think we didn't give a crap about each other. However, I've found over the past few years that she is one of the most supportive women I've ever known. She's come to my book signings, she's bought and read all my books, and she came to a play I was in, purely because she read on Facebook that I was sick with nerves. She is the real deal. A true friend. I value her friendship very much.

2.) The enthusiast: this is the person who seemed to have it all. Beauty, popularity, personality for days, athletic skill, and a brain that made mine look like a stale raisin. When I was in school, I wasn't her biggest fan. Not because she was mean, because she wasn't, but because life just seemed to come so easily to her. Ugh. It was infuriating! But you know what? She didn't have it easy. Not at all. In fact, one thing I've learned about her over the years, is that our lives were sort of parallel the whole time we were growing up. She struggled in ways that I struggled, and when she read my debut novel, The What if Guy, she just "got" me. And that felt divine. When the enthusiast saw me at the reunion, she asked question after question about my books, my family, my career. She praised my work, and told me about her adventures. She was bouncing in place with total joy, and didn't seem at all annoyed or bothered that it was me she was talking to. She encouraged me. And holy crap, it felt wonderful!

3.) The unlikely ally: this is the guy that some of the girls from the list way, way above used to fight over. When I was still in high school, he teased me mercilessly, and while I wish I could say that has changed, it hasn't. But I've grown up a lot over the last 20 years. And well...I get it now. I get him now.  The cool thing about this friend, is that he's managed to put a smile on my face lately, when generally nothing else could. It's much deeper than a mutual fondness for teasing and insulting one another. He values mine and my husband's desire to adopt more children, and while he can't necessarily fix it, he treats us with kindness and patience, which is more than I can say for so many. He is a good, good person. I wish I'd known that in high school. I think I would have, had the two girls in my "posse" not been fighting over him all the time. I guess I got him in the end. HA. Well, maybe not me, but my husband and I did, in a very strange, convoluted way. He's an ally, and frankly, we've needed one.

4.) The old friend I'd forgotten how much I loved: this is a friend that I let slip away a long time ago, that I wish, wish, wish I'd been more conscientious of her feelings so long ago. Sadly, I'd allowed my need to fit in with the aforementioned "posse" become more important than cultivating a friendship with  this old friend. I let them say ugly things about her, lied by omission, and allowed her to be teased for so long. It still makes me sick to my stomach when I think about it. You know, when you're sixteen years old, you very easily disregard how wonderful a person makes you feel on the inside, and wrongly prioritize social acceptance instead. I am so grateful that this friend has a forgiving nature. I didn't deserve forgiveness, and yet I got it...and I've got a lifelong friend because of it!

5.) The nurturer: this was the most shocking of all my discoveries. This is the girl who seemed to have life on a platter in high school. Beauty, talent, friendliness, smarts, she had it all, and she had it in spades. Life appeared easy for her. She was always at the top of the social totem pole, and I was always so envious of her platform. The worst part was, she was so damned nice. She had a place at the top of the heap, and yet--despite the fact that I knew she didn't like me much--was always kind to me. So when she asked to be my Facebook friend a year or so ago, I accepted with a frown on my face, asking myself, why does she want to be friends with me? This is lame. She doesn't like me. She never did. And never once did she comment on my stuff. To my knowledge, she didn't read or notice a single thing I posted.....that is, until I went to my 20 year reunion. What touched my heart, was...she took me aside, touched my hand, looked me in the eye and said "It's been a rough year for you and your family. You've had so much loss. How are you? How are you doing?" And you know what? She actually cared. She legitimately wanted to know how I was doing with the loss of our daughter. She wanted to know how my husband and our children were getting through things. She told me that she'd been praying for me, and that she followed my Facebook page, and followed my life, and was pulling for us.

It was astonishing.

I hadn't even managed to get that much concern out of my "posse".

Words can't articulate how much that simple gesture touched my heart. Because yes, it's been an awful year for us. And yes, I need people pulling for me, because some days are really, really freaking hard. And as weird and hysterical is this sounds, I can honestly feel it when people pray for us. I really can. It gives me strength. I swear it does.

You know, my 20 year reunion taught me a lot. I mean a lot. I've learned that the people you might assume will always be your "posse", might not wind up being the ones who actually give a crap about you or your life....or, crap. Even your mere presence. And I also learned that some times the ones that you would consider your least likely "posse", wind up being the ones who actually give a hoot. They're the ones who will follow your career and your ups and downs and your life. They're the ones who will be there when you're signing books, or when you're scared to go onstage at a performance. They're the ones taking time out of their day to research adoption options for you and your husband. They're the ones who will hug you and hold you and drop you a text out of nowhere reminding you how loved you are. And they're the ones who are willing to take time out of their busy day to kneel and pray for you and your family.

Sometimes your posse is made up of a bunch of unlikely friends that you really didn't give enough credit to twenty years ago.

Sure, show stoppers are fun to look at. They're shiny and perfect and exciting........but in the long run, it's not the shiny, perfect things you turn too when you're cold and scared and alone. It's the warm, familiar things you reach for. And nowadays, 20 years after my experience in our tiny school on the plains, I've discovered that my posse is made up of the warm, familiar folks I didn't give a fair chance to 20 years ago.

I am extremely grateful and humbled to have a second chance.

But count me out for the thirty year reunion. I've had all the reunions I can take for a lifetime.

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