Thursday, September 27, 2018

30-Year High School Reunion: Processing Some Thoughts

Last week, I flew to DC to attend my high school reunion, which was held over the weekend. I did not make it to the 10-year or 20-year reunions, but this one seemed to be in the cards. Airfares were relatively low, my schedule was fairly open, and I always have a place to freeload stay (with my middle sister and her family). Work is pretty busy so I decided just to work remotely vs. trying to take time off. Plus, I'm burning some vacation time in December, when I take the kid to Orlando for a few days.

I attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. I graduated in 1988, before cell phones and social media existed. I learned to type on an actual typewriter. By the way, I realize that the school's name is now politically incorrect but honestly, it didn't occur to us that it was a problem back then. (For the record: if someone wants to change the name, I have no beef with that.)  It also didn't occur to us that some of our classmates might be gay. I sometimes wonder how many people had to pretend to be straight because they weren't allowed to be any other way.

Here's how I would characterize my high school self. I was neither popular nor profoundly unpopular. I didn't play sports. In our freshman year, my friend Jared and I made a pact to make it all the way through to graduation without playing an organized sport of any kind. We both pulled it off with no problem. Most of my friends were theater kids and/or the GT/AP crowd. Many of my closest friends were in the class ahead of mine, but I still had plenty of friends in my grade. I generally had a boyfriend at any given time. I was involved in a service organization called the Leo Club, which was affiliated with the Lion's Club. I was also involved in Close Up and took annual trips to DC to learn about our goofy government.

As for the popular kids, I would split them into two categories: decent human beings and, well, not-very-nice people (I guess you could say that about any population). I had friends who were popular and who somehow managed to retain that status while being genuinely nice to everyone. The thing that keeps you from being popular in high school is whatever makes you different. For me, this was a medical condition (and maybe a few personality quirks - who knows). I have vitiligo and can't make a tan happen. Having a tan was somehow profoundly important in the mid-1980s in the DC 'burbs. It was made pretty clear to me (by the not-very-nice people) that it was a problem.

So, I had a bit of trepidation heading into the weekend's activities. On Friday night, my sister accompanied me to a happy hour event at Bourbon DC in Adams Morgan. A classmate that I didn't know covered the drinks for the first two hours or so (three cheers for Tom!) I was particularly excited to see a couple of friends that I've known since the 6th grade: Felix and Cookie (no, Cookie is not her real name - she tried to get us to call her by her real name, Rangsima, before giving up many years ago). I was also excited to see a few people I'd known since middle school. Melinda is one of my all-time favorite people, so it was great to see her.

The bourbon bar queued up Risky Business on a large screen and played old people music to appease us. It was hot and crowded, but I was glad I came. Plus, it's always nice to have my extroverted sister along to balance my social awkwardness. I think she talked to more people than I did (she graduated from Lee in '92). She got hungry and found a pizza slice joint next door. They weren't kidding around with their slices. We ended the evening and I extracted my rental car from the underground dungeon in which I'd parked. My parking fee was $24.00. It's a good thing my husband wasn't with me - his little Midwestern heart would have stopped beating on the spot.

My sister and her husband flew to Connecticut on Saturday in order to attend the Farm Aid concert, so I was on my own for Saturday night's event. The festivities were held at an upscale bowling joint, Pinstripes, located in Georgetown. I paid $125 to be a part of this shindig. I couldn't eat any of the food, but I made sure I got my fair share of the vino from the open bar. Several people attended this event who were not at Friday's happy hour so it was nice to catch up with some new old faces. As soon as I ran into Kelly and Rachel in the bathroom, I felt like the whole thing was worth it. I was also excited to see Beth, someone I'd always liked a lot.  I made the rounds and talked to quite a few old friends. I don't know when I've hugged so many people. The wine made it easier. I had fun looking at all of the memorabilia my pack-rat classmates had laid on a table - everything from letter jackets to paper programs for events that happened in 1988.

Felix was my unofficial date, and we did manage to belt out a couple of songs from our long-ago French classes once we'd had a couple glasses of wine. Beaux yeux, beaux yeux, depuis que je vous admire! Mostly we wandered around separately, running our mouths to people we hadn't seen in three decades. At one point we had a semi-quiet moment and he mentioned how a kid named Jonny had tormented him when he was a kid. In recent years, he confronted Jonny via Facebook. I guess Jonny had a shitty home life and struck out where he could (and chose Felix as a target, for whatever reason). They hashed through it as adults and I think my friend felt a little better after that.

The thing about middle/high school bullies, though, is that they generally don't seem to remember what they did. There were a few guys in attendance on Saturday whose presence still made me uneasy, even though I know that sounds dumb. I still remember one of them mocking me in 8th grade science class, mouthing foul words in my direction.

I mean, what do you do after 30 years? I'm pretty sure that it's meant to be a water-under-the-bridge thing. We had a big class - 462 students. There were quite a few people that I didn't talk to on Saturday but not out of dislike - I simply didn't know them. I was standing in a circle with a few people and one of those guys-I-didn't-know joined us in conversation. Our paths just never really crossed in high school. Someone asked him if he has kids. "Yeah, I've got three of them fuckers," he said as he pulled out his phone. He made me laugh. We talked about concerts we had attended - we had seen some of the same bands. So, I don't think he was a dick - just a popular guy that I'd never really known.

As for the handful of bad memories, you can't forgive someone who doesn't apologize - and who, in all likelihood, has no memory of their less-than-stellar behavior. And there's no point in holding a grudge, of course. I suppose I should also confess that my friends and I were not always super charitable either. We were never unkind to anyone in a face-to-face sort of way like I'd experienced myself, but we had ways to amuse ourselves. For a period of time in the 80s, McDonald's happy meals contained a small plastic telescope. One time, I was standing in Senior Hall with Jared and a few of our friends. Nearby was a fairly popular kid who . . . well, let's just say that the distance between his skull and his shoulders was somewhat abbreviated. Jared used to pull out the telescope and pretend to look for that kid's neck. We howled over that.

Anywho . . . I enjoyed the reunion and I'm sorry more people couldn't make it. (I think slightly over 100 did attend). Sometimes I wonder how people pulled off an event of this magnitude prior to the existence of Facebook. The organizing committee (some of whom served on the student council way back when) did an amazing job. Speaking of Facebook, I've actually gotten to know some members of my class better over the past decade than I did during the four years at Lee. That's kind of an amazing thing, I think.

I ended up staying in the DC area for six days since it's cheaper to fly mid-week. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with my sister and her family. My youngest niece was a bit shy around me when I visited in July, but this time she sat in my lap and told me she loves me. Swoon! I took one of my nephews out for lunch at the Burger Shack in Chantilly - they had a great vegan burger! I also refereed one FortNite-related brawl between my nephews over the weekend. On Sunday, I drove out to Bethesda to have dinner with my friend Carrie. On my last night in town, my sister and I (plus three of her kids) drove to Kent Island, Maryland to have dinner with our dad and stepmom. It was a really nice way to end the visit.

I didn't take a lot of photos at the reunion so I've stolen borrowed one from Melinda. I'm not even sure how they pulled it off, but the organizers managed to play a VHS tape of some events from our senior year. Crazy!

My daughter is currently serving as campaign manager for a friend who is running for student council. I told her, "Don't run for student council yourself. In 35 years you'll have to organize a reunion and it looks like a lot of work."





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