I’m pretty sure only ten people knew who I was in high school.
When I wasn’t invisible, I was pathetically visible—shy and socially inept, with an exceedingly poor aesthetic when it came to reconciling the fashions of the day—mini-skirts, hot pants, platform shoes—with my scrawny limbs. I clung to my textbooks like a life raft as I sidled along the hallways and avoided all eye contact. I wasn’t bullied, but I detected the looks of mockery and twitters of scorn. Or perhaps I imagined it all, so self-conscious was I of my outsider-ness, so aware of the coolness of others.
Though shyness can be a form of self-involvement, I nevertheless took note of everything and everyone around me. I was an observer, audience to the sometimes improvisational, yet mostly scripted, theater of adolescence. I daydreamed my own script in which I was the star of the class, the belle of the ball, and, even though girls’ sports didn’t exist back then, the hero of the game.
Maybe that’s what shy outsiders eventually do—they become writers.
Fifteen years ago, my twenty-five year reunion inspired one of the short stories in my collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent, the one that was a finalist for the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and is still awaiting publication. (Hint, hint, should a publisher happen upon this blog post.)
Now with my recent forty-year reunion, another story is percolating.
But that isn’t why I attended my reunions, particularly this last one. Maybe it was to assure myself that time had diminished my awkwardness. Or to show that it no longer mattered to me whether I fit in or not. But really, I think it was to see how everyone had fared.
My forty-year reunion was a lovely event. There were hugs and handshakes, slaps on the back, pecks on the cheek, and conversations with people with whom I’d never exchanged a syllable with during three years of high school.
Time is an equalizer. We’re in our late fifties, at the end of our sixth decade of life. We’re gray-haired and thick-waisted. Our necks have pleats. We wore a badge with a photocopy of our high school senior picture to allow others to locate who we once were in who we are now. The fact is we are all different people now.
What we have in common is that we were young together. We were on the cusp of something, wondering who in the world we would become. We became firefighters, police officers, educators, nurses, lawyers, business owners, government project/program managers (me) and other grown-up things. We discovered our passions in gardening, historic preservation, writing (me and several classmates), and bellydancing. (I’m sure this is a link that won’t go unclicked and I’m happy to send traffic to my classmate’s website.)
We wonder how all those years could have passed so quickly when only yesterday we were grooving to the Doobie Brothers, repeating Laugh-In jokes, and rolling our eyes (or weeping) as Ali McGraw flared her nostrils at Ryan O’Neal in Love Story.
We’ve lost classmates along the way to disease, drugs, alcohol, and accidents. At the reunion, we regarded the commemorative poster with sadness and unease, reminded as we were of our own impermanence.
We came together briefly for a weekend. As at any social event, the mood was light, the exchanges jovial. We didn’t mention the pains and misfortunes that have visited us all over the last forty years. What was important was to know that we had made it this far in life.
Whether it was ten or fifteen or fifty people who knew who I was in high school, I wish you all well, Sweetwater High School, Class of 1971.