What I missed when I missed my 50-year high school reunion
I missed my 50-year high school reunion last month. I had purchased a ticket to the event months ahead of time and booked a hotel room in Old Town San Diego for three nights, planning to use it as a mini writing retreat. I was going to write while reuning.
But as the date neared, my attendance appeared less and less likely. After sequestering myself for a year and a half, and then in recent months attending only a few small events requiring masks, I realized that despite being vaccinated, I wasn’t ready to gather with over 100 people. Anyway, logistically, it would’ve been challenging. Though I live in Seattle, I happened to be in California already, helping my younger daughter and her family pack and move from Sacramento to the Bay Area. The move date turned out to be the day before the reunion, leaving little time for me to gather my wits and remaining energy for a trip further south.
So I missed it. Miss is a multipurpose word, covering all the nuances of a situation. One definition is to fail to attend. Yes, I failed in this regard. Another definition is to leave out or omit. Yes, I omitted this event from my schedule. But here’s the definition most relevant to my frame of mind: to feel the absence of. In my case, nonattendance as deficit of experience. As in, well, as in missing out. On what exactly, you might ask.
If you’ve read my recent book Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories about an awkward girl who occupies the fringes of the fringes of the high school social circles and you’re a reader who conflates protagonist with author, well you might be on to something in this case. It’s not that the book is about me. Okay, to clarify, the book is and isn’t about me. I’m not Angie Rubio, but I thoroughly identify with her situation as outsider, as invisible girl, or as a visible risible girl.
Whatever. I’m sure only ten people knew who I was in high school. Okay, slight exaggeration. But I was certainly under the radar as I sidled down hallways, avoiding eye contact, panicking when my tiny band of friends was absent from school or otherwise unavailable and I had no one to eat lunch with. So why attend a reunion when high school was just one long series of social gaffes—the tongue-tied moments, the mistimed or inapt remarks, the unfortunate fashion choices, the unforgivable discourtesy of showing up each day as a skinny, flat-chested person, and the constant sensation of otherness, of not belonging?
There’s curiosity of course—a kind of where-are-they-now game. We all wonder, who did we become in the intervening years? Which leads to a second reason—redemption-seeking (look-at-me-I’m-not-a loser-anymore). Which in my case leads to a third reason—self-promotion. Hey, maybe you’d like to read the books I’ve written!
But this all may be moot, if, in fact, only ten (or thereabouts) people knew who I was in high school. In that case, few people would have reason to wonder what became of the 18-year-old me. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a girl in high school exists on the fringes and no one sees or hears her, does she actually exist?
I’ve looked at photos on Facebook posted by some of those who attended the reunion There were a few names and faces I didn’t know, but most of them I did know—by name, that is. I knew about them because I was an observer in high school. What else does one do from the sidelines? I wanted to learn how to be in this world. How to not trip. How to not bumble. So I watched, not realizing that what I needed to learn was how to be me.
That unformed girl I was, who inexpertly applied the makeup for her senior picture, had no clue of how to be in the world. What I’ve realized over the decades is that it’s a process. At 68, I’m still learning how to be in the world, but I’m more comfortable being me now. I took this photo of myself just days ago. I seldom take non-smiling photos because an overbite and a jaw misalignment create a look that I dislike. But smiling photos can be deceptive. So here I am close-mouthed. Am I hostile, sad, contemplative? Skeptical? Content? Yes, all of these, I think. Also, unlike the 18-year-old me, I’m not facing the camera as if looking out toward the big, far-off future and all its possibilities. The 68-year-old me, while not backing away from the future, is in no hurry for it either. The future is much less far-off and no longer as big.
This is why I wanted to go to the reunion. This is why we want to gather. It’s what I missed. The chance to acknowledge our younger selves in community with those who were part of our lives back then. Even if many didn’t know who I was in high school, even if some made fun of me back then, it was all part of who I was and who I became.
One reunion attendee later shared a note on Facebook remarking that at this reunion the lines had dissolved between the insiders and the outsiders, the cliques had collapsed, the mingling was real. Delightful news. How sad had it been otherwise after fifty years. Time is a leveler. Time is a teacher. And time runs out for all of us.
Love this article. How may I purchase your books. Yes, you were missed at the reunion. Me wanting simply to say hi and that I enjoy when you reach out on fb. Plus wondering if you might remember me.
First, of course, I remember you! How could anyone not? Anyway, I sat behind Gayle P. (the epitome of good looks, good taste, and good grace) in geometry class and she would sometimes chat about the goings-on in her life, which included you. She was my portal to the social life of the school. Second, the real surprise to me is that you knew who I was. Does this shatter my attachment to the theory of my invisibility? It certainly puts a crack in it. Third, thanks for your kind words about my being missed at the reunion. I really would’ve loved to have engaged with folks on a level so differently than in the past. And, finally, thank you for asking about purchasing my books! Here’s a link to the page for my most recent book Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories where you’ll find buying options. My other books can also be purchased from those same sites Also, my local bookstore Elliott Bay Book Company ships purchases. Thanks for reading my post and for your comments. My best wishes to you.
Pretty much the way I felt in high school, on the sidelines looking in. Although, I am much more social these days, I certainly wasn’t then. I had a handful of friends but still felt a bit distant in some activities. There are really people like us that don’t surface until we grow up. Exactly….why go to a reunion when I never really had a union in the first place. I’m not bitter or even wish it was different. I certainly wish I would have lived a bit differently in high school, meaning the stuff I did, But, that all led me to who I am today. It also led me to those friends from high school that I wouldn’t change for the world. Sadly, a lot of those friends have passed away, some just recently. When I moved to Washington a year ago, I found someone up here from high school and I see her often and reminisce about high school. I don’t think I missed much.
Hi, Susan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I too wish I could’ve lived that portion of my life a bit differently, but that would’ve required a different mindset at the time that I had yet to develop. We were who we were in those circumstances. But as you say, it led to who we are today. Wishing you the best.
I too missed our reunion, but as you say, for pretty much the same reasons. I realized that I was oblivious to what went on around me. Sure I had friends but they were always then, but not afterwards. I thought of them always but never made the effort to stay in touch. When I’ve tried to connect I always felt embarrassed at what to say or react. I did attend the 45 reunion but there was this cloud and my thoughts were really else where. In the span of 3 months, I lost a good friend, a co-worker, a neighborhood friend and a Sister.
This year it was spent helping my mother around the house as best we could. Making sure that she could take care of her self. Like you said spending a year and a half making sure we stay virus free we didn’t feel comfortable attending especially when we drove from Minnesota just to visit my mom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, now I have to find your books. 0
John, so sorry for so many terrible losses in such a short time. Thanks for your comments and take care. And thanks for considering reading my books.
Beautifully written there are many of us who were the invisible individuals in high school. We stayed in our social groups shying away from the popular kids. I as many do relate to Jan8s Ian’s song ( at seventeen). I have not missed my reunion it just keeps getting moved till next year. I’m from the class of 1970.
Thank you, Joe. I too very much felt a connection to Janis Ian’s song. Let me know how your reunion goes when it finally happens!
Hello! I graduated in 1973 from a small high school in Oregon. I started quiet and shy and always have enjoyed being a bit of a loner but I married a very outgoing wonderful man and am pleased with life. I was unkind only once to a devoted friend in high school and she has ghosted all of us. I’d love to apologize to her and have tried contacting her but can’t find her. I wasn’t horrible and believe me, other high school kids were more unkind but it’s still something that bothers me to have hurt her feelings. Our reunion is coming this summer. I know most everyone. I was actually pretty back then but now not so much. It doesn’t matter to me what others look like but it’s humbling if it’s yourself. And I’ve not become famous or accomplished all the greatest things I had imagined but overall am satisfied and content. I won’t be going because I used to be popular and impressive but not now. So there’s that. I like your high school picture! We probably would have been friends.
I think time is a great equalizer. Popularity or lack of it doesn’t have much sway at this stage in our lives. We’ve all had disappointments as well as successes, whether big or small. The most important thing I read in your comment is that overall you are satisfied and content. I think that’s huge. Thanks for reading and commenting. Best wishes to you.
As a 68 year old, our 50th reunion was an opportunity to acknowledge each other as individuals and rejoice knowing that we all had awkward times and we could all come together and celebrate a moment in time no matter what our hardships had been.
Covid has certainly affected our time. And life can be demanding. We all have our perceptions of ourselves. Maybe next time we can see your beautiful soul and cherish a moment in time.
It’s a moment in time and those moments only come once. I can only hope that by 68 we can reach out to one another and enjoy knowing each other as who we are today.
Thank you, Lena, for your wise and wonderful words.
I to had a lot of anxiety about attending the reunion but I had been vaccinated and decided to attend.. It was hard because my best friend from High School had passed away a year ago. I went to the reunions really just to see her. But Karol would not be there. It was fun to see everyone and catch up on there lives!!! I even went to the Friday night football Homecoming game. I loved going to the games in High School!!! Anyway you were missed and I do want to read your books!!!
Hi, Shari, I’m glad you were able to attend and that you went to the homecoming game! I was so sorry to learn of Karol’s passing. Stay well and thanks for considering reading my books.
Thanks for this Donna, very thoughtful. I sometimes wonder if we were all observers in high school, even the so-called “popular” kids…..
Thanks, Misha. Yes, maybe we were all observers, but I wonder if we observed the same things. I want to pick the brains of the popular kids.
Thanks for the insight. I am currently planning your little brother’s 45th reunion. I sure hope he attends!
Hi, Michel! I always appreciate the people who put the time into planning such events. Hope you have a great turnout, (including my brother)!
May we use this article for our reunion page?
Feel free to link to it!
I would NEVER go to my class reunion, even if I was invited.
We all have our good reasons for going or not.