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.