Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Twenty Years Ago

This post is actually about a month late, and probably should be a bit sentimental, but I'm not sure it will be.

Twenty years ago, the week after Memorial Day, was my high school graduation. It was very momentous at the time. My friends and I planned for weeks--senior sluff day, awards and accolades, graduation night, scheming to pray at graduation in spite of 1993 being that year when a line was drawn. I spoke at graduation that night (strictly a try-out job; nothing to do with grades). It had rained for days, finally clearing that afternoon so that we could hold the event outside in our spacious stadium instead of the auditorium. My best friend, Katie, later reported that there was a rainbow behind me as I spoke . . . a good omen for all of us looking forward.

I think I have looked forward. I have tried very hard not to be one of those glory-days people. Not because it wasn't wonderful; in many ways it was, but I think I've always been pretty realistic about how you really can't return to that time. And how, if you really think about it, you wouldn't want to anyway. Near the end of that chilly graduation evening, my old 5-7 grade crowd all caught up with each other in the same place at the same time. We weren't a group that really splintered, more drifted into other interests and still saw each other with fondness. There we were, seven expectant faces in a circle of friendship. One of the girls/women/graduates in the group said with enthusiasm, "It will always be like this!" Katie and I smiled, but also shared a knowing glance across the circle. We didn't have a lot of wisdom then, but we knew enough to know that it would never be like that again.

Katie became Kate and got a beautiful tatoo of an iris on chest before that year was out. College wasn't quite the perfect fit for all of us and many dreams were dashed before our first reunion. A boy that one of us loved was maimed for life in horrible accident before spring again turned to summer. The boys who we loved as friends or otherwise all went on missions; for some of them is was their last hurrah in the Church. Within five years two of us would be married and divorced. Some would still be hoping for marriage in the aftermath of heartache. Drift took us miles, even countries apart. I think most of us gathered in that circle again at our five-year reunion; we've maybe all been together only once since.

There was a second peer group that I was closer to in those last two years of high school that scattered to the wind before the summer even ended. 

I am finding that some of my high school acquaintances have drifted more to the forefront with the passing years. Because I have been away from that community for so many years, those to which I've become close are those who like Facebook as a medium for friendship. I would gladly argue with anybody who says the virtual friendships cannot be real. A few of these re-connections have meant more to me than I can possibly say, and we ask all the time, "Why weren't we better friends in high school?"

The answer might be as simple as circumstances that didn't put us in the way of each other more often, but it might be more complicated too. We are all different people now. Our personalities, always friendly to one another and compatible, have taken on more depth through those dreaded building experiences we have all been through. Time has demonstrated who we really are, pushed-to-the-wall circumstances have revealed our true characters.

The timing for my 20th year reunion is bad. The same week last year would have been perfect, but after three trips to see family (Utah/Colorado) in 12 months, we decided early this year that we would NOT be in Utah this summer. As it turns out, Utah is coming to us, about two weeks before the reunion and we have a great staycation planned with my family. My mother is also coming out the last week in August to watch my kids so that I can go back to work the week before they do.

In March, when reunion dates were bandied about on Facebook and I planned for my own college graduation, it seemed that I would have to make a choice--to go to Utah State to be officially hooded, or enjoy the company of some really fantastic people (in person, not in cyberspace). I chose to walk at graduation, with nobody but my own parents there this time. There were some accolades, but mostly I was just one of a thousand candidates for hooding. It was a victory that was much more personal than public. The rainbow was in my heart instead of in the sky.

I like to think that my choice was about looking forward instead of looking back. But I do have some wisdom and I know that this choice is also about other things. It is about wanting to lose ten pounds. It is about not wanting to go alone; I was always alone then and would desperately like some kind of proof of Plantboy's existence. (He is really so good-looking. How awesome to have that kind of arm candy with me to give me courage.) It is about not having that book published yet. It is about just barely getting the master's degree that part of me feels should have been earned ten years ago. It is about years out of the work force as a wife and mother.

Wanting to forget is warring in my heart with wanting to remember. I want to forget that feeling of never quite belonging to a group. I want to forget the embarrassment I once felt at being the most well-read person in the room with the ridiculous vocabulary. A few awful dates. I want to forget the insecurity I hid with snark and premature bitterness. I want to forget the way every boy would look at the other girls in the crowd first. I want to forget some of those horrible dances. "Friends" who really weren't. The feeling of again falling short of making office or a coveted part in the play. The angst. The drama. The wanting to feel comfortable in my own skin.

I'm just not that girl anymore. And I'm so terrified to be--for even one night. I know I'm way over-thinking this (hey, it is my signature move), and those of you who have done this before will probably say I will regret it if I don't go. Maybe you are right. 

Because there are other things I want to remember. My delightfully smart friends. February in London. A healthy rivalry that made me a better student. The thrill of acing a test or getting a trophy. The teachers--especially Glen Prisk's AP biology class or Nancy Reed's early morning AP English. Decorating a Christmas tree that still had a root ball. Lighting the W. Bungee jumping. All the clubs--especially the fake ones! The pride in a school and a community. Some of those delightful dances. A few lovely dates. Sting at ParkWest with TWO boys and Midnight Oil at Saltair with two DIFFERENT boys. The green room before a show . . . even a show in which your part is almost nil. The feeling of possibility that you might become anything.

I don't know if I'll be there in person in six weeks' time; but it is safe to say that I'll be there in spirit. Whatever else I have become, that place I am from was foundational. You maybe can't go home, but I think we take home with us whether we intend to or not.


hmc said...

You surprised me, Nan! You were one of the cool kids. It was strange to hear you say all the same things I felt about being in high school. Makes me wonder if no one really felt like they fit in?

I dearly wish I could go, actually. The 10-year was an eye opener. Instead of feeling worse about my aged, chubby, single self, I left feeling like my life was on a good track. I have this funny feeling that everyone with whom I went to high school have turned into plain old normal likable people. People like the ones who surround me and make me happy every day. No more of the nasty intimidation, not fitting in, feeling like I need to be awesome(r) or compensate for something.

Yeah. I think I'm sad I can't go. We should have an Oregon chapter reunion instead.

Melanie said...

Isn't it funny how an association with the past can pull out of us all of those insecurities and bad habits and negative traits that we thought we'd buried or left behind?

People are always astonished that I really have no desire to go back to San Diego (to live). But San Diego is the place of my childhood and teenage self. Even though there's nothing traumatic there that I'm turning away from, the thought of going back still feels distasteful to me - there's a stale quality to it.