Surviving High School (and Reunions)
I’ve only ever gone to one of my high school reunions – the 25th. Now the 40th is nearly here.
I was terrified then. This time is not as bad. I don’t have the energy or the attention span to get all worked up about it. Will I go? Probably not. It’s like the Tower of Terror at DisneyWorld – I did it once and I’m glad I did, but I have no desire to do it again.
My difficulties with the reunion even made the local paper. I went to a high school friend, Mary, for advice. She was quite helpful. She also, with my permission, wrote about my panic in her newspaper column.
Here’s what I told her: “Over the last quarter century I’ve confronted and dealt with a number of pieces of my past and tried to make my peace with them. High school, however, is not one of those things. I’m afraid I’ll have flashbacks.”
Mary did note that “Janet had more reason than most to be apprehensive. While I had been actively ignored, she had been, at times, actively picked on – one of those kids too brainy, too head-in-the-clouds, to comprehend how to navigate the social firmament.”
Pretty close. Except that I wouldn’t have called it “actively picked on.” High school was merely another part of the continuum of bullying and harassment that I experienced from childhood on. In high school no one threw literal rocks at me, but by then they didn’t have to. I was conditioned to cringe.
The head-in-the-clouds part was also not entirely accurate. As I walked through the halls between classes, my head was down and my nose was in a book. I was trying to perfect my “invisible” act and practice that advice that the bullied always get – “just ignore them.”
And I wouldn’t call the social milieu in high school “the firmament.” Just sayin’.
I did go to the reunion, though. I got my hair done for the event and told my stylist to make me look “successful and sane.” She replied, “Oh, no, here comes the wish list.” “At least I didn’t ask for young and thin,” I pointed out.
I went, taking along my husband and telling him not to leave my side. I’m sure the husband came as a surprise to most people there, proof that I had at least managed to navigate that particular social firmament. And if my hairstyle did proclaim some degree of sanity, that was likely a surprise as well.
I survived. My big insight: “Not everyone hated me.” I should have known that already, since I had friends like Mary and a few others I’m still in touch with. But old fears die hard.
Mary was much more philosophical: “In adolescence our images are refracted through so many distorted lights – the way we see ourselves, the way everyone else sees us, the way we fancy everyone else sees us. What mattered was that we could all talk face to face, as adults, as equals, as friends.”
She may have been right, though “Not everyone hated me” was, in its way, a major alteration in my outlook and pretty much as far as I’d gotten by then in my continuing struggle to come to grips with my life.
Things have changed a lot since then and so have I. Now I realize I have nothing to prove, and no need to try.