Last weekend I attended our 40 year high school class reunion, my first since the five year mark after graduating in 1975. That 1980 gathering left me cold and I vowed to never return. Too much pettiness, cliquishness, meanness and snark. At least, that’s how I experienced it and, wearily, I moved on, complacent with not ever looking back. If I’m honest, however, my own insecurities and dearth of Lessons Learned in Life most likely contributed to the dissatisfaction I felt then as well. I certainly wasn’t popular during junior high or high school. Nor was I ever considered ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’ or in any way attractive. While not a loner, I had few friends and wasn’t involved in many activities. Perhaps I secretly hoped that I would automagically morph into someone with social awareness, grace, style and savvy. It certainly didn’t turn out that way and off I slunk, my feelings hurt and proverbial tail coiled tightly between my legs.
Fast forward thirty-five years and I’m now more sure of myself. Plenty of mistakes and serious errors in judgment have accumulated since that first reunion but I’ve learned so much over time and have gained my own personal brand of self-confidence. I know what it feels like to be content with who I am – always an ongoing process, to be sure – but I no longer berate myself for the indiscretions of an ill-advised and awkward youth. Instead, I cherish and celebrate my strengths, my quirks, my sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies. I enjoy life, I try to be kind and I am, for the most part, a positive person. And while I didn’t necessarily glide into that red and white festooned gymnasium that hot July evening radiant with a new-found social awareness, grace, style and savvy – I did okay.
I was nervous and apprehensive the weeks and days prior, and the night before, I wished only for the next day to just be over and done with. For all my anxiety, for all the nervous energy spent agonizing over images of an invisible self walking in among my former classmates, only to be ignored and deemed bland and uninteresting, it was fine. Actually, it was more than fine. It was fun and I enjoyed myself more than I’d thought would be possible.
It was fun reconnecting and yet that isn’t quite the right word for it since reconnecting implies previous connections already made. With our shared history of the old elementary school building – sadly demolished some years ago to make way for a Hardee’s and senior housing – and memories of Fun with Dick and Jane and our second grade teacher, Mrs. Thorsheim and 7th grade Iowa scrapbooks and those insanely fun but potentially deadly Fertile playground ‘giants’ and our 1975 number one rating all season long only to lose the first game of the Iowa state boys basketball tournaments in March (a real heartbreaker), for all of that, yes we have much in common. But for the most part, we – our current selves, born of life’s burdens and victories, the blood, sweat and tears of what was yet to come for us and was not yet known – then – to any of the members of the Class of 1975 – we could not possibly have truly connected. And so, this gathering so many years later was instead a coming together, a renewal of acquaintances and in some cases, introductions of the very first kind, a forging of truly new relationships.
I didn’t leave the gym that night until after midnight, very much well past my bedtime. And once tucked into bed, I was too wired to sleep. My mind was churning out thoughts left and right, replaying conversations and smiling inwardly with fond recollection of all that had transpired that evening. Will I attend our 45 year reunion? Most likely, yes. But even if I choose not to or other events conflict in five year’s time, I’ll remain happy and cheered that I decided to finally, after thirty-five years, take my place among the others, those of us who are the Class of 1975.