That One Time When I Was Lost for Four Years: Musings on My 30th High School Reunion

 

October 3, 2015 nags at me.

October 3, 2015 is the date of my 30th high school reunion and I am trying to decide whether to go. It will be held at the Springfield Golf & Country Club.  The golf course is located across from the house where I grew up, and where my mom still lives.  The golf course was the setting for a spectrum of events in my life that seem surreal now.  They range from creek-jumping and sledding in the 70s, to evading the police during a field party in 1981 to my wedding reception in 1996 (I have since divorced – a nasty ordeal).  I won’t mention the events in between. Each would lend itself to an individual post but I’m not quite comfortable enough with vulnerability yet to commit those stories to writing.

October 3, 2015 pokes at me.

October 3, 2015 reminds me of how much I disliked high school.  I don’t even know if dislike is the right word.  More like neutral or numb.  Just somewhere I knew I had to go for four years so I just did it.

To date, I’ve attended zero reunions.  I’ve asked myself why.  I know some people who have attended every reunion and feel like their high school years were the best times of their lives (if they are telling the truth – I’ll never know).  So I’m asking myself why.  Why do I feel like I was lost for those four years?

Did something terrible happen to me?  Not really. I was never bullied and I stood up for the people who were. People weren’t mean to me (mostly).  I did well academically without really trying.  I had hobbies and I was good at them.  Every guy I liked I ended up dating.  And every guy I dated I broke up with. I never even had to experience the rejection of being dumped.  I made friends fairly easily, seemed to be everyone’s counselor – the “dependable” friend – and I still keep in touch with a few of those people today.  But mostly I felt invisible.

High school is not a great place for introverts and loners.  I was both.  If I felt invisible it probably wasn’t “their” fault – it was mine. I isolated myself for periods of time. I dated older guys and was friends with some older people of both sexes because I felt mature beyond my years (my mom would argue this, I’m sure, and she would probably win).  I so valued my privacy that even the one or two guys I dated who were closer to my age went to other schools.  The thought of gaining any sort of notoriety made me nauseous.  It’s no wonder I was invisible.  I made myself that way.

I gravitated mainly towards a troubled crowd.  Some have gone on to struggle with lifelong drug and alcohol addiction. One ran away three times during high school. And I don’t mean down the street. I mean Florida and California.  One committed suicide.  Another one tried.  A few spent time in jail.  I never truly fit in with this crowd.  For me, it was just a phase.  Partly rebellion, partly curiosity and partly because they seemed to be more accepting than most.  But appearances can be deceiving.

I was sick.  A lot.  I had debilitating migraines and allergies.  During my freshman year I had Scarlet Fever.  I also had Mono, as did my best friend and my sort-of-boyfriend (you figure it out).  Many times I pretended to be sick even when I wasn’t, just so I could stay home alone and work on art projects, practice piano, write poetry or put photo albums together.  I would cut blurbs of text out of magazines and paste them under photos of me and my friends out of context.  The result was rather amusing (a couple were sort of mean, I must admit).

Classic Tom. I think this was one of the rare times I attended a pep rally. Lower left is Jenny, who used to proofread my poetry during 3rd period Algebra.

I failed 6th period PE my freshman year mainly because I didn’t want to “dress out” (i.e. change into my gym clothes in front of 30 other girls – this was always a horror to me and seemed a complete invasion of privacy). Despite missing a ridiculous amount of school due to illness, real or pretend, I was still on the honor roll more often than not – particularly my junior and senior years when I started getting serious about college.One of the only friends who I’ve continuously been in touch with confided to me recently that she used to “sneak” her math book home and do extra problems (because it wasn’t “cool” to do homework).  I did too, but neither of us knew it back then even though we shared a locker.  I got through math problems so effortlessly that I used to write poetry during class, having finished the problems long before time was up.That said, if I had to classify myself I would be Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks, the one season 1999-2000 TV show about high school in 1980-81 .  Mathlete turned freak, and confused about which one would win out.  Constantly questioning the world around her in order to find a place to fit in.  Aside from the “freak” clique, I most closely identified with my friends from art class.

“Mr. O’s” art class on a field trip to DC. Melissa, Brian, Joyce – and me in the awesome 80s tube top.

"Mr. O's" art class on the carousel in front of the Smithsonian. I think we were supposed to be in the museum.

“Mr. O’s” art class – Joyce and me on the carousel in front of the Smithsonian. I think we were supposed to be in the museum. Oops.

I took art classes in and outside of high school and that continued in college and to this day.  Art, photography and writing saved me from a totally misspent youth to some degree, but still, something was missing.

Self portrait from Mr. O's art class.

Self portrait from Mr. O’s art class.

Ocean City after a year at the gym. It's blurry - but I think I was wearing someone's cowboy boots here, although I have no idea why.

Ocean City after a year at the gym. It’s blurry – but I think I was wearing someone’s cowboy boots here, although I have no idea why.

Was I an athlete? Definitely not in the traditional high school sense.  But for my entire junior year I went to a private gym four times a week and did aerobics and weight training – sometimes with my friend who had already graduated – but mostly alone.  The summer after that someone gave me the nick name “legs.”Was I popular?  Not at all.  I was much too private for that.  I hated being the center of attention and the thought of being prom queen or having to live up to some preconceived standard turned me off completely.  I distrusted ceremony and tradition and could never understand how more people didn’t ask why things were the way they were.  I valued truth (despite the fact that I sometimes lied, mostly to myself) and I didn’t mind the grit that went along with it.  And I saw the grit.  A lot.Part of me was jealous of the football player / cheerleader crowd because on the surface, things seemed effortless for them.  So black and white.  In hindsight I know that was probably not the case.   And maybe I shouldn’t refer to whole groups of classmates as “they,” as if they were somehow against me.  I got along with everyone.  There was someone from every clique that I befriended in class.  But for me, nothing ever felt normal.

Me and Lee before the prom.

Me and Lee before the prom. Gotta love the fingerless lace gloves.

I went to my senior prom with a good friend – not a date – who was two years older than me and dating someone else at the time.  It’s the only high school dance I ever attended – just because I thought I should. I found it difficult (and mildly demeaning) to shop for prom dresses since they seemed to be made for size 2s, which I was certainly not.I skipped beach week and immediately started looking for a job.  The thought of all those classmates being in one place for a whole week was totally unappealing, and I had spent much of the previous summer in Ocean City with older friends anyway.

Ocean City 1984 - summer before my senior year - including a few people we just met that day and my friend, Janette, who had already graduated.

Ocean City 1984 – summer before my senior year – including a few people we just met that day and my friend, Janette, who had already graduated. And me upper left with my beloved boombox. Davia – lower right was in my class – hanging out with a friend from Maryland.

I just wanted it to be over. I wish I could look back now and say those four years were the best years of my life but they weren’t.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had plenty of fun here and there.  But that fun had little to do with a normal high school experience.

The organizers of the October 3, 2015 30th High School Reunion created a Facebook group, which I reluctantly joined to satisfy a certain voyeurism that has always been germane to my existance.  It has been interesting to see people posting old pictures from that time.  Since my love of photography started as a child, I have plenty of pictures from those years and I thought about sharing some.  For a second.  The ones I’ve seen there are of prom, beach week, football, cheerleading, classes, etc.  Pictures from the actual high school experience.  Mine are a mostly things like my friend with a hickey on her neck, the high school smoking lounge (yes we had one for the first two years), pictures involving drugs and alcohol, and older people who were not in our class.  I expect these might be amusing for a small few but not for sharing with the entire graduating class (which was 600+ if I remember correctly).

The "smoking lounge."

Mike, Courtney and me hanging’ between classes at the “smoking lounge.”

Kings Dominion 1984 with two older friends not in my class.

Kings Dominion 1984 with two older friends, Steve and John, not in my class – including random out of context blurbs I used to cut out of magazines.

There a bazillion articles out there about introversion and why people dislike high school and I purposely read only one before writing this because I wanted my writing to be untainted and limited to my personal experience.  The one short blog post I read said, in a nutshell,“try new things.”I tried to like what other people liked.  I really did.  I went to parties.  Jock parties, freak parties, and one that was a combination of the party scenes from  Sixteen Candles and Weird Science… mutant bikers and all.  I went to a few football games.  A couple pep rallies.  And then there was my two-week stint at tutoring Algebra II Trig in Math Lab. But I became so impatient with it that I quit.  I joined a club.  Okay, well, it was Future Business Leaders of America (boring), it wasn’t until my senior year and I really didn’t contribute much. But I still tried.

New Year's Eve 1981.

New Year’s Eve 1981 with Eric and Kevin – not in my class.

Halloween 1984 with older friends not in my class.

Halloween 1984 with Janette and Kathy – not in my class.

Graduation day 1985. I look less than thrilled here but I think I was just tired of all the family photos.

Graduation day 1985. I look less than thrilled here but I think I was just tired of all the family photos.

Graduation day was one of the best days of my life.  The future was wide open.  Now I could get away from these cliques and people would act like adults and focus on things that mattered – deep things – and not gossip about each other.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Things don’t change that much.I don’t think I’ve ever been back inside the high school building despite the fact that my mom still lives a mile away so driving past it is unavoidable. I have no nostalgia for the place.I’ve reconnected with a few individual classmates after having no contact for 20 years – some on Facebook – some in person.  There was the unfinished business with an old boyfriend.  A bestie with whom I’d had a falling out in the early 90s.  Some old art class colleagues.  My best friend through all of elementary school – we had gone our separate ways after an incident late in the 6th grade, for which I was able to apologize over dinner.  Another high school boyfriend (and later just high school friend), the one I went to prom with and who I had known since I was four years old.  Resolution is fulfilling, and maybe that is why people have reunions?

Graduation "after party."

Graduation “after party.” Amy, Whitney, me, Michelle and Craig. Finally some people in my class, but why does my shirt look like a Dalmatian?

But perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is my “accidental” Facebook friend.  I sent her a friend request thinking she was the “Jenny” from my 3rd period Algebra class – the class where I composed most of my poems.  We had been good friends in class but nowhere else.  It was just proximity.  I had a lot of those friends.  But as soon as “this Jenny” accepted my request, I immediately knew it was the wrong person.  I did know who this Jenny was but we had never interacted.  She must have wondered why in the world I sent her the request.  Was I just one of those people who sent request to everyone I’d ever come into contact with just to say, “hey, look how many friends I have”?  How embarrassing.  I almost hit “unfriend” but then I noticed her posts.  She was hilarious and we had common interests despite the fact that our lifestyles were completely different.  We started messaging offline and I can honestly say now if I have one regret from high school, it’s that we weren’t friends then.Facebook is odd.  There are the few old classmates who friended me and after reading their posts for a year or two, I suddenly realized why I hadn’t remained friends with them in the first place.  “Unfriend.”  Yes, I unapologetically unfriended people.  And not just high school classmates but others on my friends list.  There are still people on my friends list with whom I disagree on a number of issues, politics, religion, whatever.  There are a couple who post some interesting things but they do it every five minutes.  I block them and just go to their page every now and then to see what the have to say that day.The ones I unfriended had one thing in common – they were consistently posting negative comments or mindlessly reposting someone else’s thoughts with no room for questioning.  I had no tolerance for that in my life 30 years ago and I haven’t changed that much.  Introspection?  Yes.  Healthy debate?  Yes. Pure negativity?  Not so much.  And much like 30 years ago, there were some who I just didn’t want knowing my personal business.

So if I’m still the same introverted loner math geek artist writer photographer, and if high school was just a microcosm of society at large, why am I so happy now?

Because I’ve learned to know myself again.  To accept myself.  To accept that the day will not come when I’m no longer an introvert.  The day will not come when I love parties.  The day will not come when my gritty dark side disappears and I’m that bubbly girl who everyone wants to hang out with.  The day will not come when I’m the “popular girl.”  The day will not come when I stop questioning everything.  And why should I want it to?

1985 vs. 2015 - I think it's obvious from this pic that I'm happier in my own skin now.

1985 vs. 2015 – I think it’s obvious from this pic that I’m happier in my own skin now.

I still don’t fit neatly into any particular group. I’m a CPA but according to coworkers, not like any other CPA they’ve ever met.  I’m an artist/photographer but not really. I’ve had a few little “will work for food” freelance jobs but nothing significant. I’m a writer but not really. I blog about my personal experiences and observations because it’s how I work stuff out. But I’m not sure anyone wants to read it.An old study I found (Henium – 1982) sees introverts as belonging to two distinct groups:Group A: Self-sufficient, confident, hardworking, with firm goals, self-actualizing, reserved, preferring activities that involve inner experience and introspection; and

Group B: Shy, timid, withdrawn with low self-concept, lacking in communication skills, demonstrating fear of people, dread of doing things in front of others, who prefer being left alone.

Thankfully, I identify mainly with Group A but still, those last couple parts of Group B?  Yeah that’s me, too.  For four years I felt like I was stuck in The Matrix. I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I never quite found my tribe.  Morpheus never came and woke me up to tell me it was just a dream and that my suspicions were real.

So if I’m still the same, what happened during those four years that made me feel so lost?

I lost my voice.  I lost my willingness to unabashedly be myself.  I was looking so hard for a place to fit in that after a while, I didn’t remember what I was looking for in the first place.

There is a quote from Thoreau’s Walden:

”The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation”

I think that was me for a while. I think that is a lot of us. Unknowingly following various herd mentalities while suffering inside because we never quite measure up. Trying to please our parents, our friends, our bosses, our significant others… our classmates.  Well I’m here to tell you those are not always the people you want to emulate. My narcissistic ex husband became abusive before I walked out. My bosses got fired last year (long story).  My seemingly smart, stable and responsible father committed suicide. These are not paths I wish to follow.It is painful to play the role of seeker.  Observer.  Loner.  On the outside and never quite fitting in, until you embrace the reality that that is who you are. And once you do, you realize it can be an intriguing place to live.  Liberating, albeit exhausting – but not as exhausting as trying to be someone you’re not.

There is one thing I remember clearly from 30 years ago. The Breakfast Club was released February 15, 1985.  I will always remember Brian’s essay:

“Dear Mr. Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong.  What we did was wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are.  You see us as you want to see us.  In the simplest terms.  The most convenient definitions.

But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…

and an athlete…

and a basket case…

a princess..

and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club”

Yes, in some sense we are all of these things.  But that was a movie.  An idealized version of reality.  I wish it was that simple.  The happily-ever-after story didn’t show us what happened “after.”  I want to know what happened after.

I’ve decided that on October 3rd, 2015 I will not attend my 30th high school reunion.

I could say I’m not going because I don’t like reunions, because I hate small talk, because I suffer from social anxiety, because I would rather look forward than look back. And there may be some truth to that. I could say it’s because the reunion is the day after a two-week road trip through the U.S. southwest and I’ll need to decompress.  And there would be some truth to that.  I could say it’s because I really don’t know anybody.  I used to think nobody noticed me when really, I didn’t take the time to notice them.

The real truth is I just don’t want to go.  It’s not something I feel the need to observe.

I spent enough years making excuses for myself  Apologizing for my introversion.  Thinking I needed reasons for my desire to spend time with my camera and paint brushes and travels rather than large groups of people.  And it’s not that I don’t like people (mostly).  They just wear me out.

This may seem like a long and unnecessary analysis just to reach a conclusion of “I just don’t want to go and maybe I don’t need a reason,” but hey, observation and analysis is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done except maybe during those lost four years.

I’m no longer lost.  I got my voice back.

p.s. I think I had more fun writing this and looking through my old pictures than some people will have attending the reunion, but I only included the relatively “normal” ones here.  The others shall remain “eyes only” on the grounds I might incriminate myself.


And yes, I still write poetry.  Maybe not in math class but sometimes when I’m supposed to be doing CPA things, I sneak one in.  And if my bosses are reading this, hey, it helps me work.  I aced those math classes, by the way 🙂

 

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