I graduated in 1973 from a small Catholic high school. I was young for my age, ill prepared to be rubbing elbows with girls who drove Jaguars and brand new Camaros to school, had streets named after their fathers and felt little to no use for me, a country girl, from a middle class family who lived one town over, in Sonoma, a Podunk town that held none of the cache of the famous Napa Valley where the school was located.
The “save the date” card for my 50th high school reunion arrived recently, and I began to ruminate, first about going at all, which I decided I would, then about the plethora of insecurities over what to wear, what to say and how to finally fit in.
But in doing so, I’ve made some discoveries that just might ring true for those sharing this benchmark. So, I thought I’d offer them up.
I honestly expected to be beyond this by now, that fight or flight response to the mere mention of the cool girls’ names.
It’s true, they were less than welcoming and inclusive. Their judgmental glances were not my imagination, and there’s a very good chance they were indeed laughing at me as I walked by. But that was decades ago. How can it still matter?
A brief inquiry into that stage of life confirms, our experiences in middle adolescence, ages 14 – 17, contribute prominently to our self-image. At that age, we are beginning to test our independence, develop our individuality and react to the rumblings of sexual attraction – risky and life-altering activities, fraught with perplexing social norms and complex dynamics.
It’s an exciting time, but when things don’t go right, when that cute guy asks someone else to Homecoming or when you lose the vote for the School Council, it leaves a mark. One that can be borne for a very long time.
Even if it’s deeply embedded in the recesses of our memory, and it’s been ages since we thought about it, the thought of coming face to face with those from whom we desperately and unsuccessfully sought approval can bring emotional angst rushing to the surface.
Yes, I’m a fully grown, accomplished and secure woman – most of the time. But that impressionable young girl is still in there, too, and she remembers.
I’ve been in touch with several of my classmates and have admitted my growing trepidation, only to be reassured they are sharing the same experience.
Like me, they’ve been spending far too much time consulting the critic in the bathroom mirror, searching the internet for Cryofacials, weight loss supplements and magic undergarments to smooth out the bumps and rolls that weren’t there 50 years ago.
My guess is no one is immune to the discomfort of being held to some arbitrary standard of professional success, financial worth and the super human resistance to the decline of normal aging, real or imagined.
After countless stern warnings that pride was not only socially unacceptable, but qualified as a sin of deadly proportion, I struggle to present myself as accomplished.
I’m proud of my strides to become a better writer and to be published regularly, but I still see myself as a fledgling, albeit teetering on the edge of the nest, poised to fly.
I’ve not launched. I do have a GoodReads page, but haven’t won the Pushcart. I have bylines, but no book deal. And frankly, a content creator feels somewhat like the second cousin to the published author. So, it’s difficult to decide how to reintroduce myself to those who will ask over their second glass of rose, “So what are you doing these days?”
The comforting revelation is no one cares. We’re all too jumbled up in our own experience of aging, our lost youth, and facing the reality of being five decades out of high school to be hyper critical. It’s hard to worry about someone else when you’re temporarily self-absorbed.
It’s only one night. Yes, I’m nervous, but the occasion does hold the potential to be a delightful evening spent reminiscing with those for whom I hold fond memories, to see some familiar faces and share in their life story.
And best of all, to ultimately and ceremoniously close the book on a chapter written long ago but held precious for all time.
Have you recently celebrated a high school reunion? Or is yours pending? What thoughts have gone through your mind in anticipation of the event? If you’ve already been through it, what advice can you give us?