On Old Faces and New Ulcers
Like a perfect storm, events in my life have converged to render me battered and beaten about the emotional ear, nose and throat. My Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Northeastern reaches of the Keystone state was bookended by the equally depressing, reality-checking life events called High School Reunion and 29th Birthday.
Ten long years ago, I graduated from Valley View High School. The school was as sheltered and idyllic as one could imagine, served with ample sides of trashiness and flannel. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever sending my kids somewhere else. Of course, at the time when we had a girl threatening to come into school with a gun and list of people she hated, my mom told me, “Go to school, lazy ass. If you get shot, call your grandfather, and he’ll come pick you up.” Things were so much simpler then. I also had longer hair with the curls combed out so that it reached below my brows. It seems all of us had a tenuous grasp on the ability to make good decisions.
I spoke at my high school graduation, as the student with the highest average. My high school, purveyor of all things athletic, shied away from the term Valedictorian as to try to limit excessive competition among students. Those in charge of this policy were conspicuously absent while colleagues of mine were hurling dodge balls at my head in P.E. Class. I was told by the faculty that I was to speak about success. I wrote something up quickly, and then it was edited to a shadow of its former self. A more subversive student would have written something more interesting, but I went with the edited copy. I have no idea what I said. I would ask someone in my class what I said, but I know no one was listening. I know I talked about success and how its presence couldn’t and shouldn’t be measured by anything quantifiable or tangible. And blah blah blah. My mother loved it, but I think she would have loved it just the same were I reading from the Necronomicron.
Fast forward 10 years and a couple months. It is now my 10 Year Class Reunion. I don’t know why, but I was the most nervous I have been in years to walk in the room. Clad in a pinstripe business suit (to reflect my hard earned education and show off my blue eyes), I entered and my stomach dropped. I actually got a little dizzy. It was overwhelming to see faces from my past all together in one room for the first time in a decade: prom dates, rivals, jocks, nerds, band geeks, vo-techsters, the high school quarterback.
I did what anyone would do: made a bee-line to the bar. After a couple drinks, I got in the groove of the evening and gave the pat speech about my life when asked how I was.
Great, happy to be single, yeah, can you believe I am a lawyer? Neither can I sometimes. 10 Years. Wow. You have a baby? Do you like it? No, I probably can’t defend you. Etc.
A few moments stand out. One was when the girl voted most likely to succeed came up to me and asked me if I felt successful. I was also voted most likely to succeed with her; we were like a super nerdy prom king and queen. If this were a drama or Lifetime movie, my graduation speech would be highlighted here (preferably in sepia tones). It was a surprisingly poignant question for the evening. I made up some bullshit speech 10 years ago about this very subject. I talked about personal fulfillment, happiness not caring about things like salary or material possessions. I was naïve and 30 pounds lighter. Simpler times. I don’t know if I feel successful or not. I guess it depends on the day. No one told me at graduation that it’s ok to feel that way. The rest of the weekend, particularly surrounded by my family at my Grandfather’s 85th surprise birthday party, I let myself feel successful. I am allowing myself to feel that way for a bit.
I just turned 29, and there’s a lot left that I need to do. That's OK.
But for that night, I looked around the room, and it seemed like people were really happy. Everyone was smiling. Old beefs were put aside. We were just heavier, more mature versions of ourselves. (Ok, some girls were thinner—but it’s only because they were about to get married. And then you know they’ll gain the weight back. You know it.) We were happy to be in eachother’s company for the first time in 10 years. We were allowed to show off our best sides and present our own personal successes. And I found myself actually caring deeply what people were saying. Best of all, unlike 10 years ago, we could all go to a bar together after it and drink. Wouldn’t high school have been easier with bar built into the cafeteria?