I missed my ten-year high school reunion this year, because it was held over the summer, precisely one month before I flew home for a two-week vacation (a breakdown of that is coming, I promise). I was a little sad to miss it, because it’s such a milestone, but in today’s world, I can keep up with those I want to talk to and spy on those I don’t want to talk to pretty easily, so the night I missed the reunion, I just ate a bunch of cookies and spent some time on Facebook.
However, the idea of a high school (or college) reunion speaks to me. Long, long ago, I was an oppressively awkward, totally self-conscious, acne-ridden teenager, surrounded by people I thought were better looking, more hilarious, more intelligent, and destined for bigger, better things. Every person I knew had qualities I felt I didn’t possess, and every day, I walked the gauntlet, recognizing only good things in others and only terrible things in myself. (Look, I know how that sounds, and I would have edited it so that it wasn’t so pathetic, but you all know about my horrible divorce, so I figure things have been worse around here.) As a teenager and young adult, I was too convinced that I was ugly or incompetent to really take any chances, so I ended up being a small, judgmental, self-satisfied little Puritan weirdo, who longed for the freedom other young people had. (I was basically the worst.)
Now that I am a (more) fully-formed adult, with life experience practically bursting out of me, it would have been nice to see people from ten years ago, because I am cool now. Yes, I said it. I AM COOL. Deal with it.
There are a lot of people I knew who were fabulous. However, in hindsight, I don’t feel like I ever had real relationships with them, because I was always so concerned with what they were thinking of me that I couldn’t ever be truly present. One of these people was a guy who lived on my dorm floor my second year, a guy for whom I harbored a year-long, painfully obvious obsession.
He was tall and great looking and funny and effortlessly cool and looked at people in the way you only read about in books – he made every person he spoke to feel like they were the only person in the world. Now, as a grizzled, jaded, 28-year-old monster, I would say that he is just a very proficient active listener, but then, when I was 19 and a living, breathing sad-face emoticon, the fact that this glowing, gorgeous specimen of male youth ever looked at me with such intensity (much less that he did it every time we spoke) was just beyond me. I could not get enough.
I adored him and was eventually heartbroken by him, as he had relationships with other people and then moved out of the country and then I never saw him again.
You know, the usual.
As it turns out, this person is now also living in England, and last week, we met up for the first time in eight years. We shared a bottle of wine and went out in London and basically tried to jam the discussion of nearly a decade of life experience into a few hours. It was really wonderful.
One hundred years ago, when we were undergraduates, we often had long, wandering conversations about music, relationships, and life, during which I would mostly just smile and nod, because what did I know about relationships or life? I would talk about things in the abstract or discuss things I always wanted to do or experience, but never had. Last week, when we saw each other again, we had the same kind of conversation – hours long, punctuated by gross jokes and references to our personal neuroses – but I could offer actual advice, real, true, hard-won universal truths about what it means to be a person in the world, because I’ve done it. I’ve opened myself up to things and done really well and have also failed spectacularly and have lived to tell the tales in dark, loud comedy clubs in England on Tuesday nights (which, by the by, are places I never thought I’d ever be).
I have lived, the good stuff and the bad, and seeing this old friend was an incredible barometer upon which I could measure my personal growth. I am both hugely different and totally the same. I have always been funny, smart, cool, interesting, worthy of being looked at like I’m the only person in the world.
The difference is: now I know.