Sunday, June 18, 2017

I did not invent post-its

"High school hasn’t changed. There’s still that one teacher who marches to her own drummer. Those girls are still there, the ones that, even as you grow up, will remain the most beautiful girls you have ever seen close up. The smart kids, who everyone else knew as ‘the brains,’ but I just knew them as my soul mates, my teachers, my friends. And there’s still that one guy with his mysterious confidence who seems so perfect in every way. The guy you get up and go to school for in the morning. … High school would not have been the same without him. I would not be the same without him."
-Josie Geller, Never Been Kissed

I turned 38 last Sunday. I did what I normally do on my birthday when it falls on a weekend: have pancakes at IHOP (free pancakes on your birthday!) and bought a newspaper to cut out the birthday horoscope. The horoscope lives on my refrigerator for the full year until my next birthday, when I put up the new one and reflect on the previous year's entry. Since my birthday fell on a Sunday, I also got to enjoy the special sections of The Washington Post: Outlook, the Arts, and the Sunday Magazine. I started with Outlook as is my method. After reading a disappointing story about the 45's problem with the truth, I stumbled onto a piece about high school. The writer, Richard Morgan, is the same age as me so he's also facing his 20th high school reunion this year. Unlike me, Morgan's high school is being demolished in order to build a new school. He looked at the demolition of his school as catharsis for the experience of high school; you have to watch it burn (so to speak) to move forward in life. It's like The Washington Post was in my brain or something.

What is it about high school? It has the power to reduce a person to a former version of them self faster than watching The Breakfast Club on repeat. But it's also filled with wonderful memories of friendships, shenanigans, and the type of self discovery that is easily mocked in film but never not needed in real life. If you went to a school like mine, with over 700 people in your graduation class, it can be relatively easy to slip into the shadows of having so many people be involved in this collection memory. You remember exactly who was what: the beautiful people, the brains, the theatre nerds (present and accounted for thank you very much), the stoners, and the jocks. The structure of high school is hardwired into our brains and there's nothing that can stop those groups and cliques from flashing around in your head. It's how high school works.

I didn't go to the 5th or 10th reunion. I don't think I knew that the 5th was happening and the 10th came at a time in my life where I didn't want to hang out with a bunch of people I went to high school with and pretend like A. I really wanted to know what was going on in their lives and B. I wanted to share what was going on in mine. I felt, in 2007, I kept in touch with the people I wanted to either in real life or on the Facebook. I was at a weird place in my life then, having just done the thing I never really planned to do or wanted to do: I moved back to Northern Virginia following Hurricane Katrina. It wasn't like I was admitting defeat or something, but I didn't want to immerse myself back into the world of Burke and Lake Braddock after that. So I stayed away. Then the 20th reunion rolls around and I decided I was going. Interestingly, like 10 years ago, I'm at the beginning of a new part of my life. I'm starting a new job on Monday and refocusing my efforts on continuing to live the best me life I can live. I only hope my classmates are doing the same.

It was a perfectly suburban moment. That's the best way I can think to describe it. Everyone was on the dressy side of a casual night out (with very notable exceptions of a few dudes wearing suits; nice touch), those with kids were explaining that they were with their grandparents for the night, and we all complained about traffic and the crappy parking at the National Harbor. There were awkward "you remember me but I don't remember you but let's hug anyway because we went to LBSS and graduated in 1997 so we're freaking awesome" moments. Seeing a few of the "mean girls" took me back to when they were meaner girls in high school; some things never change. People drank (a lot in some cases) and shouted over the too loud music to catch up on all these little things. They poured over the class photo I brought, trying to find their group in the mass of humanity on the high school bleachers. The names of those no longer with us were discussed in hushed tones and with sadness.

As I looked out onto the crowd, it wasn't a reunion movie that came to mind but the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed. In the movie, Drew's character goes back to high school at age 25 as an investigative journalist and finds herself reliving her own high school existence. At first, she falls back to being part of the same group she was in the first time around (the brains) and pining for the cutest guy in school. All of the sudden she becomes one of the pretty people, caught up in the magic of being popular and accepted in a way she never was as a teenager. I saw this play out in small moments throughout the night:
  • Every single women (and a few of the men) giddy that a certain guy, the one they all got out of bed in the morning for in high school, had come to the reunion and was talking to them. And in some cases, posing for photos with them.
  • The pretty girls are still that and they always will be.
  • We somehow managed to find our groups again and stayed that way for most of the night. It's like we're hardwired to form cliques even when not in the school building.
  • People recreating photos from high school because that's what you're supposed to do at reunions. 
  • The group singing along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" as God and Freddie Mercury intended.
  • Most of the women in my class look exactly the same and we all look freaking amazing. I knew most of them without having to look at name tags.
  • The men were a different story: facial hair, losing hair, and the decision to dress exactly the opposite of how they did in high school made it challenging to identify them without a name tag. The facial hair ranged from ironic statement beards to ruggedly handsome dude on his way to being an older gentleman to "it didn't work for you in high school and it doesn't work for you now" so all bases were covered.
  • To my knowledge, no one in my class is an assassin so there was no random assassination by ballpoint pen at the reunion. I mean, I probably wouldn't know if this happened since that's the point of an assassin but I'm 98% sure it didn't occur.   
  • Don't ask dueling piano bar musicians to play a Rage Against the Machine song (I was hoping for "Testify" or "The Battle of Los Angeles."). They won't do it BUT if you're lucky, they'll replace it with your favorite Motley Crue song without being prompted (bonus points if you remember what this song is before I post the video below). This is both weird and awesome.
I'm glad I went and I would encourage others out there to go to their own reunion at least once because it's a good thing to do. Will you love every minute of it? Probably not. Is it worth it to see a few people you never see in person and reminisce about that time when that thing happened that was so great you thought nothing would ever be so great again? Absolutely. Do you have to stay late? Not at're an adult person who can do things so you can leave whenever you want. But go. Remember that time and enjoy it.

Photos by Joey, Katie, and me
Video by me

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