I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. I skipped previous ones, largely because there were not that many people from high school that I had much desire to see. I might have gone to my 20th, I suppose, but it was held when was writing a dissertation proposal, and I had neither time nor money to spare. For this one, time was not much of an issue, and I was only a few hours drive away.
In high school, I was not in the popular crowd. I was a leader and well-liked in the band, but outside the band room, (and maybe the computer room) I felt like an outsider. As I trolled Facebook looking to see who was attending, I saw few people whom I really remembered and was interested in seeing. Was it going to be only the “popular” people whom I never really connected with? I wondered whether this event would bring back the feelings of otherness that I so often felt in high school. I have been working on techniques to feel more grounded and happy, so I sort of wanted those unpleasant feelings to creep up so that I could practice squelching them.
My life now has virtually no sources of stress. I have no debt. I choose not to work. I am not worried about putting kids through college. I am accountable to no one except myself. Given my situation, my work to focus on being happy seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel. Nevertheless, I am more happy and at peace now than I was when my trip began.
The reunion. Friday night we were to go to the football game and eat barbecue outside the lunch room where I once bought chicken patty sandwiches. In hopes of being attractive to the many women who never spoke to me in high school, I wore new clothes, purchased on a recent shopping excursion in Florida when I had my sister play the role of fashion consultant. I had my cousin approve my sartorial choices before I headed out. It was sort of like going to prom. Alone.
With Google’s help, I found my way to a secret back parking lot that did not exist thirty years earlier. I perambulated the unfamiliar path, trying to connect what I was seeing with the school that I remembered. I passed through what was once the smoking area, a place that I was not cool enough to go (not that I ever would have asked my mother to sign a permission slip for me to be there). At the entrance to the road that I recognized would take me to the back of the lunch room where our event was to be held, was sign that said “No Entry Permitted.” I told the woman who appeared to be guarding the gate that I was there for the reunion. “Oh, it’s right down there, sweetie.” Apparently I was going to be able to avoid the $7 entry fee for the football game. This was a good sign.
Now it was time to engage, to find old friends and to meet people whom I had not really known. Near where I expected to find the registration table I saw a woman that I recognized as a flute player. I had liked her in high school and always thought she was really cute, though I had never had the gumption to make my desires known. In the world of Facebook, we were friends, and in her case, I was pretty sure that she would be someone who would recognize me and even be glad to see me. I was right. I was introduced to her husband and we talked for a while.
This was pretty fun so far. At the registration table an attractive woman greeted me and we chatted for a few minutes. Then she walked away. Uh, was I not going to get my name tag? Was I already being shunned?
Well, no. Yet another beautiful woman sitting at the table explained that Ms. Shunner was, in fact, not working at the registration table, she just happened to be standing behind it and chose to speak to me even though she was not required to do so. Ms. Registrar gave me a name tag and a plastic cup with “MBHS 1982” on it. She even penned my name on the bottom. I asked where the keg was, sort of wishing that I had not left my flask back in Walden.
I milled around a bit, feeling a little like everyone else was communing with old friends as I looked on at a bunch of acquaintances whom I barely remembered. In the moments between conversations when I started to think that I might just want to be somewhere else, I stood still and remembered that it was a beautiful night. I did find a few people to talk to, and when I tired of not knowing anyone, I returned to the cute flautist and insinuated myself into that conversation.
After I had grabbed what turned out to be a really good barbecue sandwich, I realized that I might rather have selected the sandwich after I had found a dinner partner. I walked around the tables of people, but none looked inviting, perhaps to make me feel less like a loser, this was because the tables were actually full. I finally found a table with just one guy and three empty seats. It was with someone whose intelligence fell a couple deviations away from the mean, and not the side of that mean where the bulk of my friends are. I had been to elementary school with him. He never seemed to have a hard time pushing beyond his abilities. He did not seem self-conscious about sitting alone. Note to self: maybe you are not as smart as you think you are. It was most interesting to catch up with him and see what it was that he was doing.
Halftime was approaching. We were herded to the football field where the high school kids were able to look at us, as some sort of cautionary tale, perhaps. They clapped. We left the field. It was time to leave the premises for somewhere that would have kegs available. Not wanting to repeat my dinner-with-no-table experience, I endeavored to find someone who was going to the bar down the hill. One guy who seemed like someone I would want to talk to was leaving, he too had been in the less-than-popular crowd that I identified with and now has a Really Cool Job. Sadly, I had just heard him say that he was going to someone’s house first. There would probably be people at the bar, and, I remembered, going to bars alone is something that I do with considerable frequency.
Off I went.