Ah, high school. The zippy theme songs, brightly colored walls, and laugh tracks that followed you from classroom to lunchroom to locker room. Wasn’t life grand?
Our elderly headmaster often told us high school amassed “the best days of our lives.” But if those days in the early aughts made up the best days of my life, my days in 2015 are numbered.
I slammed my alma mater pretty hard in Struggle Central. I didn’t necessarily set out to do so, but I couldn’t lie about my adolescence — the bullying, the isolation, the stashing and stuffing of all these messy struggles with whom nobody I could confide.
Surely if there were anywhere I could find support, it’d be a Christian school, right?
High school killed me. It got a little better toward the end, but those first few years were a hellish grind that left my teenage heart groaning at each morning’s 6:17 alarm.
Walking off the football field a purple garbed graduate that warm May night in 2005, I’d have never fathomed a scenario in which I’d willingly return to this school. I’d also never attend a 10-year reunion or a 50-year reunion or any other numerically hyphenated reunion in the decades yet to be.
Why would I ever decide to reunite with my pain?
Thankfully, time and distance give your groaning heart the needed space to grow. From Georgia to California to every other contiguous state, I feel I’ve grown like kudzu these last ten years. And I knew I couldn’t be the only alum to outgrow our old Barney graduation robes; I was curious.
I’ve attempted “living a great story” these last few years, and that whole shtick can be a real pain sometimes. Great stories take work; they make you do hard stuff you don’t wanna do. But if you want healing, if you want further growth for your story, you do them.
Somewhere between Orange County out west and the orange clay back east, I realized I’d actually kinda sorta like to attend the 10-year reunion I once swore I never would.
If nothing else . . . it’d give me a good story to write about, right?
We met downtown in a secular world free from dress codes and alcoholic confines. We were adults now, some of us males with scruffy beards and hair to our chests, and the females even wearing jeans. Several wore wedding rings, and some have kids. Multiple kids.
How strange to criss-cross the lives of students who once played football on Friday nights and cut up in Accounting class with these adults now fathering children and filing taxes.
I’d not seen most of my classmates since that football field ceremony a decade prior. Thanks to Facebook, though, we’ve been able to stalk each other from afar. Most of them already knew and asked about my road trip and my book, and that made me feel valued. Seen.
I rarely felt seen in high school. I preferred it that way to the abusive alternative. For years, bullies forced me into a metaphoric locker.
My number one fear as an Enneagram Type 4 is a lack of identity. My high school experience (or lack thereof) stoked those identity flames. Thankfully, most of my assailants had either left the school or gotten themselves expelled by graduation.
But by then, it felt too late to forge a high school identity.
Ten years later, my old classmates were asking about my life, including one guy who’d taken a 7-month European journey partly inspiring my own 9-month North American trek. I inquired of their 10-year courses, too.
The night was already off to an encouraging start.
We ate a delicious meal catered by a classmate following in his father’s culinary footsteps. We slid several tables together like lunchtimes of old, and we told current-day stories and nostalgic ones alike. The deeper into the night we ate and drank and even danced, the stronger the nostalgia swelled.
Some stories quickly came back to me: that touring musical family who showed up to chapel once a year in their humongous RV’s; “tetra is four”; the awkward bliss of sex ed.
But I’d nearly forgotten other stories. Like our regular guest chapel speaker who spoke with a drawl that sounded like a gravy biscuit lodged in the back of his throat. I teared up laughing at all the revitalized impressions of beloved teachers and administrators, and the male-female dancing did not, in fact, lead to pregnancy — as we were once taught in sex ed.
Somewhere into the nostalgic night, however, my tears of laughter circled back. The more everyone told stories of football camp and plays and Halloween parties I’d never attended, I felt my outward grin growing limp. For all the same high school halls we shared, we couldn’t have lived more alien existences.
My classmates got more mileage out of high school. Sure, I showed up Monday through Friday, eight to three, just like them when I wasn’t pretending to be sick. Meanwhile, most of their relationships continued beyond schooltime parameters. They went to parties. They dated. They suffered summer football camps together and celebrated dinners out together.
I only just started climbing out of my shell my last two years, and my “risks” felt more insignificant: a homecoming game here, a basketball game there, and a senior trip to New York City, most notably. However, those “little” steps ultimately led to life’s greater leaps, I’m convinced: studying abroad at Oxford, moving to California, even embarking on a 9-month road trip across the continent.
High school, while certainly not the greatest years of my life, did get the ball of my life rolling. A zig-zagging journey that continues zagging a decade later.
I just wish I could’ve started zigging sooner. I wish I could insert the more confident person I am now into the terrified teen I was then.
My class of 2005 was — is — filled with good people. They have good hearts. They’re great moms and dads and teachers and storytellers. I spent the night admiring them with new eyes, glad to see them again in adulthood but sad to have missed out on them in fleeting childhood.
My angsty demeanor may not express it well, but I do love those people. I feel honored to be tied to them until the end of time.
Toward the end of the night there was talk of more regularly scheduled reunions moving forward. I’m anxious, but I’m open to it. The past is done, and I want to be more of a present-dweller and less of a past-mourner.
My road trip taught me to embrace every moment, and my 10-year reunion reminded me of that, too.
We all have something to offer — from the spunky quarterback to the taciturn valedictorian. I’ve actually thought about them a lot these last ten years, and I pray great things for each of their journeys. That God would use their hearts and humor, every peak and valley, revealing more of His heart to a world desperate for revelation and redemption.
The world needs their stories.
And in some strange comforting way, I need them, too.
Did/will you attend your 10-year reunion? How do you feel about reuniting with your adolescence?