Life after high school

Why yes, I DID have big hair in high school.

Last Saturday evening I got all dressed up, fixed my hair, put on eye makeup, then went and found Scott, who was getting Luke up from a nap.   “Do I look like a woman who has had a good twenty years?” I asked, striking a pose.

We both laughed, but I was only half joking.   Saturday was my twentieth high school reunion, and … well, you understand.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go.   I’ve stayed in touch with my closest high school buddies, and the reunion tickets weren’t exactly cheap, and the other option for that evening was a date night with Scott, which is a thing that happens about eighty thousand times less often than we’d like.   But then I realized that if I didn’t go, I’d always be curious about what I missed.  And as a writer, I wanted to know what had happened to various classmates, some of whom I’ve known since I was eight years old.  I wanted to follow the threads of their lives and see which had followed predictable plotlines and which had veered off into totally unexpected directions.   What Would Jane Austen Do? I wondered, and the answer was clear: She’d go to the reunion, silly.  (She’d probably write a marvelously witty novel about it, too, but I’m unlikely to do that.  Rambling blog post is more my speed.)

So I went, and you know what?  It was really, really fun.  A few observations:

1) It is really nice to know that, after twenty years, cliques don’t matter.  You can go up to the guy you would never have approached in high school and strike up a conversation without feeling as though you are violating some ironclad rule of teenage social interaction.  This is just one example of the perspective — and wisdom — that comes with time.

2) It is a good feeling to be totally content with where you are in life.  Back to what I said about plotlines: frankly, mine is about as predictable as they come.  In our yearbook, I was voted Most Likely to Become a Teacher at This High School, and guess what?  I’m a teacher at a high school (not at my alma mater, but close enough).  Yes, there is a small part of me that wishes I could have surprised everyone by doing something totally out-of-left-field (Extreme fighting? Professional breakdancing?), but I like being a teacher, and I’m always proud to say that that’s how I spend my waking hours.   And it’s nice to be so comfortable with the path your life has taken.

3) We (the women especially) look way, way better than we did in high school.  Seriously, we do.  This is partly because we were teenagers during the late eighties/early nineties, which was the era of criminally ill-advised perms (just because you can do that to your hair doesn’t mean you should), but it’s more than that.  We’ve all grown into our faces, if that makes sense. We’ve lived more and learned more, and we are far more interesting now than we used to be, and that shows.  It is nice to see that youth is not a prerequisite for beauty, that women get better with age.  (If you don’t believe me, zoom in on that nametag.  Better yet: don’t.)

4)  It reminded me that even in high school, I wanted to explore life and the world.   Seeing old photos and old faces, lots of memories came back at me.  I remembered the good times with friends and classmates, the utterly fantastic teachers who set me on the career path I follow today, the fun of working on newspapers and plays.  But I also remembered the keen desire to break out of my private Catholic school existence, to be in a more diverse group of people.   I remember the feeling that there was more to the world than the social dynamics of my high school, that there were people out there who were leading wildly different lives from my own.  To be fair, there was surely more diversity of experience at my school than I realized; if I’d scratched the surface of that suburban family in the Mercedes, I would surely have found all kinds of  fascinating undercurrents.   But I can still remember the restlessness I felt by my senior year, and the excitement at the thought of going away to college and meeting people who had not spent their formative years in blue plaid.   I guess that’s what high school is supposed to do, right? — give you a curiosity about the larger world, make you want to explore, get you ready and willing to launch yourself exuberantly into the great unknown.

At any rate, it was super to go “back” for an evening.  It was really nice to reconnect with folks whom I knew when I was fourteen, to share stories of various teachers (what will my students be saying about ME in twenty years’ time?), to hear about children and spouses and jobs and travels.

And at the end of the evening it was nice to drive home with my sweet hubby, to tuck the sleeping kids into bed, to putter around our cluttered but cozy home and to savor the fact that although high school was good, Right Now is better.

2 responses to “Life after high school

  1. A few weeks ago I heard a segment on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about class reunions and what not to say when you meet old classmates. It was good for a laugh, but I really like your reflection for its positive perspective – which I think is a rare spin on the subject. As you point out, there is a lot of good that comes with the opportunity to look back on how far we’ve come – it’s not just about who’s gained weight or what the cool kids are doing now.

  2. That sounds like a great NPR segment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I definitely did come away with an appreciation for how much we’ve all grown and matured (myself included). And I found that the “cool vs uncool” distinctions that exist in high school are pretty meaningless once you are all launched into the real world. ( It would be so sad if they still mattered, wouldn’t it? )