My 20th Reunion
Throughout my many relocations throughout childhood, I attended four elementary schools, two middle schools but only one high school; Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Minnesota. If you’ve never heard of Stillwater, well, it was the first city in the state. It is where movies like “Grumpy Old Men”, “The Cure” and parts of “Fargo” were filmed. It’s where Actress Jessica Lange, Politician Michele Bachmann and novelist LaVyrle Spencer call home. I’ve declared Stillwater one of my three hometowns.
It was the only school I attended consistently for all of its available years. However, it is also the only school I ever attended where I did not consistently keep a friend long past the departure from said school. We were the second to last graduating class of that high school. A new one was built and opened shortly thereafter.
I was one of the wallflowers, keeping my distance from the popular girls and feeling awkward around the football players. I had a few friends whom I consistently hung around and was constantly associated with another girl in my class, feeling labeled as “the other girl in the wheelchair”. Perhaps it was because nobody really knew how to approach me. My friend was approachable enough, as she is a Stillwater native and attended elementary school with most of my fellow graduates. But I was the ‘new girl’ bouncing off her her frequently for friends.
We were a duo and I suppose it was assumed that we were just automatically a unit. We had to take the bus together. We had to take some classes together. We ate lunch together and spent much of our outside recreation time together. We could relate to each other.. up to a point.
It wasn’t until college that I felt comfortable enough to make my own friends and break out of my shell.
By our fifth high school reunion, I was dating and no longer relying on a wheelchair. We sat at a table together and watched everyone else. Everyone had the same story. Either they were just married or had just graduated from college. I fit into the latter category, having taken the 5-year-party plan for my Bachelor’s Degree.
At our tenth reunion, I brought my husband. Again, all of us in my group of friends from High School sat on the deck together all night and watched everyone else. We were in awe at how much some had changed or, rather, how vanity had failed some horribly in ten years. At that reunion, I was in the “newly married” category, hoping that age hadn’t done a number on me. I felt that I had something to prove then.. that I, too, could be successful, healthy and happily married. I could be just as equal as they.
Due to a family emergency, and well, fate, I missed my fifteenth reunion, which happened to be days after the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis. In a way, I was thankful to have been at the funeral of my cousin instead of on a bridge on my way to visit a friend, as was the original plan. By that time, I had already lived here in Arkansas for nearly three years.
But in those years, distance and other differences drifted me apart from my core high school friends. One married her High School sweetheart and had two kids. Another simply vanished off of my radar, probably because I punched a dent in her brother’s car in a fit of rage and PMS. A third I could no longer relate to as too much had happened in our lives that differed and I started sensing (and hearing of) bitterness from her.
So, to me, 2012 was like an approaching freight train. For a while, I debated about attending. I had hoped to have less distance between myself and the town I attended High School in, but that was not the case. It was still an 800 mile drive to Stillwater and an 800 mile drive back.
When plans for the event started being announced a year ago, I wanted to be involved. I wanted to get to know the people I never spoke to twenty years ago. I wanted to do what I could from 800 miles away. And so, involved I became. I threw out some ideas, did some research and helped coordinate the scanning-in of 675 Senior photos in order to create our name badges for the event.
I was grateful that we did not have our reunion within the walls of our old High School, as some schools do. I didn’t relish the thought of taking my husband on that grand tour: “And this is where I was taunted when I was stuck in the elevator” “This is where my friend Shannon was beaten up” “This is where I felt labeled because of the adapted physical education class I had to be in” and lastly, “This is the classroom where I was sexually harassed relentlessly for a year and ignored by my teacher…”
And so, through making the badges and through social media, I learned I had things in common with the cheerleaders, quarterbacks, punk rockers, ‘smokers’ and geeks of my high school. No longer did we feel segregated into the tell-tale “Breakfast Club” labels. We had one thing in common, and that was together, 20 years ago, we walked in a sea of red down the same isle on that June afternoon.
I felt more comfortable with the thought of being the only one from my group of High School friends from 20 years ago in attendance. I also felt comfortable in the fact that I was no longer the 120 lb waif I was back then. Some classmates chose not to attend because they didn’t look like they did in 1992, or didn’t lose enough weight in enough time to justify coming. Some didn’t come because none of their friends did. As for me, I didn’t care.
A fellow graduate said it best on the morning of our reunion, posting a photo on FaceBook from the inside of our old school: “That’s the hallway at our old school.. The hallway that we shared, we laughed, we snickered at that person… We were young.. We were all about cliques.. We were jocks & arrogant snobs.. Tonight WE are adults.. Tonight.. We have fun.. That was the past.. This is the future.. I look forward to seeing you all!! As friends as equals as the better versions of our former selves…”
And so we were. There were no cliques, there were no groups of people resembling the lunch tables in High School huddled together for protection. We all hugged one another. We all got to know each other all over again. New friends that we’ve known for nearly 25 years were made.
I talked to people who never would have given me the time of day years ago. I hugged some whom I had no recollection as to why I didn’t talk to them in High School. Though I had trouble recognizing some people (thank goodness for those name badges!), I had no trouble recognizing many.
Some of us are bald now. Some of us have gained weight. Some of us are grandparents and some of us have unfortunately had to bear the cross of losing our children. Some of us have lost parents and some of us have new ones. Some of us own businesses and some of us are owned by businesses. One thing was for sure, though, in twenty years we have all changed. It was fantastic getting to know 200 of my classmates all over again.
As my husband and I walked back to our car, and crossed the street in front of one of my former employers, a pickup truck came up behind me and a voice screamed “Come on (lady)! Move it!!!” A stranger nearby, shocked that someone would treat me so, said “He can’t say that to you!!” “Sure he can,” I replied. “He’s one of my friends from High School.”
He was actually the last familiar face I saw before I left the state and headed back to Arkansas.