Sunday, 15 November 2015
When you turn old and have to go to your 20 year high school reunion – a blog post in two parts.
How are you supposed to behave at your high school reunion? What are you supposed to say to the woman who organised the whole event, when she is the person who bullied you in primary school?
I am in a conundrum about this milestone of my life. 20 years has passed since I left high school. It feels like a lifetime. And my memories of my entire school history are largely miserable.
I’m aware she is a different person now. We are both adults. She may not even remember me, or that she teased me and made me an outcast. Her memories of how that played out are no doubt, totally different to mine. She has created a Facebook event for the reunion and everyone is posting photos in it. I look through them, and the comments on them, and it looks like we were all one big happy family, a bunch of mates having a good time. The reality, well my reality, was that the year was very divided into a hierarchy of popularity and cliques.
As a kid I’d been very interested in performing arts, so my mum had me enrolled in drama classes and got me an agent. I don’t think I was terribly good, but I performed in a few stage shows and did some TV ads. Rather than elevating my popularity, this had the opposite effect. I suppose from some sense of jealousy, I was ridiculed and ostracised. I changed primary schools in year 5 because of the bullying. I remember before I left that school, a teacher finding me sitting on my lonesome in the playground and asking me who my best friend was. A pretty strange question, when it would seem obvious I was friendless, but I scanned the playground searching for an answer. Eventually I settled on a girl whose mother was friends with my mum, but in truth she barely spoke to me. I had no friends, let alone a best friend. I feel like crying for my child-self when I think about that.
I did better once I got to high school, the girl who bullied me was back, as were a small group of others, but once all the cliques were established they largely left me alone. But I remember the years that followed as filled with that hormone-driven teenage angst that makes you hate yourself, your family and the entire world. I really felt I didn’t fit in and I desperately tried to change myself with make-up, hair dye, even socks in my bra!
I wasn’t especially unpopular through high school. I had learnt to blend in. I had boyfriends. I had a best friend, who I shared everything with- clothes, secrets, even boyfriends. I played sport, albeit very badly. I got okay grades. But still, my memories hurt.
In the aftermath of doing our HSC I had a disagreement with my best friend and hung up the phone on her. We never spoke again. I was devastated, it hurt equally as badly as any boyfriend break-up I’d been through, probably worse. That friendship finishing symbolised the end of that era for me.
I went on to drift away from most of my school friends, only a handful remain. I made new friends, had more boyfriends, met my husband, travelled. I changed my name when I got married, it seemed like a good opportunity to shake off the girl of my past and be someone new, someone better. I even got the nose-job I had wanted throughout high school.
I now have a husband I’ve been in love with for 19 years, two gorgeous kids and a career I’ve worked hard for and am proud of. I should be feeling confident. Yet I’ve been dieting for a month in anticipation (dread) of this event. Why am I even going then, you ask? Yeah, I wonder that too. But one of my oldest and dearest friends talked me into it and I didn’t want to always wonder “what if…?” We discussed our approach to greetings – she was for hugging and cheek-kisses with everyone – I was against. I was adamant, there was no way I was pretending these niceties with people like my former bully.
So, in answer to my very first question – how should one behave at one’s 20 year high school reunion – the answer is this. One should apparently get leglessly drunk, require carrying out and throw up in the carpark before being taken to a friends place to sleep it off. This is how the evening unfolded.
After spending an inordinate amount of time and effort to look as fabulous as possible, we fronted up (fashionably an hour late). I immediately threw back as much alcohol as I could find as quickly as possible to quash the nerves that I felt must be written across my panicked face. The food was awful so I didn’t eat anything, and I drank nothing but white wine and champagne. A recipe for disaster after a month off the booze.
The first half hour comprised awkward, stilted conversations with people I barely remembered, but then everyone seemed to share my boozy buzz and the socialising flowed more freely. The men had aged badly, lots of paunches and receding hairlines. Thanks to the wonders of skincare and make-up, many of the women looked hardly any different, just older versions of their teenaged selves. I know it’s pathetic, but I was thrilled to be sought out by a guy I had crushed on madly in my final year and for him to tell me I looked great. Suck on that champ, I’m the one that got away!
The conversations I do remember having were mostly pleasant. I was genuinely pleased to see most of the people I chatted to, and avoided those who I never spoke much to in school anyway. My philosophy was, why pretend to be pals now? I was surprised that I didn’t get asked much about myself, I was expecting to have to give my story over and over again, but the reality was that a lot of people didn’t ask me what I did or whether I had a family or anything much like that. There was a lot of small talk, which is my least favourite kind, but I’m rather glad I didn’t get into the big topics, particularly considering the inebriated state I was getting myself in.
And the bully – she greeted me and kissed me on the cheek! I was furious, but I remained civil and blew her off as soon as possible.
By the end of the night, well 11.30, I went to the bathroom and the room was spinning. I was rescued by a friend who performed the heroic deed of whisking me out of there to puke in the carpark, before taking me back to her place and putting me to bed.
And then it was over. I survived it. I had moments of feeling like that kid again, afraid of feeling insignificant or invisible, or worse, like a laughing stock. There were no revelations. No-one was a shining star, no-one was bullied (or at least not that I saw). We were just a bunch of adults still trying to work out how to navigate this world. I didn’t re-establish any lost bonds or create any new ones. A bunch of people tried to add me on Facebook afterwards - including the bully! But I think I'll graciously decline. My curiosity is satisfied but I think I’ll leave the past in the past, and pass on the next reunion (or at least the drinking part of it).