Don’t Look Back… You’re Not Going That Way

I’ve never been to a high school reunion, because it’s always sounded about as appealing as wading into alligator-infested waters. Here’s why… When I was growing up, my family moved a few times and the last move was a difficult one for me. It was midway through my sixth-grade year, and over Christmas break to boot. I left the home at the end of a cul-de-sac where my sister, our friends, and I had biked and rescued kittens and played baseball in the yard, and the school where I’d made good friends with nice, smart girls with good families, and where I was learning Spanish and excelling in math and English and winning awards in Art class. I was outgoing and happy.

Then I was plopped down into the outskirts of a suburb not too far away where we had more acres and another cul-de-sac. Here, though, some of the friends we made were trouble. In this school, I was an instant outsider amidst every kind of clique you could imagine: a herd of athletes, the cheerleader squad, the super-achievers, the well-to-do fashionable set, and a few unlucky strays. I didn’t fit into any of these (and didn’t want to be a stray). Welcome to Awkward Adolescence.

Yes. I was a candy striper. And not a very excited one.

I was dismayed to find myself behind in math for the first time in my life. I had no athletic talents to speak of. Cheerleading was not my thing, and I wouldn’t have been able to hack my way into the tightly-knit group if it had been. Even my poetry sucked. I was just a regular girl, and there was a sore lack of regular girls to be friends with. Suddenly, I became shy and self-conscious.

At the end of the year, as we skidded out of elementary school and into middle school, I was newly stripped of the couple of tenuous friendships that had begun, and a fresh new hell awaited with the larger class of students. My only joys in school at this point were Art class, which was just fun; Writing class, where I could dream up stories of girls with social-butterfly-lives; and Reading class, where I was about the only person who actually got excited when my turn came to read aloud in class (I enjoyed knowing I could pronounce things correctly and wouldn’t stumble over big words. It was good to be good at SOMEthing. Thank you Mom).

Oh, for the sassy days when I wore my white go-go boots with abandon…

Health class was alarming, with talk of puberty and What Not To Do on dates. PE was torture, where my golf swing too-closely resembled my softball swing. Speech class was the worst, where one of the boys took it upon himself to pop my bra and ask me questions about my hair color and the curtains and the carpet which made my face turn the color of a radish on fire.

Just me and my cat

High school had its own ups and downs, as I began dating a boy who was firmly established as “cool” and then a year later had it fall apart due to a loose, well-endowed girl with dimples luring him away.

I’d made a couple of close friends but after graduation, I just couldn’t get out of dodge quickly enough. Our class song was Don’t Look Back by Boston and it felt like it was selected just for me. I knew I wanted to leave Texas and that town, and never come back. I wanted to see the world, explore, and find out what was out there, including my Self. I wanted to BE myself and not worry about what anybody else thought or needing to fit in where I didn’t fit. I knew I was different from many people in our town, because I didn’t care about getting married and having babies and staying in the same place and working at the same job and seeing the same people. I had other dreams for myself.

And so the US Air Force took me away like Calgon. I spread my wings. I saw the world, or at least some of it. I learned who I really am. I got to be independent. I came to feel strong and confident. I got to explore things and places and feelings. I made fabulous friends all over the world. People who got me. I blossomed into Me. The shy, lost girl is a part of me now and I can accept her and fit her into who I am today. And let me just say I’m really freaking thankful for this.

Then when I moved here 3.5 years ago to live near family for the first time in my adult life, it became apparent that my parents and my sister and I didn’t really know each other very well at all, despite what we might have thought. At least we didn’t know the versions of ourselves we’d become over the years. We came to realize that the images of each other we had in our heads were obsolete and didn’t match up to the real people we’d become (thank goodness!) It’s taken us a while and getting through some difficult and emotional conversations to get to know the real people in there, and now that we actually like each other for real, it’s pretty cool!

So… fast-forward to now and a dinner invitation from the past. When I heard that a friend from my school days was in town and wanted to get together for dinner with my sister and me, my initial gut reaction was a big NO. Getting together with a friend who is closer to my sister and hasn’t seen me since 1990-something, and her husband and daughters whom I’d never met, didn’t exactly sound appealing. After all, she’d only ever known Teenage Me and I really didn’t feel like being taken back to high school and Awkward Adolescence and reminiscing about the not-so-good old days.

On top of that, the restaurant they wanted to meet us at was at the harbor, which in summertime is an absolute nightmare to get into and out of, let alone getting across the island and over the bridge. It would be hot and muggy, and it was on a Friday, which for me is usually my night to relax. Okay yes, I was about as Bah Humbug as possible.

So what did I do? I went. And guess what? We had such a fun night! She was as funny and spicy as ever. I got to meet her sweet, adoring hubby and two drop-dead gorgeous, smart, silly daughters, and some other family and friends as well. The food ended up being great. Parking was a piece of cake (a $10 piece). A little bit of rain came along and cooled things down. We had some laughs about some of the trouble we all got into back in the day, and then talked about now. What’s been going on in our lives. How she recently graduated from culinary school and now works as a professional chef. Where we’ve traveled. How awesome their girls are. Our aches and pains. What plans we have for the rest of the year. We compared dog pics. And we even discussed doing a girls’ trip to the Caribbean! It turns out, putting up your guard and getting your panties in a wad about an obsolete version of yourself living on in someone’s head is just a waste of time, really, as worrying about just about anything is. Hmmm, haven’t I written that somewhere before…? Ha.

So I’m lifting my glass to old friends, new adventures, and a little bit of reminiscing through the softened lens of time. To letting down your guard, dropping your expectations, and saying yes to invitations. Even when it’s muggy out.