What I Learned About High School After Twenty Years

It was quite a weekend. On Saturday I found out two of my articles had won awards, the scales tipped at pre-pregnancy weight, and we went to my twenty-year high school reunion.

I’ve been anticipating this event ever since Christian’s reunion last fall. And several years before that, actually. But as the time grew close, I got a little nervous. Like many other writers and bloggers, I’m an introvert at heart. For all the good memories of high school, that time in my life is tainted by the persistent sense that I never really fit in.

I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than I was twenty years ago, and when I know my role in a given situation, I can actually come across as pretty extroverted. But this was not one of those situations. I knew I just had to take a deep breath and dive in.

Twenty years ago, I couldn’t look people in the eye–especially the guys. These days, I can stare down a room full of medical students, I can sing in front of a thousand people with total calm, I can interact confidently with editors and give frank critiques. So it was disconcerting to feel the impulse to run and hide in a corner fighting to resurface–as if the pattern of those four years was too strong to be overthrown by mere adulthood.

Christian scolded me gently when it was all over, telling me he thought I sold myself short in talking about myself. Maybe I did come across as a boring little housewife with a bunch of kids. (I got an award for having the most kids, tied with another Catholic gradeschool classmate. 🙂 ). I am proud of what I’ve accomplished–what I continue to work toward, in disability advocacy, in NFP promotion, in publication. But I also know my tendency to get so focused on my own affairs that I forget to focus on others’–and tonight, of all nights, I wanted to know what was going on in other people’s lives, not bore everyone to tears by bragging on myself.

As the music level ratcheted upward, slowly driving all but a handful of die-hard dancers outside (are deejays the only people in the universe who don’t understand that they are not the reason for the party?), my nerves settled. I was intensely interested to see what these people were like now, how they’d changed, what forces and events had shaped them in the years since I’d seen them last. Not surprisingly, we all have a lot more in common than we used to. Twenty years later, party animals and uber-serious analytical music nerds alike have kids, jobs, responsibilities…we’ve all experienced independence and realized it’s not everything we once thought it would be. For the most part, the things that separated us in adolescence have become irrelevant.

We gathered around a poster lined with head shots, and people pointed out pictures, sharing what we knew about their lives. They joked about who was named most fill-in-the-blank and teased each other for their teenage quirks. And I mostly listened and wondered, Where in the world was I during high school? I don’t remember any of this!

“Kate was a girl who wanted to have fun, but was scared she’d get in trouble,” said one of my classmates, and I laughed, because that was probably a pretty accurate summation. I wonder what I missed out on by walking around with my head in the clouds (or a book), and what I’ve gained instead, and I wonder if the balance had been otherwise, would I be as satisfied with my life today?

Fascinating questions for an aspiring novelist, but probably enough navel-gazing for one day. Suffice it to say, it was a very enjoyable evening, and I love finding out how much I like the people who formed the tapestry that made me who I am. I’m just a little sad that I waited twenty years to find out.