A few weekends ago I attended my high school reunion. While I initially thought it would be a great idea, as the day got closer, I started feeling anxious. I started remembering how much I had hated high school. I started recounting the embarrassing moments, the moments that made me feel little and small, the moments I felt invisible and lost and the moments that left me feeling like I couldn't wait to get the hell out of high school. Why had I chosen to return to this place that had caused me such angst? Immediately, I regretted my decision to attend.
Flanked by my best friends from high school, I entered the reunion of Bethel High School Class of 1997. It was like entering the twilight zone. People whose names I had stored in the deep recesses of my mind were suddenly appearing before me. Thankfully, social media had helped create a present-day yearbook so I wasn't totally surprised by what people looked like now, their marital status, how many kids they had, etc. As I started talking to the people in my past, I was surprised by my lack of the anxiety and embarrassment that had plagued me when I was a teenager.
As I danced from one conversation to the next, the person who I was in high school was overshadowed by the woman I was now. I was able to talk to all different types of people, was able to joke with them and converse with them in ways that were unthinkable two decades ago. I blurred in and out of high school that night, the flashbacks and memories presenting themselves in funny ways. Approaching one woman, I had a sudden flashback to when she was an all-star athlete in multiple sports, but present-day enjoyed doing a whole lot of nothing and rejoiced in "being lazy". I talked to a boy who I had a mild crush on and while talking to him, the teenager within me was sweating bullets at finally having the guts to talk to him now.
I started talking to one woman who I had idolized in high school. As she started talking, I realized the the pedestal I had put her on in high school was a product of my own low self-esteem and social status in high school. As she continued talking, I no longer looked at her through my teenage goggles and saw her for what she was twenty years later: a normal person who like me had the same anxieties about success and accomplishment, the same fears about raising children who were socially conscious, well-fed and nourished intellectually, and the same complex of trying to have it all while working a full-time job.
As I finally walked away, I felt a pang of nostalgia and of innocence lost. However, in that moment, I also realized how much I had grown from high school and how different I had become. Life experiences seemed to be the equalizer in that 20-year high school reunion. There were no longer classifications of people based on their "coolness factor"; it seemed now that all of us were in this same boat of life and most of us were just trying to make it to the next day with an ounce of self-preservation and dignity occasionally aided by a glass or two of wine.
I took all of these important lessons with me as I walked confidently across the room to my best friends and we celebrated and rejoiced in our 38-year old selves at a teenage party.