The year was 1982. The place was Ridgefield, Connecticut. The photo is from the high school yearbook, and the group you see is the Theater Club. That year we produced a fall play – The Rhimers of Eldritch and a spring musical – Hello, Dolly! I can still name just about everyone in the picture. I’m still very close friends with a couple of people, still Facebook friends with more than half. Oh, yeah, and I’m married to one of them.
A few years ago my class (not the same one he graduated in) had our thirty year reunion. Thirty years. I have no idea how that happened. I never had kids so I still don’t feel like I’m even thirty years old myself, never mind graduating school that long ago. Anyway, my class had a thirty year reunion up in Connecticut, and we’d just moved down to North Carolina. Money was tight; we were eating mac and cheese every night and hoping the power wasn’t going to shut off, there was no way I could have gotten up there for that reunion even if I’d wanted to.
And frankly I didn’t really have that much of a desire to go. I’d gone to our five year reunion, and to our twenty five. I figured I was pretty much done with reunions. As I started talking to old friends and exchanging Facebook messages with them, it didn’t seem like most of them were going, either.
It got me thinking, though. It got me thinking about life back in our school days. I’m not entirely sure I actually enjoyed those years very much.
I was awkward. I know most people think they were awkward in high school, but I was really awkward. I was a mess. A hot mess. A little too tall, a little too well developed, a little too much meat on the bones… I didn’t know what to do with my hair and makeup was a mystery. I wasn’t very fashionable. I had a handful of friendships that survived from elementary school, through junior high and into high school. A very small handful. High school was intimidating, at best. It seemed like there were a million miles of hallways on each of the three floors and more kids than I’d ever seen in one place, crowding all those halls at the same time.
It seemed like all the other kids adjusted so quickly to being in this bigger pond, and I felt like a fish flopping around on dry land with the water within sight. I’d always been involved in community theater – when you’re on stage it’s not you the audience is looking at, it’s a character, and that’s very liberating for someone who’s a little shy – so in the first semester of my freshman year I went out for the school play. It was called The Rhimers of Eldritch and it was a somewhat abstract drama. Very challenging stuff. I was cast in the show, much to my own surprise. A lot of people had showed up to audition. The cast wound up being comprised of myself and one other freshman, and everyone else was an upperclassman. They were a great bunch; very talented and funny kids, and just about everyone that age who goes for the theater is a little awkward in their own way, so the misfits fit. A couple of those misfits never gave up their dream of working in the entertainment industry. At least one of the talented misfits I once shared the stage with has gone on to perform in movies, TV shows and in live, professional theater.
There was one guy in the cast, a senior who caught my eye. He had a very distinctive laugh and was absolutely adorable. But he was too busy dating every other girl in school to notice me. he was Trouble. Anyway, we didn’t have much to do with each other outside of having a bunch of mutual friends. I don’t recall ever really speaking to him, but 30 years later I found that he did autograph a scrapbook that I’d been passing around once the show was over with.
So, as our 30 year reunion approached I put a post out on Facebook, asking if anyone I knew was going, and it sparked a very frank conversation about our “shared experience” in school. As it turns out I was not alone in feeling alone. Does that make sense? A lot of other people – some that really surprised me – also felt that they were awkward, that they hadn’t fit in or been popular. I found out that a lot of people in my class really struggled with self-esteem back then, and I would have never guessed.
Decades have gone by, and with the development of Facebook I’ve gotten back in touch with people I never thought I’d see again. I always wondered what became of many of my classmates and the internet was like a miracle for reconnecting with old friends. I don’t know what it is but there’s something truly magical about chatting with people I’ve known since we were five years old. No matter what’s happened in the years between, there’s still some inexplicable bond.
I don’t remember much detail about a typical high school day. I remember driving to school from the last semester of my sophomore year when I turned 16 and got my first car – a 1974 Pinto (it was a decade old already) through the end of my senior year. By then I was driving something a little cooler; a 1974 Datsun 260z. Mind you, the car was cool. I was not. I remember a few of my classes; I was already typing 90 words a minute by the time I hit high school so they put me in “computer class”. I think there were punchcards involved. Was the brand of that computer Lanier? I think it was. That’s the kind of crazy factoid that sticks in my head. I remember Theater Arts class, which I loved.
I remember Psych class, and our teacher, Paul Bruno. He was wonderful. It was only fitting that the psych teacher was a little crazy, himself. He used to ask, “Who owns this problem?” It’s a simple phrase that I hung onto and still use today. Whenever there’s a conflict I ask, “Who owns this problem?” and if it’s not me, then I can let it go.
I remember the smoking lounge. It was more of a courtyard than a lounge. On one side of the building they’d set aside a sort of patio area for kids to hang out. There were a couple of benches and a grassy hill. It was a place to escape for three minutes in between classes for a quick smoke and to touch base with friends. I carried my jacket from class to class in the colder months just so I wouldn’t freeze in between. During the really frigid New England months we’d just huddle in the alcove outside the door for warmth. The smoking lounge was the Great Equalizer. Kids from every walk of social life hung out there; you had some jocks, from freaks, some geeks. There were cheerleaders and brainiacs, and of course all the kids who just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Like me.
I look at the photo I posted here, a snapshot from a Yearbook and I smile. I smile because I’m still close friends with a few of those talented people. I smile because I married the cute upper classman several decade later. I smile because I survived. I smile because I still don’t know what to do with my hair, and makeup is still a mystery but it’s okay! At some point between then and now I learned that just being me was a lot more fun than I ever thought it could be!