This past weekend, I traveled to my small Minnesota hometown to hang out with high school buddies; walk down nostalgia lane (a.k.a. Division Street); introduce J to proper cheese curds, roasted corn on the cob, and the fact that we defeated the Jesse James Gang in 1876; and go to my twentieth (!!) high school reunion party.
A word about my town: it’s small, and feels even smaller when your dad is the CEO of the town’s only hospital.
A word about my high school experience: there remains only one high school in town, I graduated with a class of about 300, and I was pretty much Switzerland-neutral—never really picked on, never one of the popular crowd, got along with lots of people (including my teachers and coaches). I had a small, close group of friends, and I was a good kid who liked (really) doing my homework.
I always felt desperately awkward being the instigator of social gatherings or even conversations. I relied on my more outgoing, extroverted friends. I realize this probably made me come across as either shy or aloof, when really I just felt like I had my foot in my mouth most of the time. I worried about being liked and “doing it right,” whatever that meant. I don’t remember being particularly anxious or depressed, but I do think I wondered if something was wrong with me since I often preferred being alone with my books and studies than being around other people. With apologies to Prince, partying like it’s 1999 for me would be going to Hogan Brother’s, then to a friend’s house to watch a movie. Or, reading at home fretting that no one had called me to hang out (even if most of my friends were probably at home doing the same thing). Rock on.
My goal for returning to my hometown, then, was to notice if I ever “felt like” high school again, notice why, and find ways to take myself out of the situation that was causing it so I wouldn’t get stuck in a regressive state. This was a goal certainly for the night of the reunion, when I’d be surrounded by former classmates and dynamics, but also for the entire weekend since it’s pretty much impossible not to run into a familiar face.
This mindset didn’t make it easier to strike up conversations with people I hadn’t seen in twenty years (I’m still not an instigator), but it made me okay with the fact that I am not the kind of person to flit around and mingle. It made me okay with the conversations I did have, and I was able to catch up with people I genuinely wanted to rather than because I felt like I had to. It made me okay observing people avoiding talking to anyone but their old friends or avoiding eye contact as we passed each other. It made me okay dropping out of conversations that were getting gossipy. It made me okay going back to the table where J and the other spouses were sitting, bored, knowing that would recharge me for a minute before going back in. It made me okay realizing I do legitimately like sitting on the fringes watching the crowd, enjoying seeing so-and-so’s face even if we didn’t talk, and that there’s nothing wrong with me for that. It made me okay because it made me remember that I’m not that girl anymore and that I’m pushing my edges in ways other than needing to force a conversation with everyone at that party.
As time passes, we can either hold onto what’s comfortable and avoid changing, or we can let it shape and change us. Sometimes, it happens so subtly, that it takes a milestone of twenty years to force us to look back in amazement at how far we’ve come in that time.
It’s nice to be able to tell my high-school self, that there’s nothing wrong with you, people will like seeing you in twenty years, and you will find yourself.