I seem to be surrounded by high school these days. And given that that was, by far, the worst experience of my life to date, I'm not sure how thrilled I am about it. However I feel about it, though, the convergence is quite strange.
First, there's my own kid, who's a sophomore right now at an absolutely fantastic private school that I am paying a fortune for but that is worth every damn penny, including the pennies we borrowed to make it happen. This Saturday was a "back to school" day for the parents, in which we actually go through an abbreviated version of our kids' real day, attending all their classes to get a taste of what it's like for them. And what it's like for them is so completely different from what it was like for me that I can't help but be filled with both incredible happiness and pride for my daughter, but also, I admit, a little jealousy at what she's getting that I didn't. Not petty jealousy, just more the wistful kind. And not just at the curriculum or class size either, which are both incredible, but also at the basic fact that it's a "nerd school," in which everyone there is smart and therefore doesn't have to worry about being a dork, or being "uncool". It doesn't hurt, at all, that pop culture itself has done a 180 since my youth and that "nerd" and "cool" are now, incredibly, somewhat synonymous, at least in some circles, but it feels like more than that to me. These kids all look like they're actually comfortable in their own skin--or at least as comfortable as an adolescent is going to get. And sitting in these classrooms where a mere 10-15 of them get first-rate, college-level instruction, makes me feel grateful that I can provide this opportunity for my kid, and angry that we felt forced to go this way, because of the shitty public schools, as well as anger on behalf of the folks who can't afford it. Don't worry, I won't go off on a Berkeley liberal rant--especially when I'm taking the moneyed way out myself--but, man, fuck Proposition 13. It fuckin' ruined this state.
Anyway, while the contrast between my kid's school and my own would be a pronounced and painful one no matter what the year, this year is even worse because I am constantly getting spam reminders now that my 30th high school reunion is just around the corner! Thirty years. And yet a bear every traumatic scar from those years as if it was just last year. Kinda pathetic, really. The words "move on" come to mind. Yet I still have nightmares, real ones, about specific events or people, or the opposite--dreams in which this or that person and I are actually having a nice time together. Which doesn't feel a whole lot better somehow.
We're now almost done with Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and being so late to the party on this, I'm a good half-decade behind all the astute analysis done by folks way smarter than me about the obvious, explicit metaphor that Joss Whedon and gang were operating under: that high school is hell. As it turns out, though some of us must battle those demons our entire lives, even decades later, in another city entirely. Some of us need constant reminders that that's all part of the past, that those demons can't get to us now.
I won't be going to my 30th high school reunion, by the way, much like I didn't go to the 5th, 10th, or 20th. Because, though one could argue I could go back in "triumph" (hey look at me now!), I honestly don't feel like I have anything to prove, for one thing, and, for another, the sad, more mundane truth is that I'd probably end up feeling just as left out as I did back in the day, no matter who I may be now or what I've accomplished. I'm happy with my life, and blessed with great family and friends, and a professional career I'm proud of, and, ya know, that's good enough for me. I have zero need to go back for some kind of empty "SEE!" moment, because, really, the only person I ever needed to convince in the first place was myself. No one else actually gave a shit, or maybe even knew anything was wrong.
I spent a little time recently on the web site of our reunion, and there are photos from all the reunions as well as some from our actual high school days in the 1970s. Throughout every decade, it's essentially all the same folks. You wouldn't know we had a class of over 300 (at least, I can't remember the exact count), because most of the photos are of the same cluster of yearbook kids, sports kids, drama kids, etc etc--which I honestly state with far less bitterness than it may sound. Actually, I had a great laugh, because one photo says it all. It's a photo of four kids, three girls and a boy. All of the girls are identified in the caption, but not only is the boy not identified, but it's not even acknowledged that there's an unidentified boy in the photo. It's as if he's not even there.
Yeah, that's right. That's a boy second from the right--blame the 1970s. And that boy is me. But to those who made this website, I'm unknown. I'm invisible. I'm not even worthy of saying I can't be identified. And man does that say it all.
Let's be clear here, however, lest this sound too much like a pity party. I don't believe my high school experience was necessarily any worse than anyone else's. On paper, in fact, and in person, to many of those around me at the time--I may have appeared to be doing fine. Sterling GPA (which got me into Cal Berkeley), 1st trumpet in the jazz band, managing editor of the school paper--typical nerd stuff. The problem, for me, again, was me. I was simply not equipped emotionally, did not have the right level of self-confidence, when the inevitable hazing came. And, hey, when you're a pimply, nearsighted, redheaded beanpole in the 70s, you need to be prepared to get hazed. It didn't help that in my case, the worst hazing of my life, the one that scarred me permanently, came from the boys that until that very moment I had considered my best friends, but, on the other hand, who doesn't have stories like that? My problem was that instead of getting angry at them, I internalized it, took it as truth, believed them, and then spent the next three decades trying to recover, and to realize that maybe I'm not a pathetic loser who doesn't deserve to have friends.. Almost every social situation I am involved in to this day--whether it's a work environment, party, family event, whatever--is still informed by that trauma, as sad and somewhat implausible as that sounds. And, yeah, you don't need to suggest therapy for me--that's been going on for decades, too. Wheee!
Again, let's not tune our tiny violins here. All is good. And, hey, I like my life and even know how to get angry at other people now! My point is that as good as things are now, the reunion has zero appeal to me, because I have nothing I want to reunite with.
Oddly enough, as I have been writing this, I heard, out of the blue, from one of my boyhood friends who I haven't been in touch with in over 30 years, who found me through that very reunion website. Synchronicity, dude! He's a guy who, like me, probably didn't have the greatest time back then. (Who knows--we boys didn't share our feelings.) And this is the kind of reunion I don't mind having. I've thought of this guy now and then over the past number of decades, wondering how he turned out. Did he get it together? Or did he end up as a psycho serial killer, exacting his revenge on those who tormented him? And it turns out he got it together just fine, just like I did, just like most people do. And it made me happy to know this. Not just a little happy, but a lot happy. Maybe those high school demons aren't so powerful after all.
And maybe someday I'll learn to remember that.