Friday, February 4, 2011


My 20th high school reunion is this spring.  I haven't been to any previous ones, and since I went to a prep school (I was a day student at a boarding school), that makes nineteen events I've blown off so far. 

At first it was the angry resentfulness of a self-perceived outsider at the warm heart of adolescent belonging: why would I want to go back there and feel ostracized some more?  Of course, I wasn't really an outsider, and a little perspective and the wisdom and confidence of years revealed not only how lucky I had been to have had the wide circle of friends I did and the embrace of a few thriving school subcultures, but how hard life must have been for some of the people whose existences I thought charmed because I only saw them from a distance.  Blonde and pretty and even rich aren't much protection against most of life's cruelties (one of the enduring lessons of early exposure to wealth), but a safe and solid home life is, and I had that in spades. 

Then it was pure lack of interest.  I wasn't intimidated by the people who showed up for Alumni Days and reported their milestones in the alumni magazine.  But I wasn't especially interested in them, either.  The people I wondered about, the ones I'd been friendly with and the ones I hadn't but wished I had and the ones I hardly noticed but in retrospect should have: these people didn't show up for events.  But of course, neither did I. 

It's funny, the psychological space high school takes up for many of us.  There's something about that time in adolescence that imprints itself and sticks, even though it's just four years, even though it ceases quickly to matter in any real way.  I still have dreams -- lots of them -- that take place in high school, peopled by people I haven't set eyes on in 20 years.  It's like my brain got colonized by these archetypes based on an essentially random sampling of humans I happened to share an institution with between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.  People I knew later who made a much deeper and more profound impact on me don't show up in my dreams.

At the same time, I look back on those years and I feel like I'm seeing everything through a veil of self-involvement and crappy perception.  I remember confiding in my friends and being confided in, and it felt at the time like we were sharing something real, but now it seems like those things, our big secrets and dramas, were facsimiles of emotional content, things we created to take the place of the real dramas we may have been experiencing but couldn't handle or couldn't articulate.  For instance, I knew who all my friends had crushes on at any given moment, but I had no idea about their home lives, even the ones whose homes I occasionally spent the night at.  Or maybe those teen love dramas were more real than I give them credit for, and it's only now that I'm a parent that I think the real emotional content was happening at home.

Whenever my mother is in a reminiscing mood, she'll talk about how time telescopes in memories, how forty years ago can seem closer than last week, more vivid, more important.  I'm old enough now to feel that, and also to feel the kind of fondness for youth that obscures both the pain and the vacuity, so that not only do I feel close to my high school years, I feel an affection for them that extends to those random characters in my dreams.  I don't care whether I like them or not, whether they're interesting or not.  They share this funny, vivid, profound-and-yet-not-at-all-profound period of my life, and so I want very much to make some kind of connection with them, even if -- maybe especially if -- it's fleeting.  Our 20th reunion seems like an ideal time, and maybe even the last best chance to do that.

So come on, Class of '91.  Show up.