Well, the other week I attended my 20 Year High School Reunion. First was the shock and horror realising that I graduated High School over 20 years ago. Then was the realisation that I felt a compelling need to go back. It was going to be a strange, because my two closest friends when I had graduated, Jon and Jeremy, wouldn’t be attending as they had the 10 year reunion, but a long term friend, who I had met my freshman year, Jen, hadn’t made the 10 year reunion. While we had gone separate paths in the last year or so of High School, she had been hugely important to me when I was 14, 15 and 16. To top it off, as we had kept in touch with each other, I had grown in huge admiration of Jen and how, from my perspective, she had worked hard to have an all around successful life post High School.
Jen has been married for about 17 years, to a wonderful husband, has four kids, including 10-year old triplets (which was the main reason she didn’t make the 10 year reunion), is a nurse and is heavily involved local and national nursing governance and lobbying. All the wonderful strength that I saw in young Jen in school had fully blossomed. So I was more than excited to meet up with her. Also, she appeared quite excited to meet up with me too. I know externally, my life looks exciting and maybe even exotic, but I guess in a lot of ways your life is your life and you tend to think of it as it is. At the very least, I knew that we both would have lots to talk about.
So when I arrived, I first ran into Shelly, who I knew I knew, and I had been readily following her on Facebook for a while now, but it wasn’t until I saw her, that I was teleported back 20 years in an instant, and I the person before me was as happy, friendly and engaging as the person from 20 years ago. She was chatting with Adrian, who still to this day, gets my vote for most unchanged. It was as if you could have teleported him, clothes, hair style and all, 20 years into the future. Outside of a few wrinkles around the eyes, which we were now all sporting, 20 years had no effect on the boy now man.
Starting off to mingle, and I quickly ran into Jen, who again, in an instant transported me back 20 years, mentally, emotionally and almost physically. I am afraid to say, for the rest of the night, we were attached at the hip. There was something there, a bond long long forgotten, that started with me sitting in front of her in Mr. Cheney’s freshman Algebra Honors class, me turning around, and she quite happy to show me photos of her bunny rabbits. Of course, I had proudly gone back to my parents and told them of the new friend I had made, and set off a concern that “bunnies” was some new code word with the kids of the days for some other body part that shouldn’t have been exposed so easily in public.
As we chatted, Jen said “well, if we get board, I brought a surprise”. Little did I know that this surprise would end up being the greatest gift I think anyone has ever given me. As we mingled and chatted with a few folks here and there, seeing faces from the past unleash memories in an instant. What you start to realise is that humans don’t change much in 20 years. Few do, but lots don’t and even if they have, you can look them in the eyes and instantly recognise that long forgotten face. Especially for me, because in 1997, I moved to Chicago and by 1998 I was spending less than 1/2 my time in the US and then in 2006 I moved away totally. I might have been from Phoenix, but I wasn’t of Phoenix any longer. While some of these faces hadn’t changed, I think I had changed immutably. I was so afraid that I would feel awkward and out of place.
Another person who I was quite excited to see was Susan. She was probably the person I had known the longest since I was there. I think we must have started hanging out together in 5th or 6th Grade. She and a few other people, like Cory, realised that we weren’t quite the norm. Outcasts and outsiders. We wanted to pretend and imagine, not play sports or style our hair. While we had kept in most of the same circles throughout school, she ended up becoming closer to Jon. Seeing her again, and talking to her, reminded me even more of how people don’t change much. She was exactly as I would have predicted. There was no mistaking she was Susan all grown up. Still an avid anglophile, which I had forgotten until I met her again. I remembered well her stories of school trip to a London from 20 years ago, which I had been very jealous of she had been able to go and I hadn’t. Little did she know (and I am afraid I didn’t take the opportunity at the reunion) that those stories had planted a seed that eventually led me there, and now a place I call my home (sometimes).
Now for Jen’s surprise. At one point, she pulled out this shoebox and said “there is something I need to show you”. She lifts the lid off and I see something that I hadn’t seen for at least 20 years, carefully folded notes, that had been passed between people in class. She had saved these notes for, in some cases, 23-24 years. She also, in her obsessive compulsive youth, organised them by sender/involved party. To my shock (and somewhat horror) I realised about 1/3 of the box contained notes from me. Oh, the folly of youth.
After I got over my initial shock that she had saved them and mine were in such plentiful supply, we started to dig through them, reading them. The vast majority were our sophomore year, which really had been a year into us getting to know each other. We quickly realised that a lot of the first year wasn’t there, including no mention of Spaceman Spiff, which is a term I had totally forgotten until it came out of Jen’s mouth. There was so much I had forgotten as I read through the notes, so many people and names and situations which came back in vivid colour as I started to read this notes from the past. At no point would I have thought I would have read these in 20 years time. The most amazing thing was that I knew that boy from back then, I knew him very well, I know what he felt, I know how difficult those years were, how confusing it was, how hard it was, how important it seemed at the time. I wanted to yell back through the years and tell him that it wasn’t going to be anything like you expect, but it would be ok.
What I saw also, was Jen, 20 years ago. A girl, now an adult sitting next to me, who was just as nervous, scared and confused as I was at that time. A girl I never saw at that time. Even though her words hadn’t changed in those 20 years, I saw her for who she really was at that moment, and saw deep down inside there are still parts of that girl, who was a better friend than I ever realised, still there today. I think we both realised how much we had actually cared for each other. At the time I thought I could make her my girlfriend, because that is what boys do with girls, when in fact, I couldn’t help myself and I saw a tender sweet boy trying very hard to protect his friend from the world that was our teenage years. And sitting next to Jen, seeing her with her husband, proud wife, proud mother, I knew very much that boy was protecting someone very special.
I felt for Daryl that night. He did his best to stay with us as we were transported back 20 years. It must have been awkward, to see this women, who he had married and known for 17 years, have a deep and fundamental relationship with this other man. I suspect the saving grace was that I was an avowed homosexual, but still, I suspect it was hard. While they have shared a wonderful life and family, Jen and I did share a couple of years that were more fundamental to who were are today that he couldn’t be apart of.
The boy of 20 years ago, that is still inside of me today, totally enjoyed being let out for a night, to see his friends and is more than thrilled to see that the girl of long ago, who he tried his hardest to protect and defend, has grown into a wonderful women who this man very much respects. Jen, best wishes for you and your family. Life is seldom handed to you, and Jen, you have earned every part of it you enjoy.