I’ve been out of the country during every class reunion, though I’ve had no burning wish to attend. What I remember about high school is that our graduating class was exceptional, and I never measured up. Self-worth issues? Absolutely. During those years I was so busy figuring out who I was, trying to juggle a job and school work, band and family (bi-polar father, meek mother, rebellious sister—always drama on the home front), that I was overwhelmed, definitely not comfortable, not successful, not smart. All I had to offer was mediocre flute-playing; some would’ve said I was good, but these encouragers didn’t know what good was, and I definitely wasn’t that.
By exceptional I mean that a major portion of my classmates became not only professionals like doctors and lawyers, but Ivy League professors and internationally renowned musicians. Hell, we even had an astronaut, Rick Husband, who died in the Columbia tragedy in 2003. I never knew him. The Amarillo High School Class of 1976 was amazing.
And, now that I’m traceable to an address in the US, I’ve received notice that the fortieth reunion is rolling around. Some gung-ho person has organized it and put out an agenda. And I think—why not? I’ve raised two brilliant and well-adjusted sons. I’ve lived in seven different countries and am intimately familiar with the customs of people throughout the world. I’ve logged over a hundred dives in the Red Sea, shared a meal with the Masai, slipped around on glaciers in New Zealand, explored Petra; and I know the aromas of the backstreets of every major European city. I’m married to the same man I started out with. I have an MFA, and I’m a published novelist with actual fans. Why not attend the reunion, hold my head high, and take my place among the winners?
Because, though I was that shallow once, I'm not that shallow now. Why would my high school inadequacies matter in the context of my present? Shamefully, I was well into my thirties before I realized that we all feel out of place at times. For every instance I felt inadequate, someone else felt equally ugly or foolish or in pain. I was too lacking in empathy to realize it.
The names of the people who plan to attend are listed on the reunion website. There are more names I don’t recognize than names I do. Some names pop up, and I remember the person, the face, the teacher who taught the class we shared. For the most part the memories aren’t pleasant. I remember this brown-haired girl, her face, her attitude. She didn’t like me and I don’t recall why; but most likely it was because I offended her in some way. I remember this no-chinned guy. He had good reason not to like me—I was unkind toward him, sharp-tongued.
And the horrible memories flood my psyche. I was mean. I was a mean girl. I was impatient and I made fun of others and I felt superior for no reason and I was harshly judgmental and unforgiving. Compassion wasn’t in my vocabulary. I cried for myself, but no one else. At the same time, I was intimidated by the intelligent, the talented, the gorgeous, the rich, the confident. In short, I was a mess. I’m happy with who I am now, but who I was then is someone I don’t want to become reacquainted with. Would seeing those people and returning to that place cause me to revert? I fear so.
Also, inexplicably, as part of the re-union prep, we’ve been instructed to carry a Sandy (school mascot) with us on vacation and take pictures of it in all the interesting places we visit. We’ve been asked to send in a copy of our senior picture. I have no idea where mine is. We’ve been asked to send in pictures of our grandkids—I have none of those at this point. This sounds like a lot of work when I thought all that would be required would be showing up and wearing a nametag. Also, it seems that, just like so many times in high school, a lot of pointless activity is required for an event that should be pretty straightforward. See, I say I’ve changed, but on a very basic level, I haven’t. I still don’t want to put forth the effort it takes to conform.
“But don’t you find that you keep up with the people you care about?” This from my high school friend, Diana, when we discuss attending the reunion.
“Yes, I guess I do,” I tell her. Because of Facebook and responses to my blog, I know where my friends are, what they’re up to.
“And the wind blows constantly up there,” she reminds. We both shudder at the memory of the relentless biting wind, and how a trip from the car to the door plants grit in your hair, the inside of your nose, the creases in your upper eyelids.
Amarillo. I write about it. Most of my novels are set there. I know the flat countryside, the gnarled mesquite, the crackle of winter grass beneath my boots, the pirouettes of the tumbleweeds, the brick churches on every corner, the overcrowded happy hours, the smell of the feedlots. Don’t think I’ll be getting back there any time soon.
Here is an AHS Sandie, which represents the dust devils found in the panhandle. Though its expression is fierce, I always thought it look like a lump of butterscotch pudding: