High school was pretty much fine for me.
At the time, I was slightly overweight, but I was deluded enough to be proud that I wasn’t “as fat as I should have been,” because my goal was to gross out my friends by eating so much that I ended up with severe chest pains that I guess were good for a few laughs or something. Haha, good one, Young Eliot! Please don't die?
Otherwise, it was ... OK. Everyone in our Long Island high school class of roughly 600 kids who knew me liked me. I was the KING OF BROADWAY or whatever (I did theater). I organized a soccer league, which was cool. Generally, I was considered affable, brainy and funny. Did I develop and successfully hide severe, crippling anxiety and depression? You bet, but no one ever said being a teenager was easy (except Zack Morris, that dick).
On Long Island, you have to realize that the high school experience is majorly ASKEW. See, before everyone else knew about "Jersey Shore," we lived it. And it wasn’t cute.
Nowhere among the TV shows and movies was the all-American public school show up where the archetypal popular kids were unbearably cocky, Mustang-driving “guidos” and “guidettes” with artificial skin the color of clementines. Joey Potter’s dad wasn't locked up for running a crooked "waste management" company. Nobody in "Bring It On" paired a sweatshirt that read Irish Italian Princess in puffy spraypaint with platform flip-flops (which, by the way, remain the rage in many parts of Long Island). Chances are, none of the dudes in "She’s All That" or "American Pie" got their hair “frosted” with the same urine-tinted highlights as their girlfriends. (Well, maybe Stiffler.)
It wasn’t that my friends and I didn’t fit in. We did just fine! But we were always puzzled by our classmates, almost as if they were from another species. Before Jersey Shore introduced America to the “bridge and tunnel crowd,” our high school’s hallways ran rampant with teenage Schnookis and Jai Hoes and Michael Situations (did I get those right?). The boys dressed like Paulie Walnuts and the girls dressed like The Nanny, without a hint of irony whatsoever, and we couldn’t understand for the life of us how anyone -- the majority of our peers, no less -- found it perfectly charming. Because they did, and they still do!
So when I was invited to my 10-year high school reunion, I balked. I mean, first of all, I’m still in close contact with my good friends from high school. Not a single one of us thought that paying a hundred bucks to enter a hotel on a road called Motor Parkway sounded appetizing (WHY IS EVERYTHING ON LONG ISLAND SO DEPRESSING? I LOVE THE SUBURBS, BUT, CITY DEVELOPERS, NAME ROADS AFTER THINGS THAT DON’T SOUND LIKE THEY SURROUND PRISONS!).
Second, the Facebook page on which it was all organized read like a who’s who of the "popular kids" who stayed behind, made babies and, oddly enough, seem really nice now? Well, they probably just grew up, but they remain people with whom I ostensibly have little to nothing in common; this could easily be read as snobbery, but in actuality, comes from my own personal discomfort.
So, great, it turns out that people do change, and often seeing the ways in which they have (thinner, out, mellowed, et cetera) is the old voyeury thrill of reunions.
But now that you can keep up with everybody you went to high school with on Facebook, the idea of a reunion seems more like a weird war between the nostalgic home-towners versus those of us who like to think we have built colorful, dynamic lives off of that weird island. I doubt this is specific to my home town, where, despite its proximity to a culturally rich, thriving metropolis, so many people never leave, curiously attached to malls from which you can almost see the rising, lingering scent of Auntie Anne fumes.
My best friend (and xojane writer) Jackie and I both are so uncomfortable with looking back on people who seem to have chosen inertia, it’s not fair to begrudge our former classmates (i.e., calling them “dregs,” YA JERK) for taking advantage of waxing nostalgic for 1998-2001 (Tamigotchi! Backstreet Boys! OVERSIZED SWEATERS WITH ONE LINE ACROSS THE CHEST!).
But we, personally, would rather not, since we’re fighting tooth and nail to keep our own lives flourishing with growth (P.S. we are not Scientologists, I promise!). That’s not to say that people who stayed on Long Island aren’t, but it’s hard to imagine it any other way. It's not a judgment, but I can't conceive of spending years driving down the same roads, listening the same radio stations, and eating at the same restaurants. I know -- it makes me sound like a dick, but I would be lying if I said that didn’t sound endlessly depressing.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve realized that something is wrong with me, not them.
Because, despite their flummoxing appearances, these people seem perfectly nice, in all honesty! But looking at pictures from the reunion, I’m glad I choose to skip them. Not because I think myself above these people. Not because I’m afraid to talk to them. Not because it freaks me out that people suddenly look so old (although, it does, it really, really does). But because I look at their faces, and even though they’re 10 years older than when I last saw them, I can see in their eyes that there’s still a disconnect.
My friends and I skipped pep rallies in exchange for diner pancakes. We avoided the mall, instead laying claim to a filthy boat basin we called “the secret beach.” We went to the prom, alright, but we had to be escorted out by security because one of the people in our group had brought his boyfriend, which led to them being threatened on the dance floor (the would-be title of my one-man-band’s debut album if it weren’t actually really depressing).
In fact, in remembering that incident, now I realize exactly why I didn’t go to my 10-year high school reunion: My heart just wasn’t in it. And it wouldn’t be in it now. And there's nothing wrong with that.