Things I Should Have Known Before But Instead Had to Learn at My 10-Year High School Reunion

Wrapped up in a youthful mythology that involved me being burned by rejection and rising from the ashes as a fly piece had clouded the reality: I was just a standard awkward teenager who no one wanted to bang.

Nov 17, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

It is well-known among Cool Adults that high school reunions are meant almost exclusively for once-handsome teen athletes to relive their glory days, and for the women they married from high school to show off pictures of their babies and talk about accent walls and the fuel economy of their new sedans. The Cool Adults, meanwhile, sit in hovels in overpriced apartments in major metropolitican areas laughing and laughing as the Facebook photos go up in real time, just waiting for that literary agent to call them back so that they can SHOW THEM at the 20-year. 

Just kidding, none of that actually happens at high school reunions. And I would know because I am a certified Cool Adult and I went and no one talked about accent walls and I had fun. And by fun I do mean, “It was more bearable than I thought to confront crippling neuroses and self-doubt from childhood and let some of it go.”   

Here are my main takeaways.

28-Year-Olds Are Not Old, They Are Hot

I count myself among a large number of women (and some men) in their late twenties who regularly consider throwing in the towel, thinking WELL, I’M PRACTICALLY DEAD ANYWAY when it comes to life, success, happiness, etc. “People born in the late 1990s are gajillionaire popstars and I can’t even get this pigeon to like me by sharing my Pop-Tart with it cause he probably think I’m a loser,” a hypothetical, lonely 28-year-old might say to herself.

Standing in a room full of 28-year-olds and having an uncharacteristic moment of not thinking almost entirely about myself, I realized, “Wow, I would hit so much of this.” And not just because the people are good-looking, though that helped. Large swaths of youthful insecurity were gone, people were doing things they cared about or were trying to, and there was an excellent assortment of beards and tasteful fashion that testosterone levels and budgets of yesteryear had forbidden. 

That pigeon was probably just intimidated by my success and confidence.

Physical Evaluation Sucked Then and It Sucks Now

Growing up in Southern California, it is common to spend a many a field trip and mini-vacation at Disneyland. At the Haunted Mansion, there is this disembodied oracle head in a crystal ball saying all manner of spooky shit. I think your reaction is supposed to be, “AHHHHHHH! Scary!” My reaction to her is, “Ugh, she doesn’t even have to work out or wax her legs. I just CAN’T with this trick.” Disembodied oracles! Those sluts have all the luck.

So I arrived at my high school reunion about 2/3 the size I was in high school. It was natural and expected that people would see the difference and remark on it. I thought that the sudden wave of validation I had sought for a decade would rush over me and I would know an unspeakable peace. I would promptly animporh into a talking dove and spend the rest of my days delivering prophecies of great joy to come to insecure youths the world over.  

WARNING: The following complaint is brought to you in part by Thin Privilege, Inc. But being told you are thin and look great over and again is also an indirect way of reminding you how fat and not-great you used to look. It reminds you that they were evaluating you then and they are evaluating you now. And it is the neurosis that I am being watched, evaluated, sized up, etc. that generates this anxiety in me, regardless of what I actually look like at any one moment.

One guy mentioned my size at least four times throughout the evening and I said, “You know, I heard you the first time.” His reply was, “You know, it’s just crazy cause you know, you were a vivacious girl in high school.”

Vivacious, you guys. VIVACIOUS. Is this a nice new euphemism that I am not familiar with? Did he mean “volumptuous”? The fact that I went from having a good time to wanting to crawl under the guacamole table and listen to “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World weeping indicates to me that I have a long way to go to get the fuck over this shit.

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Portrait of the Vivacious Teen in Her Natural Environment


High School Students Are Children

One of history’s greatest alliances, the slideshow and the mid-level hotel banquet hall, were present and accounted for at this reunion. People submitted pictures of dances, athletic events, and the inexplicably common “Look! We’re on the quad at school!” picture. If I had not recognized the faces and locations, I would have guessed that the people in the photos were about 11. My vision is slightly warped because people like James Van Der Beek and Ethan Embry were 48 years old when they played high school students in our formative years, but STILL. I was shocked by how young we were really.

The point is high school kids are just kids. Their brains are not grown up yet and they do and say terrible things that they don’t quite understand the repercussions of. I have noticed a marked uptick in people being like “Kids today, what a bag of dicks, amirite?" And yes, teenagers are kind of a bag of dicks sometimes. Bags of dicks are made, not born.

But a lot of that is learned behavior and underdeveloped cortexes and other science stuff. It is a lot easier to dismiss them as assholes than to be like, “Maybe someone in their lives is hurting them” or “This is the projection of something very terrible inside them.” It doesn’t dismiss their behavior or make it so they are unaccountable for their crimes, small and large, but the instinct to throw up our hands and be like “Ugh, the youth!” is not helpful to a population that still has a chance of being saved from itself. 

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“That tube top is fooling NO ONE, child.”


No One Was Actually Mean to Me in High School Except Me

No high-school-reunion-planning is complete without painstaking cocktail-dress decisions and a handful of really mature revenge fantasies.  The earlier part, I had on lock.  Thanks, Theory sale:

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“Oh this old thing.”


When it came to revenge fantasies, I tried to zero in on who had been especially cruel or dismissive of me, and I came up short. My best friends and I exchanged our fair share of garden-variety mean-girl crap, as the young are prone to do, but actual torment was not really a thing.

Not a single dude I had a crush on liked me back, but none went out of their way to humiliate me for having the audacity to be attracted to them. Turning people down is not a crime. And while it was soul-crushing to have absolutely no one interested in me, that is very different from having been targeted for the special kind of unkindness I’ve heard described by actual victims.

Wrapped up in a personal mythology that involved me being burned by horrific rejection in youth and rising from the ashes as a fly piece had clouded the reality that I was just your standard awkward teenager who no one wanted to bang. It happens to a lot of people! And the looseness with which people in the same camp throw around the word “bully” in this day and age does an incredible disservice to people who suffered tremendously at the hands of truly cruel children. And while I hated myself with enough passion and depth for two or three people, I was really the only one doing any of that. And dragging other people into that narrative is really unfair.

So in addition to guacamole and some fun “Then and Now” pictures, I figured out that yes, everything is still a little bit terrible, but everything is a little bit okay too. Now begins the real work: working toward the goal for the 20-year:  arriving in a rhinestone-encrusted helicopter.