I debated endlessly about whether to attend my high school reunion.
It’s a long way to West Texas these days – and much more complicated than my college and post-college routine of hopping in the car after work or classes, driving straight down I-20, into the sunset, for 150 miles. My parents and sister live in my hometown, but most of my friends have scattered, and I wasn’t sure any of my dearest ones would make it to the reunion. But I wanted to see who would come, and I could hardly pass up a chance to see my nephew and hang out with my family. So I flew down to Texas just after Labor Day.
I had a generally terrific high school experience. I was never quite one of the “popular” crowd, but I didn’t mind, since I spent all my time with several small, tightly knit groups of friends. I was a well-known bookworm and brainiac, a band geek (I played the flute), a “groupie” for the debate team and drama club (most of my best friends were in one or both), and an avid high school football fan. This was West Texas, after all, and I marched at every halftime and followed the action from my place in the stands. I can sing both my alma mater and fight song, and I still bleed purple and gold.
Even so, I worried about the reunion for weeks. Would it be awkward and uncomfortable to see people I hadn’t seen for ten years? Would the social structure of high school reassert itself? Would I find anyone I knew to hang with, since neither my husband nor my best friend could make it? What would I think of my friends and acquaintances, now grown up and living real adult lives? And what would they think of me?
I drove to the reunion in my dad’s car, down familiar streets, past the school itself and the tall cluster of downtown buildings visible for miles on the flat West Texas landscape. I sat in the parking lot for two or three minutes before gathering my courage and going inside. I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but I hate walking into social situations alone.
But when I arrived at the registration table, my friend Kelly (class vice-president and event planner extraordinaire) jumped up to give me a hug. I found a place at a table right away, chatting with my friend Jessica and her husband, until I began jumping up in my turn to greet friends I hadn’t seen since college summers or even since graduation day, ten years ago.
I hugged girlfriends and shook their spouses’ hands, laughing as we all tried to remember each other’s married names. I swapped how-are-yous and where-do-you-live-nows with dozens of people. I nearly got swallowed in huge bear hugs from my guy friends. And I talked to a guy my sister used to date, who asked after my family – because in my close-knit hometown, old bonds matter more than old resentments. (The latter have faded with time, anyway.)
We have all traveled far and wide in ten years, going to college and starting careers and meeting our spouses, trying out new personalities before settling into our own skins. The guys, mostly, have gained a little weight and lost a little hair; many of them, in blazers and jeans and cowboy boots, look like younger versions of the Midland oil men I know. The girls were a flock of perfumed butterflies in brightly colored dresses, with shining, coiffed hair. Many of us wear wedding rings; a few had left their children with parents or friends for the evening. (One friend admitted to missing her baby, just two weeks old that night. I didn’t ask, but I wondered if it was the first time she had been away from him.) Mostly, despite new haircuts or a few extra pounds, we look even more like ourselves than we did at eighteen.
I didn’t talk to every person; as ever, many of us gravitated toward the people we knew and liked. But the crowd remained fluid as the night went on, never hardening into cliques the way it used to. I had conversations with people I barely knew back then, many of whom had identical reactions to where I live now: “Boston! Really?” I laughed off (but secretly enjoyed) a heap of flattery from a friend who has always been ready with a compliment for me. I chatted with a girl from Austin who married my friend Luke, and because she’s now one of my sister’s best friends, we felt like we’d known each other for years.
We parted with many hugs at the end of the night, and I must have told a dozen people to look me up if they ever come to Boston. I drove home through familiar dark streets, past the stores and schools and traffic lights that made up the landscape of my teenage years. I parked in the driveway and tiptoed into the dark house, tingling with the fun and the deep satisfaction of a true, if brief, reunion with old friends.