Even before I got out of the car I questioned why I was here. I had pulled myself away from a cozy fire and good company to go out into a chilly, damp December night. I was about to walk into an overheated crowd of locals, some of whom I hadn’t seen for twenty years or more. Immediately we have two problems with the scenario: 1) I’m an introvert. I don’t like crowds or rowdy parties. I’m more of the intimate dinner party type where you can have deep, interesting conversation. How’s the weather? and What have you been up to for the last twenty years? strike me dumb. 2) I don’t drink (that much). And 3) at this particular point in our lives I was painfully aware that the money passed across the bar for the wine or Malibu and Coke that might have relaxed me a little could have fed my family a nice dinner.
It was my high school class 20th “preunion” held in advance of the official July reunion in deference to the few class mates who were shipping out to Afghanistan in January. Hubby and I had spent Boxing Day (the British name for the day after Christmas) with my parents and so were in town anyway, I thought we should go.
I worried that I looked slim enough, 37 and not 45, and if my hair wasn’t too poofy. And I worried I wouldn’t know what to say to anyone. The very few people I was close to in high school weren’t going to be there and any others were in reality only acquaintances. Yes, we had spent four years knocking around the same halls and suffering under the same teachers, but I did not know them. And they don’t know me.
I hadn’t spent my formative years with them. Our mothers did not chat over coffee, our fathers didn’t watch the Game together. I never went to high school parties because back then I was “religious” and probably wouldn’t have been allowed to attend even if I had been invited. I wasn’t a cheerleader or soccer player. I attempted to play field hockey but that was only because a friend had told this newly arrived “English girl” that you weren’t anybody in high school unless you played a sport (she also told me that it was imperative that I wear a turtle neck under a button-down oxford – and I thought there wasn’t a school uniform here). So upon arriving at the school, I signed up for the only sport I had any experience with in my former school. I spent the next three springs sprinting (which I was good at) up and down the side of a field, stick in hand, praying the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. The only compensation was that I knew I looked good in the little pleated skirt.
I was too shy to join any other groups other than drama and the peer help group called Students to Students. Not one student ever came to talk to me. I question whether that was because no one had any troubles or because I sent out vibes that declared I was unapproachable? I’m guessing the latter. The truth was I was so anxious and unsure of my place in the (American) world that I erected a protective wall of which I was unaware but very few people penetrated.
Where I really belonged was in the music room. Once dear Mrs. LaPlaca heard me sing that’s where I and my closest friends spent a lot of time. It was here I felt freer to be me.
That was twenty years ago. My high school friends are living their own lives and we are no longer physically or socially close. I have been away from the area for more than 15 years and I am not the shy, unauthentic, uncertain 16 year old I was. Or am I?
Walking into that bar, seeing faces from another time, another life time, bought it all back. The discomfort of not knowing where you fit, how you fit, or if you should even try. If I was an extrovert I would not only have had more friends in high school to begin with but I would be able to walk into a room of almost-strangers and initiate conversations, chat about football or kids, and throw caution and money to the wind for a few drinks.
But as it was, I felt like running away I moment I stepped over the threshold. Not because of the people there but because of me. I didn’t like being reminded of the lost little girl I once was. Just like the pathetically bad field hockey player who missed out on being in two plays because she was trying so hard to be a “somebody,” and the socially awkward student mentor, I felt uncomfortable and ostracized. And who made me feel this way? Me. I was once again the self-conscious “English girl” who didn’t belong. And so I made it so.
We make our own beds. What do you believe about yourself that you know in your heart isn’t true? How do you continue to perpetuate your own truth? How can you change this “truth” in 2010?