Sunday, June 10, 2012

On class reunions

I'm in the part of my life when class reunions are supposed to figure in it, to a greater or lesser extent: greater, if your glory days coincided with your school days, or lesser, if you're like most of us. (TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer got it right when Buffy snapped at a would-be suicidal classmate, "Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own.")

I was on good terms with most of my classmates, and I was never the class leper (sadly, there was always at least one). Attending small schools meant that most everybody shared the same experiences and environment, not to mention that it wasn't difficult to figure out everybody's name. Graduating meant the tight-knit community of familiar faces was disbanding. It hurt, a lot, to lose that every four years.

So those must have been pretty good days for me, modulo graduations, right?

Er, no.

When I think back on those days, I remember my incredible discomfort in my own skin. I was a hopeless outsider who through luck and a gift for mimicry had figured out how to ape everyone else just well enough to pass for a normal person. But like a singer who masters a foreign-language song phonetically but grasps not a whit of its meaning, I lived in dread that I'd stumble. Every day was a nerve-racking, exhausting performance, and like any actor I both dreaded and longed to hear what the critics -- my classmates -- thought. The reviews weren't verbal so much as behavioral: were people still looking me in the eye? Did they sidle away as I approached? Did I hear about next weekend's party?

It was a colossal waste of effort, but I didn't know any better. Besides, rampaging hormones generated a surfeit of nervous energy that had to find an outlet.

Why, then, was graduation painful? For the same reasons a lot of people take comfort in less than perfect situations: a preference for the familiar, and an accompanying fear of the unknown. Besides, even for me, school wasn't completely horrible. I made a few genuine friends. Academically, I did well enough. And thankfully, my social skills improved, however slowly and painfully.

Still, I'd never go back to that time.

Even if I didn't feel so ambivalent about those days, a reunion wouldn't be that compelling. I'm not the same person I was then, and neither is any of my former classmates. A reunion plays on picking up old threads, but they're not attached any more. Not to me, anyway.

Those enthused about reunions say that we're all curious about our old classmates: who got married to whom, who exceeded expectations, who took an unexpected path. Sometimes this is phrased more sardonically: "Don't you want to see who got fat and old?"

Not really.

Looking back, I realize that what I enjoyed with most of my classmates was what a mature person would call "cordial relations", not friendship. I didn't know the difference back then. Perhaps for me, there was no difference. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, what I had back then simply isn't a strong enough inducement to revisit those times. I know now that we simply weren't that close.

I have nothing against you, my former classmates. I'm just not that curious about you. I doubt you're that curious about me, either. (You're not missing much if you are.) We're practically strangers.

So enjoy yourselves when you gather. Just don't expect me to join you.

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