Class Reunion

I got an email today regarding my upcoming high school reunion. I’ve basically been dreading this thing for ten years. My parents say, “oh, it’ll be fine, you’ll see that everyone just became more normal, people won’t even remember you, etc.”

But. Neither of my parents, who also went to my high school, were quite so unpopular as I was in high school. I was pretty much as unpopular as you can get without being in the Special Ed classes. I was, as I am now, beautiful, creative and very intelligent. But I was openly sexual (with my boyfriend, who I was with for 6 goddamn years– I was 21 before I had sex with anyone else), which made me a slut and a nymphomaniac. I was openly pantheist, which made me a devil worshipper. Ah, the hyperboles of the ignorant. Walking down the halls each day was like running the gauntlet.

Our high school was organized thusly: a large open indoor space called the Mall, with fork-like tines for each subject, so the Math Hall, English Hall, etc. During one’s free period one could retire to the cafeteria or Mall and do schoolwork and hang out, though it was not an open campus otherwise (you could not– officially– go to the baseball fields and smoke). The Mall, a long rectangular space, was divided into smaller communicative spaces: two kiosks which sold snacks and school supplies and were meeting places for the elite popularity “service” clubs (I didn’t even try to get into these, but they’re where I first learned the term “black ball”–if you ask me it’s a little sick that high school service clubs can black ball people– for heaven’s sake, you’re 16!), benches along the walls, and lockers along the walls as well as a bank of lockers that created a small waist-high hallway between the social spaces and one wall of lockers. It was this final space that, while much like a gauntlet, was the safest place to walk. It was like a gauntlet in that people sat along the lockers with their feet out and their backpacks and books all over the place, and would not get out of my way, because if they did get out of my way then I would not be delayed long enough for them to hurl insults at me about my wayward sexuality or my impending descent into Hell (Blair had the best answer for this– “I don’t believe in Hell”– stumped them).

I didn’t like being in the Mall, and I took as few free-period classes as possible, choosing to do work-study for teachers and take more electives instead of exposing myself to that. Luckily, most of my classes were honors and AP, where students were fairly well-behaved and so focussed on achieving that .0001 difference in GPA between themselves and the person next to them and launching themselves temporarily into the top 10%, and thus into the best college and the best life, that they could not concern themselves with my antics. But such a pressure-filled environment had its own poisons, of course. In those classes, where the same 40 people would inevitably appear, albeit in a sort of rotation (because class sizes were 18 or smaller, often much smaller), every student knew every other student’s class ranking at every point. The ones who were really on top of things would be able to tabulate whether their ranking had increased or fallen depending on what their immediate competition had gotten on a quiz in math class. Because I had, as I still have, an attention span of about 5 seconds for work that I consider “busy work,” I wasn’t the best performer in these classes, thus not a threat to anyone’s class standing, thus could fly somewhat under the radar, although I still pissed people off now and then (I used to get mad that only a few of us would talk in class, for instance, and once gave a diatribe about how everyone else was just using our ideas on their tests and papers and not sharing their own ideas with the class, or perhaps they were just complete morons with nothing to say).

I did have a few friends who I hung out with a lot. Thank god for them. Three were very smart, also in the advanced classes, and two were actors. One was an atheist, one an orthodox Jew; two were gay; one was Asian– in an almost entirely white, almost entirely Protestant, and (outwardly) entirely heterosexual world. Four of us were co-captains of the debate team. It was a small island of misfits.

High school was much better than Junior High in that we didn’t have to take gym, which meant I was never naked in front of anyone and I never had to reinforce that I was terribly unathletic. Moreover, there were more advanced classes and thus more safety from the troglodytes.

Then there was the problem of the Administration. In elementary school, I was the “joy to have in one’s class” girl, straight-A’s, generally a kiss-up, but not cloying. There were teachers with whom I did not get along. In junior high, I stopped being a joy for anyone to have in his or her class, although I did get along very well with a couple of my teachers– my English teachers, my algebra teacher, the drama teacher. However, I did not get along at all well with my Health teacher, who I thought was a really terrible person and a sexist asshole. I’m not sure where I developed the idea of sexism, but it was well-honed by the time I was in ninth grade, and I wrote a letter of complaint to that teacher about the way he treated his female students, which got me sent straight to the school counselor, who told me that another such incident would result in suspension, but that I would be forgiven this time if I offered an apology. So I did: I said, “I am here to offer an apology.” Luckily I never actually had to apologize, so I was able to save my integrity from this terrible man. A similar incident followed, in which I accused some classmates of sexual harassment. It was the early 90s, they were saying nasty things, and I thought I should be able to go to school and get an education without that crap. As you know, as I did not know then, you can’t accuse classmates of sexual harassment in junior high without some serious consequences. The boys were suspended, but I got much more harassment after that, on top of which I was queried whether I “thought I was god,” to which I responded that I might as well be, which in the Southern Baptist community did not go over well.

That was Junior High, but it was only a prelude to high school, where the mere rumor that I was sleeping with my boyfriend while on a debate trip resulted in suspension (I did sleep with him and it was good, too. And do you know what else we did on debate trips?), and a short story I turned into my creative writing class that happened to be about sex resulted in another suspension (although it was about rape, the principal said it was “porn” at which accusation I humbly pointed out that if a high school principal thought that a story about a high school girl getting raped was “porn,” something might be amiss). Luckily, I had a well-defined sense of my own integrity, so these corrections didn’t change the way I saw myself or my actions, but they were still hurtful and disturbing because I felt very misunderstood by the administration. A second stroke of luck was to be found in the integrity of my teachers. When I got suspended, they sent me my assignments and offered listening ears and their own stories of things they’d done that had gotten them in trouble, or that should have gotten them into trouble. At the end of high school, each department gave out awards based on what they thought was a commendable performance of a student for the three years they’d been at the high school. Although I’d never been the student with the highest grades, I received the Social Studies award. The speech leading up to my name was a long praise of intellectual honesty, intelligence, and moral righteousness. Then they said my name. Which probably pissed off a lot of people, and made me cry.

Let’s see… I had 5 friends… I got teased every day… I didn’t make the best grades… I got suspended… prom night was as awful as it always is for everybody… Yup. High School. Why do they make reunions for these things?

Curiouser: Mountain Brook, AL (check out those crazy demographics!); Mountain Brook High School; school stats; a picture of me; three of my friends; a poem I wrote


About Jessica Smith
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16 Responses to Class Reunion

  1. yesIsaidyesiwillyes says:

    Don’t go. Problem (dread, etc.) solved.

  2. Oh yes. But. You know, it is a very big pressure psychologically. Perhaps it is better to go and see how it is not such a big deal. Although on the other hand, I can’t imagine that very many of those people would understand me any more now than they did then. Those that do, or did or could, I remain in touch with. One option is to go to town to see them when they’re in town, and avoid the event proper.

  3. Matt says:

    A theory I just invented: instead of ten-year reunions, there should be twelve-year reunions (if reunions must be held at all). This way, everyone at the reunion is 30–the beginning of the end, you might say–and therefore everyone treats each other with the mature, knowing compassion that this stage engenders.

    (That is what happens when people turn 30, right?)

  4. Amelia says:

    Pieces of this story are very familiar. I hated high school. Didn’t have to deal with Southern Baptist mentality, but the military has its own slew of interesting moral hangups. The administration loved me and hated me; I graduated at the top of my class of 33 with no competition, got an award in every subject, and then had my diploma witheld by the principal because of the “inflammatory” nature of my valedictory speech. I was fortunate in that I did not have to cope with the kind of open hatred from my peers that you describe, because they perceived me to exist in another world entirely, which was not inaccurate. Maybe because of this, it is very easy to dismiss the whole thing. I wouldn’t even consider going to a high school reunion; I cannot remember more than a half dozen of my classmates’ names. Besides, I’d much rather be the one that they wonder about than the one who is confirmed as having become any one thing in particular.

  5. @Amelia… a good point.

    @Matt, I feel like the h.s. reunion *is* my “30” — the date by which I should be married to a stellar and MB-approved man, who should have a white-collar job (I should too, unless I have a baby. One or the other). Like, if I was going to be that weird in high school, I better have something to show for it now, Bill Gates-style.

    Another idea I have is to take a Buffalon friend with me to the reunion. I lived in Buffalo for almost 7 years, and encountered a few of my friends’ high schools and high school friends. But for them I came out of nowhere– few of my friends have ever been to AL, and those who have have only driven through it. I’d like to show at least one of them what I came from, the 18 years of context that spawned the person they know. Nothing like a high school reunion in Alabama in August to crystallize that.

  6. Did you ever watch the show, “Daria?” I still love it.
    I went to my five-year (since I was still in town.) Everyone was very friendly. I skipped my ten year (I was living a few states away) but plan to go to my twentieth in a few years.

  7. Susana says:

    the only people or old classmates I would want to perhaps see again would never go anyway! Ummm, myself included…especially since we spent the entire career of high school just trying to get out…hating the lame ‘popular cliques’ or whatever…funnily enough those deemed themselves of the ruling class then never left anyhow. That said, I do miss the state and my friends etc, who have all seemingly fled to other places…for the most part. i was in speech and debate as well! hahahaha. I also embraced all the loners and/or outsiders as the cool ones, you would have been a pal, no doubt.

  8. Dottie Lasky says:

    I really liked reading about your experiences in high school, because they were a strange variation of my own. I went to a snobby high school and junior high and was a hopelessly cynical, nerdy outcast for the most part (I grew up in the Midwest, which to me is a strange variation of the South), spending my days in the Classics society or working on science fair projects. I say: fuck the reunion! I didn’t go to my five or ten year reunion because almost everyone in my class was extremely mean to me, save my group of misfit friends and my high school boyfriend. But none of those people attended my reunions. Nothing made me more amused than getting facebook and friendster messages from the meanest high school bitches in the world asking me if I was attending our ten year reunion, as if we were old friends. They sent me pictures of the event after it occurred and it looked like a cross between a Budweiser commercial and the tenth circle of hell. To my high school classmates who made fun of me every day for being myself, I say: fuck you! I say: fuck you forever you horrible shitheads!

    But maybe you could see your old nice friends and it would be a good milestone and reflective time. I would go in this case! It seems like you are curious at least, which I wasn’t.
    Hugs, Dottie

  9. @Jeannine we didn’t have a 5yr reunion– not sure why, but I would’ve liked that better– I had a beautiful boyfriend and was super successful while most of the others were still getting their most basic shit together… now at 10 years, I’m totally underprepared!

    I live many States away– that’s a good excuse–

    @Susana, I wish we’d all gone to Lorraine’s HS in Maine 😉

    @Dottie, ah, your wrathful exuberance warms my heart! I’ve always thought like, “Those people were just kids, they had their own problems, they took it out on me but it wasn’t personal, they were just stupid and/or frustrated, trapped in their own powerless universes, and I am not going to be a petty, bitter person about it, I am going to still be warm and loving no matter what, damnit,” etc. I feel this way most of the time about most things– like I don’t want to be bitter. I want to try to grow into a wide open, but safe, space– a space that while without defenses is completely protected. Of course, this ideal leads me into many bad situations and relationships, my ongoing relationship with my HS years/peeps being one of them– I still feel controlled by all that, and it’s almost like the more I try to let it go– like, “Oh, I can go to the reunion and it will be no big deal”– the worse it preys upon my inner heart. So it seems that I should not go. Though, if enough of my friends anticipate being in town for it I might go to see them.

  10. Kevin Doran says:

    Go to rub in the fact that you didn’t turn out a small-minded frigid who shovels shit all day. (Hint of angst? You bet: I grew up in redneckville, too.)

  11. Unfortunately, there’s not rednecks– they’re highly educated, rich, and politically influential stupid people. The kind who run our fucked-up country. And they’re not all like that of course. But. It will still be kinda Splendor in the Grass to see those people after all the years. Which means I get to be Natalie Wood! Which means no getting drunk on boats (otherwise a common pastime in AL).

  12. Rebecca says:

    I missed my ten-year reunion, but inadvertently went to the five-year–it happened to be going on while I was in town, and I wandered right into it. For me, it was primarily happy greetings by first and last names from people who I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d ever known… and after we made some small talk, I eventually recognized several of the faces under their extra weight…

    Overall, most of the people that I liked or thought well of in high school turned out to be interesting adults doing interesting things. People I didn’t think much about at all in high school seemed to all have the same story: married early, stayed in/near town, became parents and divorced. People who I had actual reasons to dislike had become things like used car salesmen with odd stains on their pants. It was really a fascinating demonstration of karma.

    I’d have gone to the ten-year reunion on purpose if it had suited my schedule. I think people do become more normal after a few years–life experience knocks off some rough edges. And it seemed a little bit like running into someone you barely know in a strange city–you have a little bit of camaraderie, even if you’re not really friends.

  13. Hi Jessica,

    I keep wanting to respond to this post, but then thinking that my comment will be too long. I might just have to do a post about high school, too.

    No one invited me to my ten-year reunion, but I also know that none of the people I kept in touch with went. I went to several high schools, but the one I graduated from in Maine was full of a combination of hippies, rich hippies, hicks and yacht-club people. Most students were some combination of the above, and almost everyone did drugs, at least occasionally (often getting the acid or mushrooms from their parents). It was cool to be on the math team and in the drama club. There were jocks, but they were soccer jocks, and the cheerleaders were absolutely not the most popular girls in the school–we made fun of them.

    The thing I’ve been thinking about, though, is how this comparatively socially liberal environment didn’t, for the most part, translate into people doing especially socially daring things with their lives. Most of the people I knew in high school have gotten married, some have children, and most are doctors, lawyers, or businesspeople (or married to someone who is).

  14. Lydia says:

    Just found your blog via Chicks Dig Poetry.
    I’ve had two poems published in my lifetime: 1) Cats Magazine, a poem about a favorite white cat, and 2) The Oregonian – Sunday arts supplement the paper once had, a poem titled “The Reunion” about my own ten-year reunion in 1979. I didn’t go. The poem said why.

    I did go to the 20th (divorced by then and four years sober). I tested the waters, grew up some, hooked up with the wrong guy, got compliments on my hat at the picnic.

    Then went to the 30th with my 2nd husband. I selected the totally wrong table for dinner and wound up with people I truly hated in HS, while my few friends from those days sat at other tables having what appeared to be fun. A group shot was taken afterward. I danced with one drunk classmate and then told my husband I’d had enough. We didn’t attend the picnic the following day and instead drove up to Virginia City, where we walked around the old graveyard and had lunch in a saloon (still sober).

    I’d say that, yes, there is psychological pressure to attend your 10th reunion . But I know I made the right decision around my own. By the 20th and 30th, I could actually look around the rooms with gentle thoughts and love in my heart for most of the people there. The list of dead classmates was surprisingly long at the 20th, and depressingly so at the 30th. There’s something very bittersweet in sharing survival.

  15. @Lydia, i’ve been mulling over this… because already two of our classmates (that i know of… I can only account for about 150 of the original 230) have passed away. It’s very disturbing to think that by our 20th class reunion there will be many more… I hope that I’m not one of them. Maybe I will be more sentimental in 10 years. I’m not as angry and bitter as I’d like to be, but I do feel like… “why would I ever want to see you people again?”

    I don’t understand people who married other people from our high school even after they went to colleges in other states. Like you really couldn’t find anyone better than this other Mountain Brook kid after exposing yourself to countless other worthy people? That seems weird to me.

  16. Lydia says:

    I would bet that you’ll feel more sentimental in 10 years; I surprised myself by that change and just went along with the feeling.

    It really is so strange that people return home after college/life experiences and marry someone from the old crowd. At my 20th the most miserable-looking couple were, hands down, these two that got married the summer after graduation. His shy boyishness had converted into sullenness and introverted alcoholism. Her 1st-generation Cuban-American spirit had translated into rootin’-tootin’ capitalistic braggadocio.

    But close on their heals for misery were a few who had done what you observed. They settled for something less, or for something known. It really showed on their faces. Another weird thing was that there was a small group of them that had married, then divorced, and were recycling spouses. So not only did they grow up with one another, they attended weddings, nursed kids, battled divorces, and then remarried all within the same gang of friends. Talk about an inability to think outside the box!

    Maybe you aren’t supposed to be as angry and bitter as you’d like to be. It seems like you’ve moved on and if you choose to go to the reunion it will be on your terms. You could be in a crowded room with all of them but none of them can touch you now. Know what I mean?

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