I graduated from high school 20 years ago and recently attended my 20th High School Reunion. In the weeks leading up to this milestone, I felt as if an odd time warp descended in which past, present and future intersected.
My thoughts swirled: Who would be there? I can't wait! Would I remember everyone? How would everyone look? WHAT SHOULD I WEAR? Would this combination of faces and personalities throttle me back to my less-evolved 18-year-old self? Like a yard stick, the weekend begged me to measure and analyze the last two decades of my life. So, I did just that. And I was pleased:
In the last 20 years, I've learned as much as I've forgotten. I gained confidence and sure footing. I now know that I don't know--especially when I think I do. I didn't in high school and I don't now. I do not hold the answers to the indefinable future. I've learned that as the years push on, hair grows in funny places on your face (damned chin hairs).
In 20 years, I've lived. I watched snow flakes melt on my childrens' hoods. I inhaled the intoxicating scent of the first autumnal fire. I experienced dark days...dark years. I felt the exhilarating rush of bright, happy days. Sometimes sunlight frolicked on the fringes of my days and others, it boldly blinded me. I questioned many things. I fell in love--and stayed in love--with Hubby, the father of my children. I felt and watched life grow inside. I cherished the chubby weight of my own flesh and blood against my chest, hearts beating Morse codes of truth and connectedness. I held the hand of a man who loves me, just as fiercely as I love him.
I returned to center. I redefined my truths--sometimes slowly, sometimes at the force speed of light--and created my own, personal dogma.
I realized, during this maelstrom of remembering, that when I tried to eek out memories of high school, wide, gaping holes existed. The frayed edges of my memories become more fragile and mailable as I continue living. I did not inherit my mother's razor-sharp memory; I live knowing the past happened and that I had a place in it. But the details escape me.
But then I remembered my blue Tiffany box. The box of stuff holding decades of faded keepsakes. I pounded upstairs, skipping two and three steps at a time.
The box sat in the corner of my closet. Its corners crushed, its creases and bends filled with decades-old dust. I opened the lid and piles of papers, cards and photos--along with the scent of old--met me. My fingers began deftly sorting through my personal time capsule. The contents of this box--the piles of notes, cards and paper--helped fill in those blanks. I sorted through the momentos, happy with my younger self for saving these bits and pieces:
- Animated notes from a high school pal which we traded between classes (we now pass notes through Twitter and meet at each others blogs, instead of the locker-lined hallways of our past)
- Signs that decorated my locker, announcing to the world the arrival of my 18th year
- My very official-looking (but not sure what it is) Presidential Academic Fitness Award, which seems to be signed by George H. W. Bush (geesh--the things I save).
- My senior-year weekly calendar, outlining long-forgotten tests, papers and assignments
Other memories formed from the haze: the day I found the perfect black velvet dress for Heart Hop. The confounding nature of Shakespeare. Dime-sized zits. Individuality mixed with conformity. Wanting to be asked out by boys who did not want to ask. Ended friendships. New ones. First boyfriends. The realization that sometimes, marriages must end. Searching frantically for the perfect pair of worn-in Levi 501s. Laughing so hard I cried.
I recalled the first time I stepped foot on that high school campus, half-way through my junior year of high school. Coming in part-way afforded a new beginning. But it also commanded a crash-course in ranks and politics. The startling juxtaposition of these two realities--my gratitude for the fresh start and my intense desire to be steeped in this community's history--remind me, 20 years later, that emotions deliver complex messages in sometimes confounding packages.
In my blue box, I found conciliatory cards from friends during sad times. As I read the loopy, girlish notes of encouragement, this thought grounded me: life's brilliant dichotomy plays out one moment at a time, throughout each life. Each day comprises of ups and downs, sadness and celebration, losts and founds.
The magical weekend of the reunion has now passed--my intrinsic curiosity about the future satisfied through the predictable passage of time. I now hold new memories, tucked away for future examination and introspection: A slow drive past my last childhood home. The embrace of friendships now 20 years old. The cocktail party filled with distinguished accomplishments and the years worn well by my classmates--and the fabulous delight in not worrying about our parents or, gasp, the police, breaking up our party. Leg air guitar (and, to my dismay, photos to indelibly capture my participation). Discussions about the best hair straightening techniques (since gone are the days of big, big hair and curls to match.) The joy of seeing familiar smiles. Saturday's football game: old hellos, bear hugs, the cracking of football pads, cheering fans. Fire-burnished air, fringed with a pre-winter chill. I viewed it all through my seasoned eyes (complete with well-earned crow's feet). The lake littered with the yellows, oranges and crimsons of fallen leaves. The pounding of the metal bleachers, the air reverberating with cheers. The slow descent of a single leaf. Laughing until I cried.
Yet at certain times, all tenses converged again. Sometimes the past's presence was so palpable, I felt as if I could whisper sage wisdom back over the years and through the ether to my 18-year-old self:
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
Everything in this moment is perfect.
Be easy on yourself.
When you see beauty, stop and embrace it. Savor it. Taste it.
I hold with reverence those 18-year-old's experiences, which all add up and equal me now. I can tell you that I wouldn't go back to relive high school. But I can also tell you with conviction that I wouldn't change a thing.