I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago that confirms two things. One thing is really bad news and one thing is really good news.
“Dear Member of the Class of 2002,” the letter began.
That’s right. It’s my ten-year high-school reunion. The really bad news is that in the blink of an eye, I’m almost thirty. The really good news is that after one decade, my good judgment has been affirmed.
When I was in high school, I knew that almost nothing could be worse than being the girls’ Class President at the small religious boarding school I attended. There was no way in hell I would want to be responsible for organizing church-sponsored get-togethers with my classmates every decade. It’s not that I didn’t like my peers. It’s just that, even as a teenager, I knew I wouldn’t want a high-school era responsibility tapping me on the shoulder for the rest of my life.
This makes it sound like there would’ve been the remotest possibility of my being elected by my classmates. Don’t be misled – I was never that popular. Nobody hated me (as far as I know) – I had a great circle of friends, and then the rest of kids were either courteous in passing or just generally ignored me, with the exception of a few sneers and eye-rolls when paired with me in class.
In the weeks leading up to graduation, several of the well-meaning adults who fluttered around us hosting luncheons gave me some totally bogus advice.
“Enjoy this time!” they exclaimed. “This is the best time of your life!”
In case you can’t tell, I’m not nostalgic about school.
This isn’t because school was terrible. I had good friends. Sure, I wasn’t invited to many parties, but that didn’t break my heart. I excelled academically and was co-editor of the school paper and played a lead role in the school musical my senior year. I had a nice boyfriend and fit in some community service too. Life was busy, and most of my activities (except the singing) proved foundational to my career.
After schooling in my small hometown up through the tenth grade, I transferred to a religious boarding school out of state for my junior and senior years. I lived in the girls’ dorm and pledged into its sorority.
Pledging involved a lot of marching around town screaming club slogans, wearing ridiculous badges, riding in vans with bags over our heads, various public humiliations at club rallies, being locked in disused wings of the dorm, and Hell Night.
This was when the senior girls transformed the dorm top to bottom into a teenage labyrinth of horrors and led us in with towels over our heads. Mercifully, the night’s a little fuzzy and I don’t remember all the humiliations we were subject to. At one station, we had to make a sandwich full of bizarre dining hall leftovers, and then eat the sandwich made by the previous pledge. At another, a senior girl dumped flour in our hair, forced us into a shower stall, and asked us questions about her own personal preferences. If we got the answers wrong, she turned the faucet on us so that our clothes got soaked and the flour became papier-mâché in our hair.
The next morning, we were led out to a candle-lit pond in the woods. We were inducted into the club and sang a song about how one day we’d meet all our dorm sisters again in heaven.
Maybe I was an oversensitive teen, but in retrospect, the whole thing was pretty fucked up.
That kind of language would’ve gotten me in serious trouble back then. My mother still finds it distasteful, naturally, but that’s why the “best time of your life” folks were utterly wrong. My parents are great, but life as a teenager doesn’t measure up to living your own independent life with an interesting job and a good husband, where you can do pretty much whatever you want, law and finances allowing.
In contrast, my high-school dorm was a tightly regulated zone: we were supposed to ask permission by phone to leave our rooms after lights-out, even to go to the bathroom, and spent days confined to the dorm if we ran in after curfew.
Dances were heavily policed – chaperoning clergymen were strong enforcers of the six-inch rule. The school was careful to cast Prom as the “Junior-Senior Dance”, I think because faculty feared that if they talked about Prom, we’d be encouraged to drink and try to throw our virginity away like they do in the movies. There were probably similar fears behind the heavily chaperoned all-night lock-in at the gymnasium we were required to attend on the night of our graduation.
There was an occasional upside to the prudery. On our senior class trip to Williamsburg, our chaperones took us all to a seedy dinner theater establishment called “Rosie Rumpe’s Regal Dumpe” without researching the content of the show. It should’ve tipped them off when a waiter introduced himself as “Master Bates”. The whole thing was a legendary shambles and they packed us back on the buses and unleashed us in a local K-Mart for lack of anything else to do.
Faculty members were a constant in our lives, for good or ill. One of my favorite teachers, the most decorous yet enigmatic woman in the whole institution, teased us in our junior-year English class that she had a pair of leather pants that she wore on weekends. We begged and begged her to prove it, until she shocked us all by wearing them one day (the pants were tasteful, but that didn’t diminish our delight).
My math teacher took pains to tutor me after class. My senior-year English teacher, a die-hard linguistic prescriptionist, railed against changing usages in the English language. It took me a couple years to appreciate the irony of the fact that Shakespeare and Chaucer were her favorite writers (talk about two figures who played key roles in the evolution of our language). And there was Magistra, my buoyant Latin teacher, who is still my friend today.
My junior-year chemistry teacher was an absolute gem. Instead of teaching us chemistry, he spent the majority of class-time on anarchist orations, the most puzzling of which, because of his chosen career, was his repeated insistence on the futility of the education system. Instead of teaching us how to calculate moles, he told us that if thieves broke in and stole our possessions, the police wouldn’t help us.
I think most of my classmates were pretty nice kids. I do remember one silent, bizarre incident, in which a girl who never spoke to me positioned herself behind me in class and then plucked out strands of my hair with her fingers. But I think my good memories outweigh the bad. Once I got a terrible flu and couldn’t leave my bed, even to go to the dining hall. So many classmates thought to bring me dinner that I ended up with a stack of take-out containers on my bureau.
From what I hear about the ten-year reunion, it’s all about what you’ve accomplished: marriage, career and kids.
I’ve been married to this guy for almost five years:
On the other fronts, I’m seriously lagging. So far, I’ve failed to find a lucrative, stable career. Instead, I’m a writer. I don’t have a house, expensive clothes or even a car: just a freelancer’s salary and hundreds of bylines.
As for kids, sometimes it seems like most of my female classmates are either pregnant right now or already back into their skinny jeans after their first or second babies. If there’s a family-friendly event, it’ll be baby, toddler and kindergartner city: I’ll be the only one trying to strike up a conversation because everyone else will be too busy pulling their kids off the bleachers to talk.
All I have to show for myself are twelve greedy goldfish.
“These milestone occasions are opportunities for self-reflection and reconnection with past friends and places of strong memory,” the ten-year-reunion announcement letter says. Just because memories are strong doesn’t mean you want to revisit them. For example, my bad memories of pledging far outweighed the bonds of “sisterhood” and I’ve ignored invites to the club’s alumni events for the last ten years. But on balance I guess I have about as many reasons to be nostalgic about my high school campus as I have reasons never to go back – just like most other people.
I have many fond recollections of my peers. And I’m sure a laugh over Rosie Rumpe’s and the chance to go cheek-to-cheek with a handsome date without getting the evil eye will more than outweigh my unseasonable delay in getting pregnant, questionable career and the fact that I’m even less thin today than I was ten years ago.
Abigail and Bryon (God bless ‘em!) are planning this reunion. I have until October until this thing goes down.
Have you ever been to a high school reunion? Did you enjoy yours?
Special welcome to all the new subscribers from last week’s Freshly Pressed bonanza on canvassers. And even specialer thanks to everyone who was reading this blog before then. By the way, I bit the bullet and joined Twitter, so now you can add @AlainaMabaso to your online universe.