Nelson Mandela once said:
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
I suspect most of us who attend class reunions find this to be true. Last weekend I went to my own 20th high school reunion in the little town of Archer City. Of the 31 people in our graduating class, 18 of us attended.
I was nervous all out of proportion to the event, partly because I had missed the 10th reunion, and partly because I’m anxious about anything Archer City-related. Like most people who blow out of their small towns as a teen, I felt beyond my element, strangely separate.
Looking across the cafeteria (which was almost completely unchanged–it still had green linoleum and the SAME water fountain from when I first arrived there in second grade, 1977), I really did get the sense of my personal history.
Tressa walked in, my best friend in elementary, a natural fit since she lived next door. We so often got tangled up crawling through the barbed wire between our properties, that our dads made a gate for us. We recalled our many exploits — trying to make a waterbed out of trash bags, throwing rocks over the garage and accidentally knocking the window out of my mom’s car.
Michelle arrived, carrying her four year old. She moved to AC in 8th grade and became a new best friend as she lived in bicycling range. I knew her house better than my own (SHE always had strawberry Haagen Dazs ice cream in her freezer) and we were notorious prank callers.
When my family moved into town in 9th grade, Darci and Trisha became my friends. We often spent Saturday nights out on one of their trampolines, and as we got a little older, boys would come by to visit us in the night (ha, our parents might be reading this!)
Angela also arrived in time for high school, and by virtue of our many debate trips as extemporaneous speakers and a mutual love of drama (the acting kind — okay, all kinds), we became best friends. There was virtually no boy-disaster I didn’t call her up about, and she is probably the most complete repository of my life secrets as we have kept in touch in the intervening decades, easily taking up the confessionals even if years pass between the times we can get together.
Despite all this, the majority of my social life was held elsewhere, as I dated outside of my hometown. I had learned the hard way that what one boy said about me could discolor everyone’s view, and that in a town that small there is no escaping a mistake — one you actually made or one that was made up.
But my senior year I could not resist one of my “own kind,” a boy from Archer City, and ended up attending events (oh those Shack parties) with my own high school classmates. I learned in that year that all my silly hangups were unfounded, and I truly did feel I was part of everything around me. (Of course, 20 years later half the class now knows — thanks Gary for hosting the reunion after party with a whole lotta beer — exactly why I was late to Mrs. Campbell’s class every day after lunch.)
But none of that stopped me from diving headfirst into the vastness and anonymity of big-university life at UT, a decision I will never regret, and one that definitely ensured that I could never go “home” again. But I feel a little better about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
If a high school reunion has anything going for it other than finding out who is still skinny, who still has hair, who got rich, or who married the bad boy, it’s exactly what Nelson Mandela says–you can see exactly what made you who you are, and how the very thing you ran from is exactly what got you where you are today.