“I want to feel myself part of things, of the great drift and swirl; not cut off, missing things…” ~Joanna Field
In 2006 my partner, Gene, and I went to my fortieth high school reunion. This was in a town where appearances mattered above all else, where I’d learned growing up that how I felt was secondary to how I looked. And that year, I was looking good.
I hadn’t been in touch with any of the people I might see there. So they didn’t know any of the details of my life. All they would see was a pretty fifty-eight year old with her handsome boyfriend.
I went to say to a few of them, “See? You didn’t destroy me after all. I’m still here.”
My first boyfriend, John, was there with his friend, another kid from the popular clique that had blackballed me in junior high. He was still a handsome man, and I remembered why I was attracted to him back in eighth grade.
It was odd seeing him there, with all those years between us.
To my surprise, he and his friend sat down at the same table with us—right across from us. I didn’t know anything about him, and right there was an opportunity for him to tell me about his life.
But I was disappointed.
His eyes were carefully averted—drawn to other people like magnets all over the room. No “Hi there, Marilea. Look at you! What have you been up to in all these years?” No curiosity about me at all. Not even a polite greeting or nod. I might as well have been invisible. But then again, Gene was sitting next to me, and they might have found that intimidating. He was my convenient shield.
Another friend of John’s sat down on the other side of him, and John craned his neck in that direction, excitedly asking him all about the Patriots’ upcoming season.
Gene and I left the table unceremoniously, moved around a bit, chatting here and there. We could not get out of that building soon enough. I felt like I didn’t belong there, like an outsider, which I was in a way. I wasn’t a “townie” anymore; I had defected four decades earlier.
When I left that town I rarely looked back, disconnecting myself as I frequently did throughout my life. It represented so much pain and angst for me that I needed to get away. For a while I kept up with the few friends I had, but even that grew difficult with my moving around so much.
Though it was fun to see some familiar faces many years later, going to my high school reunion felt awfully superficial to me. I didn’t really know anything about the people there, and they knew even less about me.
Sometimes going to a reunion is like looking at a display case in a museum: you often know nothing about the work that went into it.