Northrop 30 year Class Reunion (The really long, self-indulgent version)

Five years ago I went to my first class reunion. I was not popular, or pretty, or an academic whiz. I was picked on a lot, mostly for my receding chin. There really wasn't any money to fix it when I was a kid, and even if there had been, I'm thinking my mom wouldn't have done it. Throughout life, I'd saved money for the procedure, but something always happened to the money. I needed a car repair, or something. I had good intentions, but something always came up. The only time I ever had real money in my life, I should have had it done. However, that was after my mother had died, and I had been out of work for nearly a year. I had no idea how long it would take me to get a job, and I was worried about spending that kind of money. When I think back, I didn't even think about getting my chin surgery done. My brother was being an asshole, and I had to find work.

And the procedure got put off for several more years. But, earlier this year, I'd won a settlement from a class action lawsuit, and I ended up with the biggest tax return I'd ever had in my life. It was time. I'd wanted this since I was 12 years old. I made an appointment with the maxilofacial surgeon. I told him I wanted it done before my reunion, and we were able to get it done. We cut it very close, but the swelling was gone in plenty of time. Even though my surgery was considered "cosmetic" it wasn't performed by a cosmetic surgeon. Instead of an implant, the doctor sliced the bottom part of my chin bone, pulled it forward, and anchored it with titanium plates.

I explained to the surgeon why I wanted it done so quickly. This wasn't something I just decided on. This had been a 36-year wish. It probably sounded super shallow--reunion coming up, I wanted to look good. Politely, he said he understood.

I hadn't lost the amount of weight I wanted, partly because I was in a depressive/exhaustive mood, and I just didn't care anymore. Even the morning of the surgery, I was rather apathetic.

Going on Facebook, one of the reunion organizers set up a page. People were eagerly posting comments and looking forward to going. One former classmates said she was really looking forward to coming because she had never been "allowed" to come. She said she was going to cry "tears of joy" because coming to a reunion was something she'd always wanted to do, but her former husband wouldn't let her come. She got out of the relationship about four years ago. I'm always interested as to why people come or don't come to reunions. My own reason was that I hated high school, and didn't really have fond memories. I can think of at least two boys who made my life hell. I can't remember how many times I was called "no-chin" but it was a lot. High school wasn't fun. I had a few friends, but I didn't stand out in a positive way. I wasn't a brain, or a performer. Probably no one thought I'd amount to anything.

But to read that a classmate wasn't "allowed" to attend a reunion ... that was shocking to me. Another classmate had responded to this classmate essentially saying, "suck it up, buttercup." She went on to say the page wasn't meant for drama, that this was something that needed to stay on her own Facebook page. I couldn't believe the insensitivity of the remark. If someone has been in a long-term abusive relationship and got out four years ago and is still healing, "suck it up, buttercup," is NOT the thing to say.

I have to say my former high school classmates burst out with lots of love and support. More than four dozen comments were made in support of the woman who was so excited to come to the reunion. I never knew her in high school, but felt sympathetic, and sent her a private message telling her I hope she had a great time at the reunion, and to cry all the tears of joy she wanted, and to enjoy herself.

There was a pre-reunion party, and I went to it, but it felt weird. The first group of people who recognized me had a couple of classmates that I had attended elementary school with. But in high school we didn't run in the same circle. I chatted a little, and a male classmate went off to get me a Smirnoff Ice. I hadn't recognized him, and when my classmates said, "oh, do you remember so-and-so" I said "yeah" (I did) but then put my foot in my mouth when I made the brilliant observation "you look different."

We showed pictures on our smartphones, but when the prom pics came out, I felt like I was being waterboarded. I got on Facebook and begged a fellow graduate to come down. She did, and kept me company for a while, then we left so I could get something to eat. We walked back to the party, but she didn't want to go in. I went back in and went upstairs and looked down at the crowd, which was congregated the length of the bar. I wasn't sure what to think. I took a few pictures, but I felt strange about approaching people. I'm still scared, I guess. Shortly thereafter, I left.

I don't really have a social life, but the two events I really cared about this spring happened to be on the same night. I was invited to a co-worker's wedding reception, and that was pleasant and fun. But I felt that I hadn't spent enough time at the reunion. One of my classmates had invited me, and sure enough, when we walked in, we were the last. Our name badges were very easy to find on the nearly empty table. I spotted another classmate who had emailed me that morning, and I was thrilled to find out she'd be there.

As a result of my private message, the classmate who was the target of the remark asked me to look for her at the reunion. I did, and I have a new friend.

I had a good time, but I regret that I didn't stay longer. Someone who had known me since kindergarten asked me to sign his yearbook, and the fact he had remembered me for so long was really touching.

And it was weird too, how I was planning to go into this reunion loaded for bear (pun not intended) What I mean by that was, I planned to confront my tormentors and basically give them a piece of my mind. I had my brand-new facial profile, and was ready to rip into two of the boys who made high school torture for me.

Except they weren't there. Or, if they were, they weren't recognizable.

But it made me realize a few things. Time changes things. And if you do some reading, you find out that individuals who are high school aged literally are NOT in their right minds. Throw in the usual pressures, and the possibility of abusive parents, absent parents, or divorced parents, job loss, and economic woes, it's entirely possible that instead of dealing with it in a healthy way, students lash out. If you're being dumped on, you find someone else to dump on.

So the reunion was a lot of fun. Once upon a time I vowed never to go unless I was armed, but five years ago, I knew at least one friend was going, and it would be something to write about. I was glad I went as I saw someone I was really close to, but had lost contact with. That night, after the reunion, we stopped by an all-night diner and ate outside on a windy spring night. I didn't get home until 6:30 a.m. I'm glad I saw her. I figured we'd maybe get together for lunch or dinner, and that we'd definitely see each other at the next reunion.

Except she died two years ago. I remember the day I got the email from her daughter. My friend was only three months older than I was. You always assume you'll reach old age. The sad truth is that you can go at any time. But we don't live our lives that way. Instead we make nasty, thoughtless remarks, never thinking that something someone said more than 30 years is ingrained in our heads, and by not forgetting, we allow it to define who we are. For too long.

People bitch about getting old. And yeah, time can take a toll, but it can also free us. There's life after high school. And the terrified person that I was back then is still terrified. But I got through college, when probably none of the guidance counselors thought I could hack it. And now I'm in grad school. And I've self-published books. I am more than a weak chin.

One of the boys who made my life miserable actually had the audacity to approach me via Facebook and extend a friend request, resulting in an "are you fucking kidding me?" moment. It wasn't the same as spitting in his face, but I sent him an email. Here it is:

"Bennett" (not his real name)
I find it interesting you have discovered me on Facebook and that you now want to be friends. Remember Northwood Middle School? Remember the time you hit me over the head with an English textbook? I do. Remember sitting in Mrs. Albright’s office and being questioned by her, my mother and me as to your aberrant behavior? I remember your stunning answer as to why you assaulted me. It was: “I don’t know.” I suspect you DID know, but being put on the spot by your victim, her mother and a guidance counselor rendered you stupid. So why DID you hit me? What did I ever do to you to warrant being hit? I really am curious, as the bullying continued into high school, and I continue to run into miserable types who have nothing better to do than put others down. The bullying has really done a number on me in a lot of ways; my relationships with people are quite difficult at times. Trusting people is a no-no. And the only man I allowed to be intimate with me broke up with me last September. I carry a lot of repressed rage, "Bennett." You have probably forgotten all about your middle school antics. I haven’t. So, I’m proposing a deal: if you allow me to slam a phone book over your head (something a Facebook friend suggested) you may indeed be my Facebook friend. As I see it, that will make us even. Even if you refuse my proposal, I still want to know why you hit me. It’s not every day I get to confront people from my past. With utmost curiosity, Gloria Diaz

Here's what he wrote back:

i am very sorry u r correct that i dont even remember this not saying it didnt happen cause obviously u remeber quite well somethings i do remember this i do not again, i am very sorry
if u want to be even, i will let u dont know what else to say i am truly sorry though i honestly do not remember

There's more:

i am so very sorry that something i did as a stupid teen has brought u so much grief and anxiety in your life. i truly mean this!! i have been up most of the night thinking about what you have said to me. when i remember back to you, all i can think is you were a very nice,quiet,shy young lady. i really wish you would have talked to me way back then about this and we could have hashed it out. i hate to think that i am the reason that you dont feel right or have had problems because i did something like that. all i can do now is tell you how i feel about this and ask for your forgiveness. i am truly very sorry. never ever thought that i would have adversely affected someones whole life so dramatically!! AGAIN, I AM VERY SORRY!
Here's my response:
You weren't the only one. But your actions did stand out. There were at least three others in high school (and countless others in middle school) who made me miserable. I skipped so much school in middle school that I went from being an A- student in sixth grade to a D student in seventh.
Why didn't I talk to you? Well, it's a little frightening to confront someone who hit me over the head with a book.
You weren't the only one, by any means. But I wonder, if I were such a nice person, why did I get treated like that?
I accept your apology.

I'm glad I wrote this letter. Just a couple days before, I had an insulting post from an acquaintance, and I ripped her a new one too.
But anyway, the reunion was fun and insightful, and I'm glad I went.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing, and I thought you looked great at the reunion!
Gloria said…
Thank you!!!!!!:)
Anonymous said…
You looked great both nights but Saturday when I was able to talk a little and stand back while you interacted about your writing and books. I want to let you know you had such confidence and seemed so happy. I didn't get to talk about your books as in depth but hope too soon, anyway you have it in you and keep up your great writing.
Anonymous said…
Jump on it!!!
Gloria said…
I really, really regret not staying around Friday. I should have, but I am not sure why. It would have been great to talk to you--really talk to you because I feel like you know all about me, but I don't know anything about you. Well, I know some things... ;)

I know I complain a lot on the blog, but you're right, I'm happy now. For a long time I wasn't. I went through a really bad period after my mother died. As for my writing, I think I'm pretty good at it. It seems like it's the only thing I truly own, if that makes any sense. Like I could lose my house, my cars, and my stuff, but no one can take my writing. I OWN that...

Sometimes I freak out--I can't believe I'm 48 because, and I know this probably sounds horrible, I feel like I'm just getting started. But seriously, things seem clearer. I'm in grad school, and when I self-published my books, I felt like I could die happy. I'd love a book deal, but it's satisfying to see my words in print. The first collection of fiction was written when I was very angry, but I was writing a story a week for six weeks and they just poured out of me. The other books are erotic fiction, which is not everyone's cup of tea. I like to think my characters are pretty ordinary, but go through growth and change. I've reviewed some erotic fiction since Fifty Shades of Grey came out, and they are pretty similar--handsome billionaire rescues young chick. I like to think mine is different.

"had such confidence and seemed so happy" You don't miss much, do you? :)

I've been really emotional since the reunion. It was life-changing in a good way. Mainly I was blown away by you remembering me for so long. That's the nicest thing anyone said to me that night. I'll never forget that as long as I live ...

I hope you don't mind--I was hoping to find a picture of you online. I haven't received the picture from our classmate yet. I found one and told some people about the reunion and how nice you were and showed them the picture and that you looked pretty much the same from that picture. Which is to say, GREAT! I sort of lost my concentration when we posed for the picture...I can't remember the last time I was that close to a cute guy. :) It was a nice feeling... One of my co-workers refers to you as "Fabio" and I'm like, "no, he's better-looking than Fabio." :)

I've got pretty good writing skills, but I don't know if I could ever express how much I enjoyed meeting you, and your kind words and remembering me. I'm crying right now thinking about it, but it's good crying. I really was feeling depressed for the past few weeks, really feeling blah, and then you suddenly appear at the reunion ... and my life changed... just like that. Words are small things, but they really can make a difference.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for you...

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