I feel compelled to write this, perhaps as some kind of cleanse…
I’m not at my 20th year high school reunion tonight. I’ve never been to any of my high school class reunions. I have always meant to go, and never have gone. For me, someone who lives on self motivation, who doesn’t use an alarm clock because I can set one internally anytime, who enjoys order and prefers to schedule my time with devices and reminders and calendars, not attending an event that I have planned on attending is a rare occurrence. Yet here I am, for the third time, not attending. The first two times the reunion slipped my mind. This time, its all over my mind.
Why am I not going? After all, I ponied up money, bought a URL, built a website for my class, and helped organize parts of the event? To every onlooker, I have been an insider for the event, sure to make an appearance and bask in the bliss of reuniting with old friends.
I wish I could say that I have some trite reason for not being there, but I don’t. All of the standard excuses (busy, sick kids, have other engagements, etc) fall away, since I’m sitting in my house, at my kitchen table, five miles from the event, a working vehicle in the garage.
At first all I understood is that the reunion fell off my priority list, sometime in the last couple of days. Today it became a wall. I felt repelled by the idea of attending. It is as if I can’t face up to something. And that usually means I need some introspection. And to write. What follows is a glimpse, a core level honesty I don’t share often.
Did I skip the reunion because of past relationships?
Some of the people attending tonight are people I have known since grade school, maybe even before, who would probably welcome me with open arms, celebrate who I am as an adult, and forget about any youthful foibles. I’m sure the majority have forgotten any slight that I may have given them, and I gave more than my fair share.
Am I afraid to be confronted by people I hurt, with the awfulness of my own youth?
I have been cataloging and systematically tracking down anyone I remember slighting or hurting, apologizing for my behavior, since 1997. I have relatively few people left on that list, none of whom I went to high school with.
Nope, the truth behind my absence is more complicated. Easy answers won’t do.
Most of my close friends in my high school class I still am in touch with. Scott, Ryan, Spencer and others…I see them as often as we can get together. Most of my friends in that time period were either older or younger than I, mostly older. They wouldn’t even be at the reunion. Why can’t we do a 1990-1995 mixed reunion?
Truthfully, none of my classmates would have any memory of me being at school our senior year. When most of my Birkenstock and Girbaud wearing classmates were studying for the ACT, I was most likely skating or wasting time. Dear old Davis High School unceremoniously dismissed me a couple of months in to my senior year. In many ways it was one of the best things they could do for me, though looking back I wish someone had reached out. Behind my bravado and devil-may-care attitude was an embarrassed teen age boy who lacked the assertiveness and skills needed to even ask for a second chance. I’m sure my attitude back then was something like, “F#@$ them then.”
I occasionally look back and wonder how different things would have been had anyone grabbed on to me and walked me through the process of putting my schooling back on track. And at the same time I’m grateful for the time I spent in the library instead of going to class, immersing myself in negative utopias and apocalyptic visions. I blame no one but myself for my expulsion. That’s what happens when you only go to four of your eight classes. Shame on me for not following the prescribed path to enlightenment.
The worst part of my expulsion was the walk of shame. I had to check myself out of my classes by going to each teacher and getting a reported grade for the time that had passed. Two teachers out of eight expressed any semblance of concern. One said, “That’s too bad.” The other looked me in the eye, and with an expression on his face like someone he knew had been killed in some armed conflict, said, “Don’t let this stop you. You’ll make it. You’ll be a productive member of society. Don’t give up.” I almost cried.
The Butthole Surfers think that its better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you have haven’t done. I don’t know if I agree.
No, I spent my days reading, smoking, and avoiding class, and it is a source of some regret. I’m sure I should attribute my anarcho-libertarian leanings to my group of new wave, skateboarding, punk friends, and I’m grateful for them. My friends introduced me to bands that educated me. My friends, older and younger, influenced me in so many ways. Combine the influences of my youth and my innate abhorrence for coercion and you’ll discover the source of my adult ideas around freedom, liberty and monetary policy. Anyway…
I think many people loved their high school experience. Some think it is the best part of their lives. Some are stuck attempting to relive the glory days like Uncle Rico, forever obsessed with the ball they didn’t get to throw. Some wear a chip on their shoulders about the bullying, the teasing, the cliquishness of their high school class and spend their lives in a contest of I’ll-show-you!
For me, high school was just hard. I never felt like I fit in. I was an uppity elitist punk skater, if that makes any sense. I was smart and unchallenged. I was working on following the path of least resistance, which is the path of atrophy. I used to drive with friends to CA and NA activities. Three died. I gave a ride to one of my high school friends, probably to his death. I walked five miles to Farmington in the middle of winter at 1AM, not in my right mind. I saw heartbreak and danger and I’m blessed not to be dead. Do I want to relive that? Do I need to revisit the dance where we got busted with wine coolers or the night I took too many chances and spent my time paranoid, checking over my shoulder? Do I need to remember the parties and the emptiness and the rage and the disgust?
I’m surprised at who I am as an adult. Who I am now is not who anyone would have guessed I’d become. Which brings me to my other reason for not going. How do you explain, in convenient sound bites, the life of an entrepreneur? When the question comes, “So, what are you up to professionally?”, what do I answer? It isn’t easy to explain that I’m in the middle of a mid-life crisis, one many men have travelled. To quote my friend on the same path, “I’m trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.” Is it easy to say I’m working on about eight different projects, any of which have merit but may or may not be what I do for the long term? Do I pick one and go with that? Maybe the one that makes more money? Or the one that I have more passion for? To quote Martin Blank, “Hi. I’m, uh, I’m a pet psychiatrist. I sell couch insurance. Mm-hmm, and I – and I test-market positive thinking. I lead a weekend men’s group, we specialize in ritual killings. Yeah, you look great! Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you?”
I’m not someone who generally cares what other people think about me. I’m outspoken and opinionated. The problem isn’t other people judging me for my professional choices, that’s not the source of my discomfort. The problem is my own self judgement. I know myself to be a decisive and committed man. If I can see a clear path to fulfilling on an ambition I have, I take that road. I don’t fear, I act. This is who I have been, for going on two decades. Beginning with my first read of Atlas Shrugged at 18, I have been engaged and working and bravely stepping out and taking risks. Yet since last November I find myself being non-committal, indecisive, and risk adverse in spurts. After talking to a number of men and consulting some books, I figure I’m in a place where many a man has gone before me. We call it a mid-life crisis, but it seems more like a soul level questioning of who I am and who I want to be. I’ve tried to reduce it to a simple list of what I like and want to do versus what I don’t like and don’t want to do, but the silent questions are loathe to be reduced. Instead they haunt my free moments, tax my quiet time, and nag at the edges of every day. And I judge myself for it. In my world, I should be able to get to the core of the issue and choose a path freely and quickly. That’s what I have been doing for a long time. These questions are new and they won’t be pinned down. It’s a new level of self discovery, it’s uncomfortable, and I’m ashamed of it.
The reunion… To quote Arcade Fire, “All my old friends, they don’t know me now.” I might even be included in that group. I don’t know myself right now. So, I stayed home. And wrote. I got one step closer to attending this year. Maybe sometime I’ll actually show up.