Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I can't believe this, but my 10 year high school reunion is coming up on Saturday. Yeah. I graduated that long ago. I am apparently An Adult. So this weekend the best and brightest of my tiny class of 100 are getting together to size each other up over beer and buffet food, and I won't be there, and I'm (kinda) (okay, a lot) glad.

High school wasn't easy for me. College was only marginally better, socially, but at least there wasn't much bullying in college and I had a goal and some supportive friends, and more importantly a clean slate. I like clean slates. After the hurdles of a toxic elementary school environment, going into seventh grade with a clean slate was amazing. I was in a new district with new classmates who didn't know my old nicknames or that I had been at the bottom of the social pecking order. And then I realized I was still the same awkward thrift-store-jeans-wearing misfit I had been in sixth grade, and my classmates also noticed it, and it was elementary school all over again except by senior year we had actually matured enough that the kids who did band and musicals didn't have to tolerate being slushee'd every morning and some were in fact the cool kids (playing the leading roles, of course). But I still didn't have a lot of friends, didn't get the cool toys or wear cool clothes, and after graduation I didn't really feel all that sad to be leaving high school behind. So why would I want to go back? The nostalgia factor just isn't there. I don't know the people I graduated with any more. I haven't spoken to 9/10ths of them since 2004 and any curiosity about their lives could be satisfied by judicious use of Facebook.

But the real reason I don't want to go is this: My social anxiety hasn't gotten much better since high school and entering a room full of people who knew me back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth is infinitely worse than, say, interviewing for a job or going into a restaurant/store/office for the first time (both things I avoid if at all possible). Logically I know that most of them barely remember me, just as I barely remember them, and that any vague notions they might have about me are probably relatively positive (I was smart, a decent runner, and - so everyone else tells me anyway - pretty, although at the time I felt stupid, clumsy and ugly, still do, and it's taken me years to even accept that other people might not see me that way). I just can't convince the illogical fear-stricken lizard brain part that a reunion would involve anything but blood and tears. In my mind I see it looking something like the prom scene from Carrie except a million times more mortifying because now we have facebook with which to memorialize forever the horrible things that happen at class reunions. And probably without all the death. I don't have psychic powers as much as I wished for them when I was little.

But anyway, I got the facebook invite for the reunion some time last fall and then the class president and vice president (high school popularity contests apparently confer the winners with responsibilities long past graduation) started posting dates and times and people started responding that they were coming and I thought "I'll tackle that anxiety-inducing beast and RSVP later". But I never did because every time I considered it, the spectre of vicious high-school teasing reared its ugly head. And even though we are adults and the teenage boy who was my worst bully is dead (long story short; he was drinking with a friend on the night before graduation and there was a vehicle accident), I just didn't think I would want to be in the same room as all the people who if they did not bully me also never stood up for me. I knew I would stress out every day until the day of the reunion and then break out in sixteen kinds of pimples and a rash two hours before getting in the car and walk into the reunion looking much like I did back then, wearing last decade's fashionable hand-me-downs, glasses with the paint chipping off them, and a face full of adolescent pimples. And they'd judge me like they always did and find me lacking and not want to talk to me, and I'd end up in the corner with the three friends who came, like always, and it just wouldn't be an enjoyable night.

And since we really can't afford a rental car and I can't drive the vehicle that I use as my daily driver (it's just not reliable for long trips), my husband would have to drive me, which means he would either have to amuse himself alone while I was at the reunion or he would have to accompany me while I wished him away (for both our sakes; he hates crowds, especially crowds of strangers, and I'm marginally less uncomfortable in crowds of "friends" when he's not slouching awkwardly in a corner, staring at his phone while I try to make small talk). We are an awkward couple in public because we are both introverts and have different ways of dealing with people; hardly a unified front or a fun one. That's fine by me, but I don't want to try to explain it to a dozen silently judging classmates.

And if that's not bad enough, half of my classmates are probably happily married to people who either have or are on their way to having Important Letters after their names, like "J.D." or "M.D" or something. In other words, Successful People. I married... a guy who is excited about the games coming out for XBox one this fall. (He also cooks, cleans, takes care of the pets, chauffeurs me around, fixes the cars, and occasionally sews and builds simple furniture, but people in my age bracket seem to define each other and themselves first and foremost by their jobs, and he works bare part-time hours, in a field that isn't exactly prestigious, and I don't have anything better to offer, so our job-selves are effectively poor white trash, of which I am painfully aware any time anyone asks me what I do for a living and then tries to spin-doctor my response by imagining that I am some kind of in-home glamour consultant). They're working in their desired career areas. I'm working as a "Sales Specialist", although at least I'm not a cashier any more. They're having kids. I get to explain to everybody I meet why we never want kids without throwing my hands up and impolitely telling them I think everyone should stop reproducing for the good of humanity, or at the very least question their infernal desire to procreate. They went on yearly vacations/honeymoon/road trip to Aruba/Machu Picchu/Portland. I... didn't. This year was my first summer vacation since high school.

I know this isn't true of all of my classmates. I know there are probably some like me who are struggling, or unhappy, or socially anxious. But all of the ones who replied to the invite seem so happy and well-rounded and comfortably middle class in their facebook profile pictures: shots of well-made-up young ladies standing on beaches or mountainsides with the wind in their hair, and a tall, handsome, outdoorsy man by their sides, or equally well-made-up young mothers or aunts with their kids/nieces/nephews, reading books or laughing, or handsome young men doing athletic/political/cultural things with lovely fiancees in tow. They look very normal and I am uncomfortably aware of how not-normal I am. Half of my profile pictures are taken with my webcam with an ugly wall behind me because we don't go anywhere interesting enough to provide a good photo backdrop. Before my jaunt to Colorado two weeks ago my photo was a memorial to the chicken that our dog killed: a shot of her looking quizzically at the camera. Happy family photo > memorial chicken photo. I even lose the facebook comparison game.

Does that sound like a good time to you? Me either. And don't try to tell me your reunion was so much better. Are any reunions not awkward even without social anxiety issues?

So because I'm too socially anxious to deal with awkward reunions I'm going to be working my retail job like I do every Saturday. I almost prefer customer service to taking two precious vacation days, driving 4 hours north and paying to see people I haven't spoken to in a decade who will almost certainly make me feel bad about what I haven't accomplished so far. I can feel like that on my own. I don't need their help.

Sorry to my few friends who will be going - I'll have to catch up with you guys privately, when I can devote my vacation time to you. I like it better that way.

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