Well there’s nothing quite like a ten year high school reunion to trigger some reflection.
Most of my conversations on Saturday night would start with where I live, San Francisco, how long I’ve been there, three years, and what I’m doing now, web development at a startup. Living outside of Texas I felt was an accomplishment in and of itself, as the majority of my former classmates (hallmates really, in a graduating class of 500 I was only ever in class with a fraction of them) still reside in and around Austin. Of that I’m told roughly 160 had RSVPed. Several people had made it out of Texas but eventually came back. A few were living in a few major cities around the country (NY, LA, SF), though I’m sure that number was under-represented, as that’s precisely the subgroup least likely to return. Naturally I was there to buck that trend.
What has led me to where I am now, over the last ten years?
I keep thinking about this question. It’s the essential part of knowing someone that was obviously missing from all of the conversations I had that night.
Over the last ten years, I’ve had zero contact with any of the people that were there (other than Casey). The amazing thing about the human brain is that I recognized at least 90% of people. Afterwards it kind of made me nauseous to think about, as if I were living through a strange psychology experiment, having severed all ties with everyone I knew at age 18, only to meet up with all of them in a bar ten years later. And then walking out of that bar at midnight, knowing full well that I’ll probably never see any of those people again.
When I graduated from high school in 1998, no one had cellphones, and very few of my classmates had email addresses or knew about the web. I had an AOL account, which I quickly abandoned when I received my college email address (along with every other entering freshman). So none of the primary means one now has to stay in loose contact existed then.
When I left for college, not only did I go far away and by myself, I went completely. I never left Chapel Hill during the summer, so I never bumped into old friends doing the same. In college, I didn’t really find my groove until senior year, so I ended up tacking on two more years of grad school (which felt more like an extended undergrad). Then I stayed another year as a full time employee working at the same the job I’d had since the summer after my sophomore year.
That’s one of my internal paradoxes. I feel like I’ve really only been independent, out of school, and out on my own for the last three years (when I moved to California). But on the other hand, I’ve been working continuously for the last nine.
Social networking got really big in 2002 (some time between undergrad and grad school) but I thought it was limited (and annoying) compared to the blog I’d started around the same time, so I never joined up. And that decision alone probably shielded (or spared?) me from wave after wave of mini-reunions as old friends from high school started looking each other up, first on Friendster, and later MySpace and Facebook.
In the last few years, I’ve met back up with two people from high school, but neither of them came last weekend. I’m not sure why. I haven’t looked over my yearbook, but I can think of at least one or two other people I was really curious to see again, but they didn’t show up either. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to track them down? I probably spent most of my time that night talking to five or so people. There was at least one person I was genuinely happy to see again—it felt like no time had passed at all.
Several of the people who were couples in high school are now married. At the time they had been the model couples, the perfect couples, the supercouples. Seeing them still together really surprised me. At first glance it seemed totally natural, but at the same time it was kind of eerie. Like nothing had changed at all.
I will say this: everyone looked really good. Maybe the reunion-attending audience self-selects for people who clean up well, but you never know. The people who came could have been the ones who had hung around Pflugerville, gotten fat, gotten trashy, and aged beyond their years. But I saw none of that. Most everyone still looked youthful—just more polished, happy, and more or less comfortable. It was a reunion after all. In June. In Texas.