At once frightening and thrilling these defining moments, and our responses to them, structure what comes next as we tiptoe through the tribulations and trials of quiet desperation.
We must breach these cultural thresholds to make our way in the world. We each have our own heroes’ journeys:
Sleep away camp. Prom night. Public Laundromats. Festival seating. Marriage. Divorce. Marriage.
Each daunting in its own rite. Each with its own special brand of innocence lost.
But few milestone events can bring a person’s life screaming past her field of vision faster than her High School Reunion.
Oh no, no! Not that! Anything but that! Not a Reunion!
Please don’t make me relive the days of self-conscious fear that everyone is looking, coupled with oblique terror that no one cares. I don’t think I can take it.
I can’t take it.
I’ll crater. I’ll buckle. I’ll say something stupid, again. I’ll freeze and say nothing. I’ll revert! I’ll be the exact same awkward, clueless, needy, uncertain, arrogant, unformed, human-in-the-making as I was, oh so long ago.
Yet oddly, I can feel surrender creeping up on me. My friends are my undoing. They’re on each side of me with their hands on my arms, pulling. “Come on!” they say. “It’ll be fun!”
I go limp like a child resisting bedtime. I don’t want to have fun. Don’t make me.
But I can see they’ll prevail. I’ll go.
I’m pretending to hold out, but I can feel my feet betraying me. They’ve begun to move, slogging, pulling out of the sucking mud of dread, marching toward the inevitable – old cliques, old crushes, old in-crowd v. old out-crowd.
Here it comes: A party where I’ll wear a nametag with my yearbook picture on it so my be-spectacled gray-haired peers can somehow bridge the chasm between that senior and this senior. A raucous good time where the golden oldies play so loud I’ll have to shout well-meaning but inane questions about what you’ve been up to and do you have kids.
In truth, I’ve already reverted. My latent immaturity has bobbed to the surface and is treading water, waiting for an opportunity to embarrass me. It twists every possibility into disaster and every nuance into innuendo.
Do I sound neurotic? Good then, you understand.
Oh sure, on paper, I had a fine high school experience. My pimples came mostly one at a time, and were strategically located. I deployed my eyebrow pencil and disguised them as “beauty marks.” I had long, straight blonde hair. Priceless in 1968.
I played what’s her name in “Barefoot in the Park.” I was secretary, or historian, or vice president of my class or my club or something. I was Student of the Month, but not until May.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve been told I was in with the in-crowd, the popular ones sharing inside jokes. So why didn’t it feel any better? If I’d only known I was cool, I would have relaxed.
And there’s the rub. Forty-five years later and that ole black magic has me stressing over who likes me, where I’ll sit, and if these jeans make me look fat, just like I did back then.
Thank goodness those weren’t really the best years of my life!
So I’m thinking this condition deserves a name all its own. What shall we call it? It’s a relative of that phenomenon whereby you reconnect with your old friends and take up right where you left off, as if nothing ever changed.
Good grief! Nothing ever did change! Oh sure, I grew up, lived a life, did stupid things and smart things, suffered, loved, lost, won, learned and learned and learned.
Yet here I am. Getting ready for my reunion. Regressing with every step. Making reservations for a trip back home and packing all the baggage that adolescent girl carried with her. So I hereby dub this constellation of swirling emotions the Samsonite Syndrome.
I can only hope the airlines will lose my luggage. Maybe I’ll travel light.