I flew down to Florida for my high school reunion.
I couldn’t miss it. Not because I was particularly eager to see people who I haven’t broken bread with in ten years, and who probably don’t remember my first name. Or because I was eager to exchange surface level conversation about what each of us have been up to since age 18, or how I’ve worked 5 different jobs in 5 years and could barely pay all of my bills last year.
I mainly wanted to go because I wanted to prove something to my 18-year-old self. I wasn’t sure what that was. I just knew I had to go, for her.
On my way home to Boca Raton, I took an Uber Pool (a shared ride) to JFK airport at 4am, with a guy and a girl who were just leaving a bar. She had tequila breath, him cigarette. They asked me why I was up, yet pie-eyed, and I told them I was jetting home for that 10-year reunion thing.
She laughed and gulped down air.
He leaned forward, eyed me up and down. “Good luck. But don’t go. It’ll make you feel pretty awful.”
I shoved the split ends off my forehead, leaned forward, eyed him up and down. “Thanks, but I have to go. I promised my 18-year-old self that I would.”
“I went to mine, 2 years ago,” Tequila breath said while snapchatting a picture of her cuticles. “But what’s the point? You know what everyone is up to on Facebook.”
“I’m just looking for something,” I said, unwrapping a piece of gum to offer her and the cigarette smeller. “I don’t know what.”
I still didn’t know what when I found myself hiding behind three other people on the way inside the high school reunion. I wasn’t ready to go inside. I was nervous, soaking my light pink dress with puddles of stress sweat, wondering if going to this thing was actually the worst idea I had in 10 years.
At 18, we think we’ll be something certain by the time we all meet again at age 28. I didn’t think I would married with kids or anything serious like that. But I thought I’d wear a suit, own a suit, have a closet filled with them. Instead, my closet hangs some of the very same Forever21 dresses I wore obsessively back then. I thought I’d have a career that made me some sort of millionaire, instead I have a career that makes the amount of cash in my bank account a little bit bipolar.
I thought I’d be more put together, but instead, I found myself showing up in a dress with perfume stains on the front, lipstick smeared across my front incisors and my hair frizzing, like it always does when I need it to just act cool.
I guess being 28 seemed like it felt so old, at age 18, but really nothing has changed, except now I know what a 401k and paying for my own health insurance is like.
I stayed at the reunion for an hour, maybe two, before deciding that what I was looking for wouldn’t be here. Wouldn’t be in the hugs from people who look almost the same, talk almost the same, and remember almost the same things about you that you’ve tried so hard to forget in the last century.
What I was looking for, I found when I got home, pulled myself into a cocoon of bed sheets on the bed I used to sleep in, at my parent’s house, and cracked open the mold smelling yearbook from my senior year.
Inside, a comment from someone I can’t remember ever really knowing, who didn’t show up at the reunion.
“Jenny,” It began. “When you’re old and wondering what you’re supposed to do with your life, remember that when you were 18 you said you wanted to be a Rockstar. Being a Rockstar is weird. I don’t think you really want to be a Rockstar Rockstar, like in a band. I think you just want to live a life that’s a bit of a glamorous mess. So do that. And do that well.”
I ripped that page out of the book and folded it up.
“Glamorous mess,” I said, out loud to my row of childhood stuffed animals and Beanie Babies. “Maybe that’s what I’m missing. Maybe that’s what I was supposed to find 10 years later.”
Maybe the point of high school reunions aren’t so that we can compare and contrast our lives with classmates who got a higher grade than us back in AP Economics. Maybe it’s not so that we can chug too many whiskey sours and confess our love to a guy we used to have googly eyes for in biology class, as we drool on his wife’s shoulders and look more like wimp than his two year old baby.
Maybe the point is to go and find yourself on a barstool all alone, or in the backseat of an Uber ride home, that you can barely afford, and wonder what the 18-year-old version of yourself would have wanted now, would have been most proud of. I guess I thought I’d be touring he world in a rock band, perhaps a millionaire with houses all over the world, and definitely married to Clay Aiken.
But then, as I sit underneath my covers, and log on to my old Myspace account and read Microsoft word files of saved conversations from AIM chats with ex-best friends, I realize that Jen at 18 was quite simple. She only wanted to continue to find ways to disrupt the world; to find dreams that she could outgrow and conquer faster than a cheap polyester tube top from Forever21.
And maybe if that’s the only thing I take away from the high school reunion, aside from a lump of business cards from people I’ll probably never see again for another 10 years, and hugs from people I wish I could see again in 10 minutes, it’s that it shouldn’t take 10 years to remember the only cool thing about living life is living it completely wild and outrageous.
Maybe nothing about us really changes in 10 years except our urgency to pursue those wild dreams we hardly ever talk about. Maybe a lot of things seem like they’ve changed, we found a soul mate, we have a family, we live some place that costs more money than we ever had, making $7 an hour at Panera, we spend our days at a desk – different than the one that our textbooks once rested on.
Maybe deep down in our core, we’re all still just a little confused, a little reckless, and a whole lot desperate to do something beautiful with our one change at life.
Or maybe high school reunions are meant to remind us that we still want to pee in our pants a little when the mean girls look our way. Or that our once boy-band looking crushes are now married and with a mini-van.
I’m not sure. I guess I have another 10 years to try and figure it all out.
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