It's still weird enough as it is when someone I work with comes up to me at the office and says, "Hey, I read blah blah blah on your blog the other day." But it's super-weird -- not bad, you know, just weird -- when someone who was one of your best friends in high school but whom you probably haven't seen in at least eight years sees you at your 10-year reunion and asks, "So, Doug, how do you feel?"
I don't know. I guess it just shows to go you, whether by choice or just circumstance, nobody's ever quite as remote or hidden or far-off as they think they are these days. I guess I had an itch to get the hell away from Columbus after I graduated from college, but after a year in a city where I was kind of bored most of the time and just didn't feel like I was at home, I realized that going far away just for the sake of going far away isn't always the best strategy. Since then I've found sort of a happy medium -- living close enough to C-town that I can visit when I like, but maintaining a respectful distance otherwise.
Enough of a distance -- I thought -- to reinvent myself unnoticed, as all good late bloomers secretly pine to do. I wasn't a dork in high school -- certainly not as much as I was in junior high, and don't even get me started on that -- but I wasn't necessarily ultra-popular either. Even though our high school was pretty cliquish, I don't think that I actively didn't get along with any one particular group, but there were certain people I guess I felt more comfortable with others. And when I stuck my neck out by being in a play or running for some student-government position or something like that, it was usually because someone had asked me to, not because I had the inclination all on my own. I still think I play a better sidekick than leading man in a lot of ways.
It wasn't really until I went to college that I started doing more stuff and taking more chances -- bidding (successfully) to become the editor-in-chief of the student paper at college, moving away from home to try and get a weekly magazine off the ground in a small town, attempting to join the Peace Corps, getting involved in politics in Alabama and assuming what quickly became a pretty public role (at least locally) with the Kerry campaign last year. I didn't write a bestseller, didn't get elected to any kind of public office, didn't win a Super Bowl ring or bang Paris Hilton, but all things considered I figured I'd amassed a pretty decent list of accomplishments and experiences to sock away and bring with me to the reunion this weekend. A lot of people dread their 10-years, but I was looking forward to mine -- not because I was eagerly anticipating the chance to hold a lot of stuff over anyone's head, but because I'd changed a lot and, as self-centered as this sounds, was sort of looking forward to see what people would think about it.
The cliche about high-school reunions is that people dread them because of the way they've changed in 10 years -- maybe they were attractive and got fat; maybe they had it all together but became alcoholics; maybe they were the ultra-popular life of the party but ended up with a shitty job and a cookie-cutter house in the 'burbs. After this weekend, though, I don't think people dread reunions because they're scared of what people will think about how they've changed. I think the real deep-down dread comes from knowing just how much we've stayed the same.
The first "official" event of our reunion weekend was Friday night, when a bunch of people were getting together for cocktails at a bar downtown. I saw a few people there -- though not a huge number, since the "main event" wasn't until Saturday night -- and got a lot of compliments, even a few approvingly wide-eyed looks, about how much different I looked from 10 years ago. (OK, see, this is why I hate writing in the first person about myself. I sound like such a tool. Just bear with me for the time being, because I'm never going to do this again.)
So anyway, at least among the group of people that I considered myself good friends with back in high school, I was feeling pretty happy and glad that people noticed the ways in which I was different from who I used to be. And then a funny thing happened: I was walking into the lobby of the hotel where the reunion dinner was held last night -- the big event that the most people showed up at -- and the first people I saw were some members of what had been the popular jock/cheerleader-type crowd 10 years ago. And pow! -- I was back in high school again, afraid to go up and talk to them, not at all sure if we'd have anything to say to each other.
Someone once said, and these may be the truest words ever spoken, that we always regret the things we didn't do more than the things we did. And I know I sure have a lot more of the former type of regrets than the latter. From high school I've carried with me a laundry list of things I didn't do (even though I wanted to), girls I didn't ask out (even though I wanted to), opportunities I didn't take (even though I wanted to) that I'd give anything to go back and re-do. And for late bloomers like me, it's always tempting to think we're going to march back into a situation like a reunion and right all those wrongs, fix the one or two or three sins of omission that have nagged at us over the last 10 or however many years. But we don't, because as much as we think we've changed, metamorphosized from fun but mostly unassuming sidekicks into superheroes capable of pretty much anything, we really haven't. Ten years is a long time, but not long enough to change us entirely.
But I realized something else -- as depressing as that probably sounded at first, that's OK. Those roads not taken in high school were not taken 10 to 14 years ago, and that's too long for them to make much of a difference now even if you could try and re-take them now. What I'm saying is that we're not meant to re-fight those battles -- you can spend all your time trying to fix the things you did wrong (or not at all) ten years ago, but your life in the present is still hurtling forward, and time spent trying to redo stuff from 1995 is only detracting from the things that need to be tended to in 2005. The best you can hope for -- and it's really not all that bad, because it matters -- is that you learn from those mistakes, those sins of omission that are still nagging at you 10 years out, and vow to be courageous enough to not make them the next time, whenever that is.
Anyway, the reunion was a blast. I did drink waaaayyyy too much Friday night and felt like ass all day Saturday, but I'm feeling a little better now, and the doctor says I'm on the list for a new liver, so that's cool. Some people had changed a lot, some people hasn't changed at all; some people looked better, some people looked worse, but the important thing is, everybody looked happy. All things considered, the Hardaway High School class of 1995 has done pretty well for itself.
The thing is, in spite of things regretted or opportunities not taken, I didn't feel too envious of any of my classmates, at least not the ones who had more money than me or were better-looking than me. I did feel a little jealous of the people who'd gotten married and had kids, because when you're paying rent on a shabby apartment in the bohemian tattoo-parlor-and-dive-bar district of Birmingham and still working on adding to your beer-bottle collection and you're talking to someone responsible enough to have found a spouse, be parenting two kids, and purchase an honest-to-god house, it's hard not to wonder if maybe there was some critical memo you didn't get somewhere along the line about "How To Be An Adult." But, uh, I'm working on it.
I think the happiest-looking person I saw all weekend was my friend Angie, the one who asked me how did I feel at the barbecue Saturday afternoon. She was one of my best friends in high school, and if there was a "rebellious crowd," we were in it (though she probably to a greater extent than I), pissing off teachers and playing freaky music and shunning football games on Friday nights to go to Denny's and smoke cigarettes and do all the things our parents would never have approved of (at least mine wouldn't, in any case). She graduated from Georgia, lives in Winder (about halfway between Athens and Atlanta) with a husband and two kids and an SUV, and manages art and music programs for a small church in Gwinnett County. In other words, about 180 degrees from what I would've predicted if you'd asked me 10 years ago what everyone would be doing in 2005. But you know what? She looked fantastic, her family is beautiful, and it all reminded me that happiness is to be found where you want to find it, not where other people want to put it for you.
That said, when our 20-year comes up about this time in 2015, I'd really like to arrive at it in a Mercedes convertible with a Victoria's-Secret-catalogue-caliber blonde in the passenger's seat.
But even if that doesn't happen, I think I'll live.