This weekend, I went to my 30th highschool reunion. It was a very strange experience, especially due to it being bookended between my other summer adventures, especially my trip to San Diego last weekend and my upcoming trip to Copenhagen this week.
I really haven't been to Vicksburg in 30 years. Upon reflection, that's not quite true: I visited Jon Comstock in Vicksburg twice during the first 15 years after I graduated High School. But I practically haven't been back to Kalamazoo in 15 years since I finished my doctorate and I certainly haven't been back to Vicksburg. It seemed more prosperous -- and somewhat less grim -- than I remembered.
My first reaction to seeing my classmates? Damn, we're old. Looking at myself in the mirror, I know we've gotten old, but I've watched my face age day by day. Seeing the old classmates as old men and women was really strange. Most of us have a weight problem too. Lots of bald men too.
I wouldn't have gone to a reunion 10 years ago. I might not have gone 5 years ago. In fact, I was initially happy when they picked the 23rd of July, since I was already scheduled to go to Copenhagen by then. But I made the mistake of saying I couldn't attend and they moved the date up. Since they did that, I felt somewhat obligated to attend. I also found that I wasn't as rabidly opposed as I was 10 years ago.
When I graduated and left Vicksburg, I thought, "Good riddance." I really never wanted to go back or see most of those people ever again. I always felt miserably out-of-place in High School and nursed a black cup of bitterness over my experience for years. But time gives perspective and I eventually recognized that most of us felt out of place and unhappy. Different people reacted to the circumstances in different ways: I can certainly recognize now that I wasn't always at my best. And given how difficult it was for me, who am I to judge how others got themselves through that hellhole.
I was very pleased to see a few people: Jim Howell, in particular, who I was very close to in those years. He got religion and has become a right-wing nutjob. But he's still a good guy. And I respect his choices, no matter how wrong they are. It was great to see Jeff Moran, who lived close by when I was growing up. And Leanna Marr, who I didn't know well in school, but who went on to get a graduate degree and is posted in Macedonia. And John Ballard, who's brother is a tenured biologist somewhere, but who stayed in town, got a job, and has been married for nearly the entire 30 years. And Lorene Lyons. And Keith Hovious.
People were mostly not surprised to learn I'd ended up a professor someplace. Massachusetts? Amherst? Out east someplace, right? What do you teach? (yawn) Oh, that's interesting.
I was disappointed by a number of people didn't come, in spite of still living close by. Jon Comstock. Mike Kozan. Leroy Heikes.
It was sad to see how many hadn't made it. A long list: 10 or maybe a dozen. Automobile accident. Drunk driver. Suicide. Cancer. Obesity.
It was sad to see how many people smoked. The party basically moved outside, although half was because the music was so loud you couldn't talk inside. And probably risked hearing loss.
They handed out a questionaire and made a series of silly awards based on the results. The "breeders cup" for most children. For the most grandchildren. For coming the farthest. For being married the longest. I won the "Egghead Award" for the most advanced degrees.
Rod Landrum, who'd always been a bit of a smartass was M.C. for the awards ceremony and delivered a very thoughtful, heart-felt little speech that I thought captured the way many of us felt. I wouldn't mind getting the text -- it was good.
The organizers had done a great job. Oh, the names on the name tags could have been a bit bigger. And there volume might have been a bit lower. But it was about as good as it could have been.
I left a bit early: around 9:30, I quietly payed my tab and slipped out into the night. The sky was still light when I left, but it was dark soon. I drove back on the backroads, following the route my bus used to take in school. They had just mown the hay in some of the fields, and I wrote a haiku about the fireflies, while I tried to sort out my feelings.
Coming back, for me, was about confronting my insecurities, fears, and bitterness. I saw the people I wanted to meet. The people who wanted to meet me got their chance. Coming back helped me demonstrate to myself that the past doesn't hold any power over me. Although, it does, of course. The experiences I had during the horrible time shaped me indelibly. When I hear girls laughing, I still have a strong negative reaction, because the pain of the mockery I experienced in those years still burns.
Now, I can put those feelings back in the box and look forward to my next big adventure. I'll have two quiet days at home to get ready and then set off for a week at the Universala Kongreso -- the premier Esperanto experience in the world. Venu kaj venku mi!