My apologies to all of you who plan, organize, and/or attend your 25th high school reunion. I sort of get where you’re coming from, but you’ll have to write me off your list. I’m not going, and you can’t make me.
I have fond memories of my six years at Charlotte Latin School, and there’s no one from the class of 1984 for whom I harbor the slightest feelings of ill will. Even those two boys who played a mean trick on me in Founder’s Hall to steal my tootsie rolls in seventh grade. Or the people who rigged my locker so when I opened it everything would fall out onto my feet. Or the two girls who stole my lunch money during assembly. Or the kids who wouldn’t speak to me at school but called me at home at 10:00 at night to ask for answers to homework. Or the girls who consistently chose me last for teams in P.E. Or my best friend of five years who dumped me senior year and hid in the photography dark room with her brother so she wouldn’t have to talk to me. She, at least, had good reason to shun me, though at the time I was too depressed to realize it.
With the exception of my former best friend, these kids were garden-variety bullies or snobs with trust funds, and I am certain karma took care of them long ago. Honestly, I hope every one of my former classmates is now happy, healthy, and successful—especially the boyfriend I so gracelessly dumped for reasons that had nothing to do with him. I do not, however, particularly want to see them again.
Don’t you think it would be a tad awkward?
I’d be delighted to have dinner with the old gang. I belonged to a group of kids who didn’t belong with the jocks or nerds or cheerleaders or troublemakers. We were eclectic and, I thought, much more interesting. Tim took me to both proms, introduced me to my husband, and was the best man at our wedding. Julie was one of my bridesmaids, and we still exchange Christmas cards. Ronn was George’s neighbor and one of his groomsman. Kathryn, Lawton, Suzette, Erica, Tammy, and Loretta...good peeps, each and every one.
My teachers were the best: Dr. Collins, Mr. Lentz, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Harmon, Mrs. Skidmore, Mr. Gardner, Miss Browning, and all the rest. The headmaster at the time, Dr. Fox, and the school nurse, Ms. Lindsay, also rocked. These grown-ups encouraged me and taught me. Heaven above, I still love them for it.
But let’s just say that my teen years were not the best of my life.
It’s weird being the not-rich kid at a rich kids’ school, sort of like being Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, only without the happy ending. Socially, you can never really belong. Your house is in the wrong neighborhood; you are not a member of the “right” country club because you are not a member of “any” country club; and you don’t have vacation homes at Beech Mountain and Kiawah Island. You don’t shop at the same stores or wear the same clothes or carry the right kind of purse.
Lawton, for example, had never set foot in Kmart until senior year when Tim needed batteries for his Walkman. When I was in elementary school, my grandfather bought my shoes at Kmart. That’s not something I mentioned to Lawton or anyone else at the time.
Now, however, I can tell the world because, thank God, I am no longer an awkward teenager who desperately wants to belong. Now, I’m just really, really grateful my grandfather loved me enough to buy my shoes when I needed them. I remember how I loved those shoes and felt so pretty wearing them. I’ve learned what is important in life, and it isn’t where you buy your shoes.
Ultimately, my family's lack of dusty old Southern money did not make my Charlotte Latin experience so miserable. Depression did that. Anyone who has been severely depressed and recovered knows exactly what I mean. If you’ve never been depressed, I highly recommend you get down on your knees right now and thank whatever deity you worship for your mental health.
Depression was the smoky and wildly distorting lens through which I viewed the world and myself in it. When you’re depressed, you lose your sense of perspective, so things that are really tiny in the grand scheme of the universe seem preternaturally huge, and the huge things—those things that can save your soul and your life—seem tiny and powerless. When you’re depressed, you are tortured by the razor nicks of a million little cruelties, overwhelming loneliness, and an exaggeration of pain to the point where the universe becomes a big, dark, inescapable pit of misery.
Yeah, I want to go hang with the peeps who were a part of that time in my life.
Fortunately, my mother, my husband, and a very nice psychologist helped me out of the pit. I learned to be happy, grateful, and confident again. In college, I figured out how to find a place, make friends, and be useful and real. It took time, but it all worked out for me. Rest assured, I thank my deity for that every single day.
Recently, I found an invitation to Charlotte Latin’s fall high school reunion activities in my mailbox. It displayed a montage of color photos of smiling, happy people having a great time. Call me cynical, but I’m unconvinced by the marketing. The rosy-tinted spectacles of nostalgia clash with my gray hair anyway.
I hope the class of 1984 has a wonderful time. Really, I do. I hope no one makes snide comments about people’s weight or careers. I expect most of them have learned how to be useful and real and grown up, just like I have. And I hope they don’t comment on how pathetic I was when they page through the yearbook and see my picture. But if they do, well, that is okay. I was pathetic.
But I was also hard-working, compassionate, accepting, helpful, and kind—or at least tried to be all those good things. Now, in my forties, I no longer beat myself up for my inadequacies and imperfections, though I still have plenty of them and they make me cringe frequently. I also deeply appreciate my strengths and try not to let them go to my head.
Balance and perspective are good. I’m so happy I found them and wouldn’t turn back the clock for all the dusty old money in the world.
So, to the Charlotte Latin Class of 1984, I salute you and wish you a happy reunion without me. I hope the last 25 years have been as good to you as they were to me. May the next 25 be even better to us all.