In considering the usual psychological tropes for why alumni don't attend their high school reunions my research has led me to the following conclusions:
(1.) He feels too fat. (2.) She's gotten divorced. (3.) He's never been married. (4.) She doesn't have children. (5.) He's unemployed. (6.) She's contracted the clap (which is preferable to the other, dreaded C-word). (7.) He hated high school. (8.) She peaked in high school (c'est moi?).
People are competitive. They will take a gander at every body in the room at their reunion to determine where they stand in the flock. How their successes and failures measure up to the successes and failures of their fellow graduates. Men who still have hair will feel superior. Women who still wear the same dress size they wore in high school will feel blameless and perhaps just a little bit holy. Folks who have high-profile jobs and a happy home life will be equally canonized and reviled.
So, why go to a high school reunion?
My 30th high school reunion takes place this coming Saturday, October 19th, and originally, I didn't want to go. Here's why:
My senior year in high school was extraordinary. After festering in obscurity freshman through junior year with a very bad case of frizzy hair and forehead zits, I suddenly came into the perfect storm of popularity. I was not a "cool" kid. But I was an extrovert/people-pleaser who hung out with the female jocks and the brains in the GATE program.
Turns out, there were more of us my senior year than kids in the "cool" clique, that, and my relentless flirtatiousness, ultimately lead to me becoming Homecoming Queen and senior class president. (If Obama were only more flirtatious, the Republicans would certainly get back to work!)
(Who could resist those incisors?)
I must've seemed, to most people, like I had the world by the tail. Yet, I remember being depressed the last semester of my senior year. I felt bored and oppressed by my life, which seemed tiny and stagnant. I couldn't get out of high school, or my medium-sized suburban town, fast enough.
Based on my senior year, I expected great things from myself, which is why I decided, after graduating USC with a bachelor's degree in journalism, to throw it all aside to become a movie star. Having never acted before. Because I'd been so popular in high school. Which would certainly translate to my adult life.
What happened next was astonishing.
I waited tables for 10 years.
I could often be found in the bistro of Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica wearing a lobster-spattered apron and a fish-themed tie, hoisting a tray of grey goose martinis that, if not fully imbibed by patrons, I'd sneak to the bus station and shoot down with a sourdough bread chaser.
It was a glamorous life.
At 30, living in a one-room rent controlled studio apartment in Venice with a homeless guy named Ted sprawled unconscious across my lawn most days, I realized I was a failed actress and went back to get a masters degree at UCLA in a field I was certain to dominate. Screenwriting. Because that's not competitive. And I was Homecoming Queen, so it had to work out.
I've made a living, but am embarrassed to put in print my produced credits. They weren't Fonzi jumping the shark. They were worse. My greatest career satisfaction came when two one-act plays I wrote FOR NO MONEY were staged, sold out and made audiences laugh and cry.
And don't get me started on my love life, which began inauspiciously at 16, when I attended junior prom with Vance Schmitz, who never spoke to me again afterward. I blame my father for answering the door while cleaning his guns.
What followed were gorgeous, athletic men who cheated. Or nice men who couldn't keep my attention. Both my younger sister AND eight-years-younger brother were married before me. Which is sad. Because I wanted to get married to men who wouldn't marry me. I finally figured it out by the time I was 36 and married a truly magnificent man. It had only taken me 20 years.
I'm most proud of my husband and kids. I'm also proud of my blogging work (even when I pimp my head lice). And I can still fit into a generous size 8 (think Chicos, not H&M). But why go to my 30th high school reunion having not achieved all of the things I thought I should've done by now?
Initially it was because I have to. I'm the one who is throwing the reunion because, having been senior class president, it's my job.
So, I put up a website, started a Facebook Group, got a People Finder's account and began trying to find the 600+ people who graduated with me in June of 1983. I wasn't motivated, was a bit resentful and decidedly lackluster about reconnecting with my past.
Then, something happened. I began making phone calls. Two to three hundred of them. Some lasting minutes, some for hours. I've spoken at length to people I hardly knew in high school because we're both curious about which way the wind has blown us, what we've survived, how we've thrived and who we've become.
What I've discovered is that life has treated us all pretty much the same. The cool kids, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the brainiacs, the stoners, the geeks and even the Homecoming Queen. Collectively, we've gained weight, gone bald, been divorced, married late, never had children, have children we love to the point of pain, suffered every ailment (including the dreaded "C" word), been under employed, unemployed and employed in jobs we never thought we'd be doing in a million years.
None of us has lived the life we expected to live.
Some of us are glad for that, others are frustrated, some are angry. But to a wo(man), we are more humble. More forgiving of ourselves and others. More open to not knowing what the next moment holds and feeling grateful we're even here at all. Because a sad and surprising number of us have already died.
What I hear again and again in these conversations is that, after 30 years, we recognize we're more alike than we are different and in no small part because we embarked on our adult lives in the same moment. Six hundred plus people scattered to the wind that sunny, dry Southern California June day. And whether we know it or not, we are each others' touchstones. And will be until we are no more.
This is the reason I'm going to my 30th high school reunion. Now, if I can just look good in my dress. Even when I bend over. xo
Follow Shannon Bradley-Colleary on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ShannonColleary