My high school class is in the throes of planning its 30th reunion. To get us excited about the upcoming festivities, the planners periodically ask us questions on Facebook. The current question is, “Where did you work in high school?” This question instigated any number of fond memories. But it dredged up awful memories too.
One of my friends was living with her father and step-mother during high school and the father died a painful death of disease. After her father died, she was shuffled between the remarried step-mother and her previously estranged mother for the duration of her high school years. Another friend found her mother’s dead body after she had committed suicide. Another friend watched his father try to murder his mother with a gun (luckily he missed). My husband spent his high school years watching his younger sister become schizophrenic and dealing with all the family turmoil that caused. I could go on and on with such stories. If you don’t have them yourself, I’m sure you have friends who do. To protect my family’s privacy (and my own sanity), I won’t go into the specifics of the misfortunes that my son and I perceived as tragedies during our high school years, although I will say that none involved suicide, attempted murder or guns.
I read these cheerful reminisces and wonder, “Am I the only one who gets this filled with dolor when I remember those days?” Even remembering my job brings water to my eyes because the lives of the people I worked with were so sad. Acquaintances from high school remember how they felt about taking certain tests and I think, “Good grief. Studying and tests were a relief for me. If I ever worried about a test, I would consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I didn’t have other matters pressing my mind harder.”
Misfortunes are such a slippery slope, it’s hard for me to even think much about them. I may think being afraid of a high school test is silly, but the African mother in a refugee camp in a foreign country who has just seen her children beheaded and her village burned down would have a strong case for finding my problems trivial. So, here’s a wild paradox: all misfortunes are trivial AND all misfortunes are serious. If someone tells us that sugar is the most evil substance on the planet, do we really have any choice but to believe that is true for her?
The difference between high school Julia and adult Julia is that, back then, I expended a great deal of effort convincing myself and others that my private “tragedies” didn’t matter. Whereas now, when I think of the misfortunes of my life, I say to myself , “Yeah. That was (is) bad. What are you going to do about it today?” The irony was that in high school, I was always looking for friends who were “real” about their lives, but I wasn’t “real” about mine. Maybe I keep going to school reunions of all sorts in hopes of being awarded a do-over. Sometimes that happens.
The DVD case for the movie “Juno” says that she takes a “detour” into adulthood when she goes through pregnancy in high school. Yesterday I was irritated by the superficial nature of so many childhood memories, but today I’m having fun taking a “detour” into high school, which I didn’t do much at the time, since I was pre-occupied with studying and hiding from my real life. Maybe, instead of a do-over, I’ll stay on that detour and remember everything about high school as ideal. We’ll see how I feel that week. Maybe I finally figure out how to do both.
Are you going to your next class reunion? Why or why not?