I went back to my old high school last night.
That’s not as momentous as it sounds, because I live just up the road from the school. I live closer now than I did when I was a student there. And over the years, I’ve stopped by the school for meetings and the like.
I even vote in the high school’s gym.
But last night I returned to attend the annual high school musical, which is still produced by the teacher who produced the shows back when I participated.
So last night’s experience was different from before. It wasn’t a meeting or voting, it was a high school flashback.
Before the musical started, I was waiting in the hallway while my friends were in the restroom. Standing there beside the skinny high school lockers, watching the chaperones and teenage techies running back and forth between the backstage door and the classroom down the hall, I felt like a freshman again, giggling with my friends as we applied make up to the cute senior cowboys staring in the production of Oklahoma.
I was so fully entrenched in the memories, that my friends were concerned when they joined me. They said I was pale and looked like I was going to pass out.
I guess the trip back in time wasn’t a good one.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have a miserable high school experience. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I wasn’t at the very bottom of the social ladder either. I was a good student, I had my own group of friends and I participated in numerous extracurricular activities. I was as happy as a high school student could expect to be.
Sure, I didn’t go to the prom, but frankly I never planned on going to the prom. I wasn’t, and I’m still not, particularly social especially in large groups. I didn’t go to any dances or big parties. Missing the prom certainly didn’t ruin my life like they suggest in every teen angst movie ever filmed.
So my high school flashback shouldn’t make me look like I’m going to faint dead away, right?
At intermission, I ran into an old high school friend who had also participated in the musicals. He was onstage, while I was backstage.
He said that coming back to see the shows made him feel warm, reminded him that the music program gave him a place to belong.
The annual musical and participating in the chorus meant the same for me.
The school theater was my home away from home for four years and ultimately guided my career path. So why did I grow cold and anxious when I was back at the school while he only felt the warm glow of happy memories?
I’ve since decided that there are two types of people in the world… those who glorify their high school days and think of it as one of the best times of their life and those for whom just the thought of high school brings out every insecurity they’ve ever felt.
I’m obviously in the latter category.
Unlike the stereotypes in the movies, I don’t think future success dictates which category you fall in. I’m not saying that the star quarterback and head cheerleader end up living in a trailer park with fourteen children while the school geek ends up owning a multi-million dollar company and marrying a supermodel.
That’s too cliché.
I hadn’t spoken to my old classmate in over twenty years but, if Facebook is to be believed, he has a happy life and successful career. So do I.
We both had relatively similar high school careers too, although he was more popular than I was.
So the difference in attitude is internal, something that is part of our being not brought about by external circumstances. It’s attitude.
My reaction to my high school flashback is probably why I avoid high school reunions.
Many members of my class did the whole twentieth reunion celebration… a float in the alumni parade, a barbecue, the dinner.
Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I was able to watch the planning, who took charge of each event and who was attending. I even knew the theme of the parade float.
But I didn’t attend any of the festivities, even though one of the gatherings took place at the pub right across the street from my office.
I don’t really have an excuse, other than the fact that the idea of seeing all those people again terrified me. Just like being back in that high school hallway, I’d probably turn white and look like I was going to pass out again.
And it has nothing to do with the people. I’m sure they’re all perfectly lovely. And I’d love to hear what they had been up to in the past twenty years.
But I can’t handle all the insecurities my high school memories dredge up. It’s not about unpleasant memories, but the feelings those memories invoke. They make we wonder if I’ve achieved everything I should. If my life could have been different. If I could be richer, make more of a difference in the world.
High school was a time of hope. You had your whole life in front of you. You could be anything you wanted to be.
When I revisit that time, either by going back to the building or talking to old classmates, I feel I have to justify every life decision I’ve made since then.
And I’m just insecure enough to question whether I made the right choices or not.
So I don’t think it has to do with current happiness. I think it’s about how confident you are in the path you have chosen in life and whether or not you are person who questions themselves.
Questioning is a good thing. I like that I’m always striving for more. But it’s still probably better for my mental health if I avoid high school reunions and hallways.