Live Through This

My Super Sweet 15

Some early warnings about high school reunions.

Collage by Camille

Collage by Camille

Like the prom, a high school reunion is the kind of thing you’re exposed to for years before your turn comes around—they turn up in the movies (see: Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, 10 Years, Grosse Point Blank) and on TV (everyone seems to have done a reunion episode, including 30 Rock, Smallville, Supernatural, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Golden Girls, etc. etc. etc.). I went to my 15th high school reunion last night, and let me tell you, it’s not like in the movies. Here’s how.

1. They don’t just happen once.
In all those movies and on all those shows, the high school reunion is a singular, momentous, once-in-a-lifetime occasion. You get just one shot to show all your former classmates that you’re happy and accomplished and better-looking than you were at 18, ta da, catharsis! But often, reunions happen every five years. My fifth took place in a bar in the East Village. I got very drunk and told many, many people how much I loved them. It was true! I sat on my friends’ laps and it felt, in many, ways, just like high school. I was only a year out of college, and the collegial atmosphere wasn’t that different from my high school experience. I had stayed in touch with lots and lots of people (and, dare I date myself, this was pre-Facebook) and had fun just hanging out. It didn’t matter what anyone did for a job, or whether they had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. No one looked significantly different. When it was time for my 10-year reunion, I wasn’t living in New York City anymore, and so I missed it. That was probably a good one in terms of observing life changes, because a lot of people were coupled up, and it’s always funny to see who people marry. Last night was just the latest in a series that will go on until we’re old and gray. Is that depressing or reassuring? I’m not sure.

2. Not everyone shows up.
In the past few weeks, I have begged and pleaded with all my closest friends from high school (the ones I still talk to) to go to the reunion with me. Guess how many agreed? ZERO. A couple of them would have, but no longer live nearby. The others had various reasons: One didn’t want to go because they were single, one didn’t want to go because they didn’t like anyone on the RSVP list, etc. One friend who actually works at our high school told me that he would rather die than attend. In all, about 30 people from my graduating class showed up—a third of our grade. That is not very many people. I was actually friends with four of them in high school, and friendly enough with lots of others, but there wasn’t that frisson of former closeness that can make parties like that really giddy and fun. I had dragged my husband along, thinking that there would be lots of other partners there, which made it too easy to not talk to as many people as I should have. The whole thing felt sort of like a dream sequence, where you recognize lots of faces but don’t actually have any significant interaction.

3. The drama quotient is very low.
This is maybe the most disappointing truth about reunions. Unlike in movies, where secrets are revealed and people have sex in bathrooms, actual reunions are mostly people standing around talking about where they live and what their jobs are. When I suggested I write about my impending 15th reunion, my editors imagined I’d come back with tales of reality-TV-worthy scandal. The reality was much less spectacular. Because I’m seven months pregnant, I talked to every single person about my unborn child and when he is due to come into the world. The highest drama of the night was when a friend I’m not really in touch with anymore scolded me for not coming to any of his poetry readings. The girl who stole my 10th grade boyfriend was perfectly friendly. The only really good gossip was that two guys in the grades above me had recently and simultaneously married a pair of sisters, and that a boy who’d been kicked out in the 10th grade had pulled a knife at the wedding’s afterparty. This story went around like wildfire, as it was clearly the juiciest thing for miles.

The best part of the night was actually when we went to bed that night. One of my neighbors is about to graduate from high school, and she was having a party. When the party finally broke up, her friends spilled out onto our street and were noisily saying goodbye to each other and talking about how to get home. I could have gotten up and peeked out my window like a creepy old lady, but I didn’t—I just stayed in bed and listened. Their voices carried into the night, reminding me what it felt like to be on the cusp of something so enormous.

Before the reunion, when I was complaining to one of my friends that no one wanted to go with me, she reminded me that not everyone had a good time in high school. But I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that you were there, and you had whatever kind of time you had—good or bad or, more likely, somewhere in between, fluctuating back and forth on giant hormonal waves. Personally, I loved being in high school. I also cried almost every single day. It’s a very complicated period of your life, when you’re trying to sort out what kind of person you are and want to be. That’s the sweet nostalgia that a high school reunion is designed to incite. It kicks in when you look across the room at long-forgotten faces and think, like Dorothy, You were there, and you were there, and you were there. We were all there together, 15 years ago, bright and young, and clueless about what was to come. And so I’m looking forward to my 20th, in 2018. See you there. ♦

32 Comments

  • Chloe22 June 12th, 2013 11:16 PM

    Great article (as usual) but I would love to read something on here about homeschooling. I’ve been homeschooled my whole life, and a lot of these high school themed articles make it seem like it’s the greatest experience ever. And for some, yeah.But as progressive and innovative as Rookie is, wouldn’t it be nice to have an even representation? I have no prob with going to school. Most of my friends go and are awesome people. I just think us homeschoolers deserve greater recognition in this world.

    • spudzine June 13th, 2013 12:05 AM

      I appreciate the honesty of this article, but I second this comment.

      http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
      http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
      http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

      PS-HOMESCHOOLING FTW!

    • hellorose June 13th, 2013 7:28 AM

      I would be interested to read something about homeschooling because it is something I know very little about. I maybe wrong in saying this, but I think it happens less in the UK, or at least we hear about it less. I would love to hear about it from the perspective of someone who actually *is* homeschooled, rather than an article written by a journalist who focuses more on the parents with only cursory mentions of the children/teenagers.

    • flapperhatgirl June 13th, 2013 10:26 AM

      I know! It would be great to have a homeschool article on rookie. I’ve been waiting for one for, like, forever. Homeschooling is great. An article busting apart homeschool myths would be great. I’d love to write one, but I’m worried it wouldn’t be accepted.

      • TinyWarrior June 13th, 2013 1:48 PM

        Although I really, truly did love this article (because it still resonated with me), I agree that a homeschool article would be awesome! As far as I know, none of the Rookie staff was homeschooled through their teen years, so I’m not sure if any of them would be able to give a completely truthful representation of it. Maybe some of us homeschooling Rookie readers could submit one?

      • Brinn Cheney June 13th, 2013 4:40 PM

        I just started homeschooling this year and I think that would be really interesting!

      • Maddy June 13th, 2013 5:20 PM

        Just write it! You never know.

    • oharnoldlayne June 13th, 2013 7:35 PM

      Someone should definitely write an article about homeschooling. I was homeschooled until eighth grade and I remember getting in an argument with a sub who seemed to think homeschoolers barely hung out with friends and it seems like some people think all homeschoolers are awkward and unsocial, so it would be good if people who’ve never homeschooled could read about it.

    • RichelleP June 13th, 2013 9:32 PM

      Chloe, I think you should write and submit a homeschooling piece if you would be comfortable doing so. I’ve been homeschooled for only the last year, and don’t really know any other homeschooled teens especially since the only group in my town is mostly elementary aged children that homeschool for religious reasons. It would be really cool to read a perspective like yours, I think.

  • lauraunicorns June 13th, 2013 12:22 AM

    I just graduated from high school and I’m trying to sort of reconcile the mishmash of feelings I guess. I enjoyed high school, but I always find myself wishing I’d had more classic Americana-high-school moments like the ones in Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Virgin Suicides or anything directed by John Hughes. But at the same time I know that of course that’s romanticized and no one really experiences anything exactly like it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have friends that I trust enough to have experienced just a few of those great nostalgic moments with. But it all seemed to be over so quickly, and now I miss it… I guess my point is, it’s so easy to romanticize high school once it’s in the past. And sometimes I force myself to remember how terrible AP Calculus was just so I don’t get too caught up in my rose-colored glasses.

    • llamalina June 13th, 2013 9:11 PM

      To be honest, I feel like I have had some moments that felt exactly like a scene from Perks or The Virgin Suicides. Granted, not all areas of my high school experience are as aesthetically pleasing and dramatic enough to be movie-worthy (finals week, ugh), but I feel like I am definitely having a classic high school movie experience. I think it just depends on the friends that you make, and the effort you make to create these romanticized moments.

    • Manda June 13th, 2013 10:19 PM

      I completely know what you mean. I’m graduating in (eep) two weeks, and all I can think about lately are John Hughes movies and just the notion of high school from the perspective of pop culture in general. I feel scared to leave the institution of high school itself that I’ve known for 4 years, and I’m afraid that I’ll never get to enjoy these high school movies that I’ve come to love.

  • Tara A. June 13th, 2013 2:05 AM

    I always found the high school reunions in movies to be waaay too dramatic and unrealistic- and I haven’t even graduated high school yet! It was nice to read about what they’re really like.

    http://unlockingpandorasbox.blogspot.com

  • kittyweasel June 13th, 2013 3:30 AM

    HAH. I second the man who said he would rather die than go to the reunion. No f’ing way.

  • Sophie ❤ June 13th, 2013 6:35 AM

    This was a great article! Thanks, rookie!

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • eggshell73 June 13th, 2013 9:22 AM

    I waited until my 20th to go to a reunion. I had a good time, mostly with a group of guys I’ve known since first grade. Most of us agreed, though, we didn’t need to do this again until maybe our 25th.

  • eggshell73 June 13th, 2013 9:23 AM

    …also, I think the homeschooling front needs to write the homeschooling articles they want to see. ;) Go for it!

  • catpower44 June 13th, 2013 10:07 AM

    I’m only in tenth grade-a few more years for me, but I think going to a reunion would be interesting. There are some people in my class of 20 (I go to an extremely small school) who I wonder about, like future wise. There a lot who I don’t really care for, but still, I’m quite curious about what paths some people are going to take.

    http://cosmicglitterqueen.blogspot.ca/
    http://cosmicballerinas.tumblr.com/

  • saramarit June 13th, 2013 11:25 AM

    Last year would have been my ten year reunion if we did that sort of thing here, I don’t think it’s as big a deal in the UK. I definitely wouldn’t have attended, I have no curiousity about anyone I went to high school with! I’m friends with people I met in high school but I see them often so there’s no need for a reunion. I found out this year that they are knocking down my former high school and they invited people to come and see it for the last time but I’m quite content to leave the past in the past.

  • nerual June 13th, 2013 11:40 AM

    yes yes yes i loved this part: “i loved being in high school. i also cried almost every single day.” now that i’m a high school graduate (class of 2012…you wish you were 1, 2) i have realized how much fun i had in high school.

  • Narnia June 13th, 2013 3:14 PM

    Wait… you only had about 90 people in yout graduating class, emma?? what? i have about 400 whoa. Anyway, I also think a homeschooling article would be cool because i always hear neg./conflicting rumors about homeschooled kids and id like them to be debunked. Also, I looove being in highschool. sometimes just ackowledging that im in highschool makes me smile. i just think about all the things ive seen/heard/read that im currently living and it makes me so happy. and i hope to become someone’s patrick/sam when im a senior

  • Brinn Cheney June 13th, 2013 4:39 PM

    Really interesting

  • eremiomania June 13th, 2013 5:01 PM

    I’m really excited for my high school reunions not because of “drama” but because I am so interested to see what everyone will be doing with their lives, even people I hate.

  • Harley June 13th, 2013 8:44 PM

    I just graduated in May and I don’t think I would want to attend my reunion when the time comes. I disliked pretty much all of the student council/popular types and I’m sure they would be the only ones who would actually care about attending. I have no desire to ever see them again. The only people I do want to see are my friends and I don’t need a reunion to hang out with them.

  • Mags June 13th, 2013 9:14 PM

    I don’t know. High school reunions seem incredibly dull to me. Unless you’re the popular girl who knew everyone, who cares what some guy from your English class whose name you don’t remember does now for a living??

  • Jeannette June 14th, 2013 12:45 AM

    Hi guys, I read the article and really loved it. I love everything you guys are about. I saw in the comments that you guys were looking for someone to write an article on homeschooling, and I would be willing to help if you’d like. I was homeschooled through most of high school because of bullying and feel like I have a pretty good perspective. <3

  • LikeToSaySmock June 14th, 2013 12:36 PM

    There’s a photo of me at my fifth high school reunion looking simply miserable. I vaguely recall being very disappointed in how little people had changed. There had been such a major shift during freshman year of college that during Thanksgiving and Winter breaks one could already start to see us growing apart. I had therefore hoped to see more evidence of growth and maturity, but it turned out to be too easy to fall back into the patterns of comfortable old relationships. Enough hadn’t happened to force people to reevaluate each other yet.

    Tenth year was much better. Hair had began to thin, waistlines had began to spread, and the number of attending spouses and fiancees almost equaled attendees. The dynamic was different enough that there were opportunities to get to know the current person instead of just revisiting with the memory of the former one.

    It’s not a perfect system. While a few people have radically changed and reinvented themselves through weight alteration, medication, or fashion, it’s still easiest to start with your old impressions of someone as the conversational opener. My father loves attending his reunions because he says that even if the people who show up weren’t his friends, they’ve all done so much in their lives that the conversations are fascinating. I don’t think my peers are quite there yet — despite having a small handful of people completely fail to recognize me at all at my fifteenth year reunion… which is a odd shock to one’s identity — but it’s a nice optimism as the semi-decennial clock clicks its way toward year twenty.

  • _Izzie June 16th, 2013 5:12 PM

    I finished secondary school about a month ago, and this article made me think how interesting it would be to see everyone in 20 years. I really wonder what people would be like, how they would change, who would achieve their ‘dreams’, who wouldn’t…damn I wish I could time travel..

  • DoubleorNothing June 16th, 2013 5:39 PM

    There is no reunion scene in Love & Basketball. There is a prom/spring fling scene but no high school reunion.

    • Anaheed June 16th, 2013 7:57 PM

      Thanks for the correction!

  • lastminutelulu June 16th, 2013 8:31 PM

    Great article! I’ve yet to go to a HS reunion, more out of laziness than anything else. I loved HS and had a (mostly) great time, and kept in touch with a lot of people after we graduated. I did lose touch with most of them when I moved to another city after college.

    Facebook has made it really easy to find people and find out most of the stuff I’m curious about (who got married, they have HOW many kids?!, etc.), so it saves me the travel time whenever I’m invited to another reunion.

  • friendlychuckle June 17th, 2013 8:54 PM

    **one didn’t want to go because he or she