Sunday, September 8 2019

reunion

1145 words

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Dear Journal,

Good morning everyone! It’s a beautiful, chilly Sunday morning. We had a pretty crazy day yesterday driving to Chicago for my high school reunion, and after asking so much of Marissa and Rodney, I thought it was only fair to use a church skip. We all slept in, and I baked two Dutch babies. For those keeping score, I made two variations today. The first had some cinnamon in the batter, and the second was made with buttermilk. Both variations were good, but not good enough to supplant our standard recipe. Warm whole milk, three room temperature eggs, salt, vanilla, flour, and clarified butter.

As I mentioned, yesterday was the high school reunion. We got to CLA some time around 1:30 PM. There was lots of stuff going on, as the school rents space to various groups in the summer. We let ourselves in and started setting up the tent, chairs, and grill out back by the field. It was such a strange feeling being back in that building. I was surprised by how little had changed in the last ten years (caveat: it was probably more like 8 years since I had been back, I was there briefly for Sarah’s graduation, oh and Sarah there’s still a giant stock photo style picture of you hung up in the cafeteria).

Around three, people started to trickle in. With Lexi’s help, we set up some decorations, got some music playing, and before we knew it people were comfortably mingling outside. I’m not going to lie to you - I was expecting a lot of awkwardness talking to people I haven’t seen in so long, but I was surprised at how natural it felt. Once you realize that everyone feels as awkward as you, the weirdness melts away, and you’re free to have a good time and reconnect with people. Beer and wine helps too. We spent most of the reunion just hanging out outside under the tent, flipping through yearbooks, and grazing on potluck food.

Toward the end, we decided to take a tour through the school. Mr. Bennett followed us around, unlocking pretty much any room we wanted to see. We had a good time trading stories. It was amusing hearing different people’s perspectives on the big “scandals” that happened during senior year - suspensions, fights, pranks gone awry. All things that were so gravely serious at the time, now ten years later with all the wounds healed, reduced to just a great party story.

I really enjoyed seeing my seventh grade classroom again. Mr. Bennett told us that we were the last class to use the space before they converted it into a storage. I’m not surprised, the temperature situation was pretty wild down there. The classrooms were each equipped with a giant heater, and the temperature in the classroom would wildly swing from the low sixties to the high seventies whenever it kicked on - but given how cold some of our winters were, sometimes you wanted that. We used to gather around the heater in Mr. Lindstrom’s room and enjoy the blast of hot hair, like it was a luxurious Roman bathhouse.

Seventh grade was probably my favorite year. Walking around in that classroom yesterday, I felt like I was an intruder in somebody’s basement. But it used to feel like the safest place in the world.

After relishing a few final moments in the building, Mr. Bennett locked up and we started to pack the car. I’d spend the rest of the drive home to Madison reflecting on high school. I was feeling a lot of confusing sensations of regret and embarrassment, like I owed somebody an apology, but I didn’t remember what I did, nor to whom it was owed. My conversation with Mr. Bennett lingered in my thoughts. I joked “I feel like such a different person compared to who I was then, I almost feel like it’s unfair to hold me responsible for the things I said in high school.” He laughed and added, “I tell students all the time, what you say to people matters. You’re all only in high school, but people remember everything.”

My relationships with teachers, friends, and classmates in high school seemed so much more complicated back then. I remember being overwhelmed at how difficult it was to navigate the social network at school: figuring out how to get your work done, plan events, keep in touch with friends, make sure teachers felt respected, all the while balancing teenage emotions. I was so self-conscious of violating the unspoken social rules of high school, but looking back, I can’t shake the feeling that I was over-complicating things. My social life at school wasn’t the tenuous thread I made it out to be. All that time, the people around me at school were caring for me, forgiving me, trusting my better intentions, and giving me room to develop and figure out my personality. On the car ride home, feelings of regret and embarrassment morphed into feelings of gratitude.

Watching us all stand around and drink beer in a field, suddenly high school ten years ago felt like a play, and we were actors relaxing during the intermission. Our angsty, self-centered high school personalities were set aside, and we all felt so similar. I wish I could have done high school all over again with that knowledge. If I knew about this bond we shared, perhaps I would have been more forgiving, more empathetic, and more patient with my peers.

Going back to what Mr. Bennett said to me, “what you say to people matters, even in high school.” It’s a humbling thought knowing that your words and actions get woven into someone’s memories, even if they didn’t make it into your own. You can’t control everything. You can’t dictate what people remember about you and how your actions affect everyone. I think that’s why high school felt so complicated to me at the time. Really, all you have to do is have good intentions. If you care about someone and assume the best in them, they learn to assume the best in you, and you can sweat the small stuff.

I love the class of 2009. There’s not a lot of people that share my unique CLA experience, so I’m going to try to keep them close. Thanks for being part of my story. It was wonderful to see some of you again, and for the next reunion, I hope more of you can make it.

To everyone else, hope you have a wonderful Sunday afternoon. I’m going to walk to the grocery store with Rodney, today feels like a great day to make pea soup.