Desperately seeking reunion redemption
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: October 4, 2019
“C’mon, please go with me,” I begged Patti, “we’ll have fun, I promise.”
But my best friend since 9th grade was skeptical. She thought our 35th high school reunion could be a bust. But she agreed to go, as long as we — our husbands, Patti and I — would make a speedy exit when the time was right.
In the weeks after sending in my reply, my adolescent insecurities bubbled to the surface. I went on a crash diet. I combed the racks at TJ Maxx in search of just the right outfit. I got my nails and my hair done. I rehearsed my response to, “So what have you been doing for the last 35 years?”
But my decades-old fear of rejection was too entrenched to be completely quashed. No matter how satisfied I was with the path I took after high school, adolescence had imprinted certain insecurities on my psyche like a permanent tattoo.
After posting on our Class of 1984 Reunion Facebook page, I found myself monitoring the number of likes. “It says that my post was seen by 80 people, but I only got 15 likes,” I pathetically complained to Patti. I couldn’t fathom how my own kids coped with this kind of social media pressure on a daily basis. No wonder anxiety and depression are rampant today, I thought.
On my flight to Pittsburgh to meet Patti for our reunion odyssey, I wondered, why did I want to revisit the period of my life when my insecurities were spawned? I had missed all but our 20th reunion, because we moved so much as a military family. Patti didn’t care much about missing reunions, but I deeply regretted not being able to go, and had jumped on the chance this time. But why?
In high school, I precariously dangled from a social ladder belonging to the group of students who were not quite cool enough to be popular. We occupied the penumbral space that shadowed the popular crowd, hoping to be included in their parties and social gatherings.
At our 20th reunion, Patti asked one of our most popular classmates where she and I fit into the social scheme. He thought a minute, then arrogantly graced her with, “You and Lisa were on the bubble.”
Although I used humor in high school to overcompensate for my perceived inadequacies, deep inside I was desperate to drop 10 pounds, desperate to be cool, desperate for a boyfriend. I sought these things with intense longing, lying on my yellow twin bed, looking up at my Kliban Cat posters, yearning for more. Desperation was the hallmark of my teenage persona, so I would have been thrilled to find out that a popular guy thought I was “on the bubble.”
The reunion weekend started with a bonfire on Friday night, followed on Saturday by buffet dinner at the local Ramada Inn. Patti, our husbands and I arrived at the bonfire to find only a few members of the old popular and penumbral crowds. “Oh, I guess they’re too cool for us?” we joked with a hint of seriousness.
Fearful that Patti would signal “We’re outta here” at any moment, I worked the modest crowd quickly, chatting with everyone whose names hadn’t completely escaped me. The next night at the Ramada, we mingled somewhat awkwardly in an indoor courtyard space that was noisy thanks to the guest pool being only a few feet away from our buffet tables. Sweating, inhaling chlorine-laced steam and gnawing on chicken kebabs, I once again made an honest effort to converse with as many of my classmates as possible.
Flying home the next day, I finally realized why communing with my high school classmates had been important to me. As a teenager, I was so caught up in my own drama, I hadn’t noticed the triumphs and tribulations of most of the other people in my class. The reunion had been a way for me to get over myself.
To show respect for the people with whom I spent my high school years, to feel the cathartic camaraderie of having shared adolescence, and to finally, once and for all, leave desperation behind.