The Way We Were — and Are Now

Posted: August 17, 2011 in aging

Facebook provides a perfect platform for reaching out to high school friends. But do we really want to?

One of the more social media-savvy members of my high school graduating class created an exclusive Facebook site where we former Tigers can gather electronically, swap life stories and revel in the good old times. The site has grown quickly, and it has turned into a bit of a brag rag where we list our many accomplishments (spouses/children/grandchildren/jobs/homes/travels/honors) since our big graduation celebration in May 1970.

Most of the women in my class are recognizable in the accompanying photos (perhaps because it’s socially correct for us to keep ourselves up), but I strain to recognize many of the balding, paunchy, red-faced men as the young studs we all swooned over so many years ago. Yeah, Time’s beaten me up pretty badly, too, but my blonde hair and blue eyes still give me away. I don’t think you need to find a yearbook to figure out who I am/was.

The very curious thing about the site is that, despite the savagery of time, we’re still those very same 18-year-olds — to one another. Like ants trapped in amber, we haven’t changed. The labels seem still to be in place: jocks, homecoming queens, rich kids, brains, band (or choir) geeks, clowns, babes, misfits, drunks. In particular, the social strata that we were locked into in high school clearly still exist, especially to those who sat on top of that pecking order. The people who are the most active on the new site seem to be those who peaked somewhere around the 12th grade.

And, as a result, while I found the first few weeks of the site interesting and even fun, I’m now avoiding it.

Looking back, I knew I could never be a babe or a beauty, so I became a brain. I was well-enough liked, I suppose. There was always a girlfriend to share a locker with, or sit by at lunch or at an assembly, or stand around with at the after-game dances. But to the boys in my class, I wasn’t a dazzler. I was good for a telephone study group or for a few jokes in class, but I just wasn’t someone a guy wanted to be seen with. I attended a few awkward parties, and I asked a couple of “safe” boys to the girl’s choice dances, but I didn’t date until I got to college. Most of the time all I ever got from the high school boys was a muted “Hi” in passing. If that.

But I left high school laden with scholarships, graduated from college, traveled abroad and went to work. I married happily, became the mother of sons and made some warm bonds with male friends and colleagues over the years. And I thought I put all that high school social crap behind me.

A member of our class recently died from cancer, and his death really lit up the conversation on the Facebook site. What a great guy. Everybody’s friend. He make everyone feel better about themselves. Do you remember when he…? What a riot! We were all lucky to have known him. Didn’t you just love him?

Really? Although we had plenty of mutual friends, including my pretty and popular locker-mate, this guy never gave me a second glance. I don’t ever remember having any sort of conversation with him. He was one of the ones who didn’t want to be seen with someone like me.

As I read that online conversation, for just a brief distressing moment, I was back in high school, walking down A Hall, hoping the bell would ring and I wouldn’t have to talk — or not talk — with anyone. I exited Facebook immediately. Those high school memories are bad enough without having to experience that angst all over again.

I don’t mind looking back, but I’d prefer to use it as a way to look ahead. While some others on the site have been trying to reassert their high school superiority, I’ve been reading between the posted lines, and it’s pretty compelling stuff. Some of us have triumphed while some could use a little help, and some of us have stories that need to be told, and remembered, like:

• The twice-divorced beauty queen who is hoping for another chance at love by returning to an old, familiar playing field.

• The candidate for student body president who finally lost a very public battle with the bottle, but who managed to reconcile with his family near the end.

• The seemingly aloof young man (who was in reality cripplingly shy) who somehow found the courage to move out of himself and find a life, and who wants to connect now with friends that he was incapable of having as a teenager.

• The now-old men who are haunted by the memory of Vietnam, either from their own tours or from their memories of friends and family members who never came back, and who would like to talk about it and exorcise old ghosts.

• The drunks and misfits who pulled themselves together, overcame the challenges that formed their teen-aged years and went on to have successful lives and families, and who want to recast their old profiles.

• The formerly fit and seemingly immortal class members who are now facing frightening health challenges, and who clearly need support and encouragement.

• And, of course, the 60-something woman blogger who wants to forgive — but certainly not forget — the past, savor the present and embrace the future.

I’m ready, even eager to participate in that conversation, online or in-person.

  1. Mizz D says:

    “The people who are the most active on the new site seem to be those who peaked somewhere around the 12th grade.”

    My high school class had a reunion last year and, although I didn’t attend, I heard that most of the same type of people as you mentioned above did attend. These folks make me laugh now – they remind me of the characters in the Bruce Springsteen song, “Glory Days”. Apparently they were preening quite a bit and discussing how fantastically well they were aging (“Look, I’m still wearing my high school letterman’s sweater!How many people here can say that?” was one comment overheard.)

    That time (high school) was truly the peak of these folks’ lives and things have gone downhill for them ever since. Facebook and reunions are the only way they can get that feeling back again.

    Good for them, but I am still waiting to peak and, at 52, still looking forward to every new day and experience.

    Glad to read that I am not the only one who doesn’t need to wallow in the past and is looking eagerly toward the future. Thanks for a great post!

    • msmeta says:

      Thanks, Mizz D. I also love Springsteen’s take on the “Glory Days” of high school. How sad to think that the best part of your life was over at 18! Let’s NEVER peak, okay?!

  2. I think my experience has been different. I didn’t go to any of my high school reunions (faithfully held every five years) until my 25th, and then, though I enjoyed it, I missed my 30th on account of being in the middle of an ugly divorce.

    At my 40th I spent some time with a woman who had been my school friend and was one of the few people I had stayed in touch with. She was a good person to know at the reunion, because she knew everyone and greeted them all by name. (I knew all the girls, but the boys I didn’t know at all).

    Finally I got up the courage to ask my friend — I wasn’t sure how to put it without being offensive. She was definitely a “brain” and I sure didn’t remember her being so popular with the boys that she would know them all.

    She told me that she had been to every reunion. She didn’t know these guys at school; she’d met all of them as grown ups, sometimes with their families, coming to reunions.

    The other thing that surprised me when I went to my reunions, was what an interesting bunch of women we grew up to be.

    So I have found reunions, and Facebook, very positive. Not at all about harking back to old times or old pecking orders, but instead about having adult relationships with people I might not have known at all when we were teenagers but who nevertheless shared some of my experiences.

    On the other hand I know we all eye each other up and down and score podge points. Flesh is evident, and flesh is weak.

    • msmeta says:

      Good points. I’m sure I walk into these situations with my fists up, ready for a fight. I need to be a little more zen and just let it all go. And I do agree with you about the women. I’m quite proud of the girls in my class.

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