I spent the weekend with dozens of my closest strangers.
I went to my hometown for a high school reunion. It’s been thirty years since we graduated. I haven’t been to any other reunions and I thought it was time I returned. This was the first time I’ve seen most…nearly all of these people since we graduated. My absence was by design and quite deliberate.
Friday night I arrived alone and late to the local hang-out and found it bursting with music and laughter and faces I did not know. I found a familiar face not far from the door. And that is where I stayed. In a quiet(er) corner, behind that face I knew. I watched as the smiles kept time to the music and the laughter was wrapped in jovial hugs. “You haven’t changed a bit!” I heard. Or maybe “I didn’t recognize you!” There were echos of What do you do? and choruses of How old are your kids? The joy in the room bounced from group to group, enveloping all in its path. I watched from the safety of my corner. One by one, slowly, my friends came to greet me. Warm hugs and beautiful smiles surrounded me. I reciprocated, but craved the refuge of my corner. I didn’t stray far. I started off once, to find a special friend. Down the hall, around the corner and there…so many people. So many faces I did not know. I stood against the wall surveying the room and then quickly found my way back to my sanctuary. I wasn’t ready for this.
Saturday brought a backyard barbeque feel to our special gathering. I arrived with friends and set myself up in a corner. Tucked away. Somewhere safe. I still wasn’t ready for this. Once again joyous greetings were shared everywhere. I was pulled this way and that to say hello and tell a brief version of my life story. I smiled and shared and listened and, most of all, craved my hiding place. I did not seek, but I was found. I did not ask, but I received answers.
It was an unfamiliar home.
I did this reunion all wrong. But I did it the only way I could. And that makes it right for me. I missed the opportunity to speak with many friends who could only participate in a portion of the weekend. I watched them from afar. My heart lifted at the sight of their engaging discussions, reveling at the happiness I witnessed. I only watched. I had no conversation to share. Anxiety took my words.
I spent a good portion of the weekend with that friend who was by my side through much of my school days. I knew her most – then and now. She was not the one I needed to reconnect with. But she is where I stayed. She was the one who got me into trouble and out of heartache. She stirred my spirit and soothed my soul. She was, and remains, a place of sanctuary for me. Anxiety is silenced in her shadow.
I spent the last 30 years working very hard to avoid these people that now surrounded me. Not because I don’t like them. But because I didn’t like me. I didn’t want them to see me. I couldn’t bear them to know me. I moved away to a new city and there I was nobody and that was good. Anonymity was my shelter. There was too much sadness, too many failures, too many disappointments. I was a shell. They couldn’t know me this way.
So I stayed away. The years marched on and memories faded. Some left slowly. Some were ripped away violently. The emptiness left behind bastioned the shell. The separation was the same in miles, but ever-growing in distance. I stayed away too long.
This year has brought many changes to my life. I am fighting for a spot worth living on this earth. I am slowly choosing to not be merely a passenger on the journey. As I stumble my way through, I am learning important lessons to regain the control I’d given away. I am learning to own my truth. This weekend, I stared my truth in the eye. Anxiety reared its detrimental head over and over, telling me I shouldn’t go to this reunion. I listened to the hurtful words each night as I tried to sleep. Gently I worked to change them. I could not silence them. But I poked holes in the malicious fabric they weaved. The light began to shine though.
It took until two days before this reunion for me to truly decide to go. I had registered. I followed the social media posts through the planning. All the while never believing I would actually be there. Less than a week ago I picked up the phone to cancel my hotel reservation. The connection was dropped before I could cancel. I didn’t call back.
Maybe I did this reunion all wrong. There are so many people I didn’t talk to. There are so many questions I never asked. I’m not good at small talk. I don’t actually care where you live. I would love to know what motivated your move, or your decision to stay away, though. I’m not particularly curious about the age of your children. But, I would love to hear how they discovered something they’re good at or when they overcame a very difficult situation. I crave conversation about the cosmos or realizations about human interaction. I want the stories behind the data. That’s not where reunion talks begin. My corner kept me safe.
Eventually the music (and the rum) made conversations unnecessary or too difficult. If I could have pushed through the “I have 2.3 kids” conversations I’m sure I would have gotten to the part I truly crave with some wonderfully fascinating people. But I didn’t. I stuck to what was comfortable. I stayed with my girl who has always made things better for me. It was safe.
This was my first reunion. I could have done it differently. But, I was there. And for me, for now – that was a big deal. It was a shaky step, but after all, that’s where we begin, isn’t it?
Oh, sweet girl. I understand so well – and I’m so proud of you for pushing through and finding the good bits in such a difficult situation. How very brave. There is so much more to you than your past – the life you have built, the child you are raising so beautifully, the fierce heart and inquisitive mind that make those of us who are blessed to visit your corner question and reflect and believe. I understand that the corner is your sanctuary. I hope that you come to realize and believe that it is a safe, interesting, wonderful corner not just for you, but for others…because it is where YOU are. Bravo, my friend. Baby steps ❤