20 years does change people

(A side note: my elbow is rapidly healing. I still have a fiberglass cast, but the doctor has me spending less time in it, and I anticipate being back to my two-handed typing and right-handed mousing within a week or so. I’m enjoying such an input method as we speak, but I don’t think I’d make it through an entire business day like this.)

My high school had its 20th reunion last weekend. I didn’t go, mostly because if I had the money and vacation days to travel during the heatwave season, it probably would not be to Indiana. But part of me regrets not going, and looking at the pictures and various reports on Facebook and whatnot make me feel somewhat bittersweet about not going. I generally don’t think about high school that much, at least not in an Al Bundy “those were the greatest years ever” way, mostly because they weren’t. And aside from Larry, I don’t keep in touch with many people from high school. Turns out that “friends forever” slogan people used to write in your yearbook isn’t legally binding or anything. Pretty much everyone I knew in high school vanished after May of 1989, and that reflects more my lack of social skills during my pre-18 years than anything else.

One of the emotions that’s dredged up by the necessity to look back at this era due to the passing of a big fat even number is that of jealousy. Am I jealous that I’m not raising three kids with no spouse on the salary of a forklift driver? No. But for whatever reason, I’m somewhat jealous of the people who were able to forge long-lasting relationships from this era in their life, because I wasn’t able to do that. At the time, I suffered from all kinds of depression and confusion based on my inability to run with the A-list crowd, even if that group was doing nothing of any intrinic value by going to football games and homecoming dances. It’s a grass-is-always-greener thing, and after high school passed, I was able to beat down these feelings by replacing them with something better, by actually doing okay on a college campus, and putting it all behind me. But the reunion somehow touched on these unhealed scars, in a very subtle way. It made me wish I would have done more socially in the late 80s.

The other weird side effect of this is that I wished I would have done something more extraordinary in the last 20 years, so I could have gone and “shown them” somehow, in a keeping-ahead-of-the-Joneses way. I guess a lot of people wish they could go to their reunion with a supermodel on their arm and seven or eight figures in the bank. A sort of “I was a geek you treated like shit back then, but I flew here from my bungalow in France on a Lear jet, and you’re still on the dirt farm” moment. But I have done a lot of stuff in the last 20 years – I’ve lived in many cool places, I’ve written books, I’ve traveled to almost every state, I’ve made some money, gotten married, bought a house, and managed to do a lot more than punch a clock at an RV factory 5200 times in a row. Maybe some people from my class would look at my list of achievements and say “shit, he’s done a lot more than work as an assistant manager at the Concord Mall Jamba Juice and spit out a half-dozen kids.” But then I also think that if I told most people I graduated with that I climbed K2 with no supplemental oxygen and donated the proceeds to landmine victims in Cambodia, they would be more proud of the four or six rugrats they sired, and what I did would be insignificant. Maybe this is a conversation I’m having with myself, but it’s the way I felt 20 years ago, and people don’t change.

As an aside, people do change, at least physically. One thing I was astonished by when looking at the pictures of the reunion was how some people have radically changed, and others look identical. Many guys got bald and fat, many of the cheerleader types look a bit more haggard. Years and kids and tanning booths have taken their toll. And some people that were pretty much below the radar back in school have really broken out, and look 100% better. I don’t know where I fall into that spectrum. I feel a lot better these days since I lost weight, but then I remember that I weighed even less in 1989. But I had those glasses. Either way, I’m sure a majority of people from my graduating class would not recognize me.

Another emotion stirred by the past is shame. I never even thought about this until a therapist brought it up a few years ago, but I feel pretty stupid about 95% of the stuff I did back in high school. When I think about that era, it makes me wish I had a time machine and an endless bucket of mulligans to correct a lot of the stupid shit I did back then. And yes, life would be different if I would have stopped playing D&D and started lifting weights Rollins-style and focused on getting laid or getting into MIT or whatever else, instead of focusing on trying to find the newest Metallica import cassette single or more chrome for my Camaro’s engine or whatever else consumed the most of my energy back in 1988. And when I think about catching up with people I only casually knew two decades ago, the thought of every girl I obsessed about and asked out and got turned down creeps into my mind, and it’s a pretty self-defeating mental pattern. The counter to this is I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was a kid, because I didn’t know any better.

Also, I have some kind of resentment about the fact that pretty much everything I did as a kid that made me an outcast is now somehow hip and trendy and cool now. I got my balls busted on a constant basis for being into science fiction and computers and being a geek in general, and now all of that is somehow cool. Christ. I spent a fair amount of energy trying to de-emphasize how much I was into this shit, and I should have spent the 80s going balls-deep and spending every waking hour studying assembly language and sealing unopened Star Wars toys that I bought wholesale in a vault somewhere, anticipating the eventual arrival of eBay. I would be a millionaire.

Had to work last weekend (yes, even with a broken god damned arm) and I don’t work this weekend. I allegedly have a three-day weekend coming up next weekend, and a four-day weekend after that. And now I have a large black cat standing in front of my monitor, lobbying for a second breakfast, so I better get out of here while I can.