I have PTSD from my 35th high school reunion — and I didn’t even attend. All it took were the images on Facebook that seemed to continually crash in waves over the shores, unearthing sticks and stones I hadn’t thought about in decades. I could have turned off the computer, but it was like seeing a train wreck you can’t look away from that continuously loops back to the start. But instead of shattered steel, I saw friendships made and lost. Deception. Duplicity. Betrayal. There’s a reason that shows like “Pretty Little Liars” are so popular. Although dramatized, they still represent how fraught with dishonesty and slander those teenage years can be.
I guess I should start by saying that some very good friends of mine were involved in arranging this reunion. They had such a “wonderful time” at the 30th reunion, that they didn’t want to wait ten years to meet again. I understand that they were seeking a time in their lives that they perhaps view as a simpler and happier time, and that they enjoy reminiscing about their youth with those who shared it. I on the other hand, tend to live for the present and the future, and have no real interest in continually dredging up the past, especially the portions of it that I do not remember with fondness.
High School wasn’t all bad. I had wonderful friends. I acted in the plays, danced and sang in the musicals and wrote for the school paper, but I still felt out of place most of the time. On the one hand, I feel grateful that I was exposed to a diverse group of people. My high school classmates were Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American, and Latin American. An observer once referred to us as “the United Nations” which I rather appreciated. But the majority of girls students in my high school were petite Asians with shiny, straight, black hair. I often felt like the Jolly Jewish Giant standing next to them, towering over everyone with my brownish-red curls frizzing every which way and the desire to either shrink down like Alice in Wonderland or to find a way to feel more comfortable in my skin. This was not easy to do, since every step of becoming a women, from wearing nail polish to shaving my legs was a battle with my father, who had always treated me like an adult intellectually, but somehow seemed to expect me to remain childlike in appearance. Despite feeling more like a gawky child than a woman, I got a lot of attention from older men. I was “hit on” by my friend’s older brother, a family friend’s boyfriend, men in grocery stores, restaurants, the school Janitor, and two of my friend’s fathers, which was awkward as hell. Inexplicably to me, this unwanted and unprovoked attention was sometimes blamed on me.
One particularly painful incident that I hadn’t thought about in years was brought back by those Facebook photos I mentioned earlier. One summer I had made a friend I’ll call “S”. S was dating two boys at the same time, one an older high school student I’ll called “P” and the other a young man who had already graduated and had a rather menacing reputation of someone who sold drugs and was a bit of a “bad boy”. Let’s call him “M”. Not surprisingly, P and M didn’t know about each other. How S pulled that off, I was never quite sure. She wasn’t beautiful, but she had a way about her that boys obviously found attractive. S and P spent the summer hanging out around her family’s pool, and I found my myself thrust together with P’s best friend, who I don’t think was really any more interested in me than I was in him. We flirted in a desultory way, since it seemed expected of us, but I was really more attracted to P. Nothing ever happened between P and I, but we had some good conversations and I began to think of him as a friend of sorts. Whether he was attracted to me or not was not an issue, since both of us were loyal to S. For whatever reason, it all came crashing down when P somehow found out about M. P confronted S about the “other man”, but she denied it. P then confronted me, and I told him, “Go talk to S about this. It’s none of my business.” And therein lay my cardinal sin, for which I was punished in a way that still makes me angry decades later. I didn’t lie for S the way she expected me to. S remained friendly to my face, but like those diabolical mean girls we see on TV, she plotted her revenge behind my back. She persuaded two other girls that I had been friends with as children to turn on me. I don’t know what she told them, but together they put threatening notes in my locker and bumped into me in the halls while muttering juvenile threats. The final straw was when they toilet papered my house and stuck Kotex pads to the outer walls of my family home with “slut” and “whore” written on them in red lipstick. Worst of all, my father’s response was to question me as to “what I had done” that resulted in this sort of vandalism. The only silver lining to the cloud was that P broke up with S. And I left high school for college and never looked back.
Thirty-five years have past, and I’ve had a lifetime of experiences since then. I am not the same person I was at 18 or 30, or even 50. Some things, however, have not changed. I still believe I was right not to lie for S. When you make your bed, you should lie in it, and you might be lying there by yourself if you cheat on someone that loves you. I still believe that my father was wrong to “blame the victim”, and although he and I had a wonderful relationship and were very close, it’s still a blot in my memories of him that I could do without. I can not change the past, but I can tell others going through tough times that: 1. There is life after you get through this, and it is better than you could ever imagine, 2. Never take the blame for a bad decision someone else made, 3. Lying isn’t pretty, no matter how much they glam it up on TV. And as for me, when they hold the 40th reunion, I’m going to be on some, beautiful, sunny, exotic, remote island with really, really bad internet service.