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Advice for the Class of 2014 and Beyond: Participate! ...And Wear Sunscreen

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending my 20 year high school reunion. Twenty. The big Two Zero. It's been two whole decades since I walked down that stage in my cap, gown, and overly teased hairdo to receive the rewards of my high school endeavors-a diploma and the satisfaction of never having to sleep through another algebra class again...a rather hasty assumption, I would learn later in life.

It was the first reunion I had ever bothered to attend and for good reason. I didn't have a lot of friends back then. To say I wasn't very popular in high school would be a major understatement. I was a chubby, leaning towards corpulent teenager with acne so bad you might as well have called them boils, a sense of style that should have had me busted by the fashion police on a daily basis, and the social skills of Lisbeth Salander-minus her staggering intelligence. A lot of people who didn't know me back then think I exaggerate when I describe teenage me, and because I avoided cameras like the plague that apparently afflicted my face, there isn't a whole lot of photographic evidence. But there is...this one:

If you look closely, you can just make out my white girl afro perm. Insert wolf whistles here.

That's me in 7th grade. I was a total spaz then, and I can assure you, it all went downhill from there. And if that wasn't bad enough, I started my freshman year of high school with the sudden death of my father from a heart attack. The loss was devastating. I got through the next few years by pretending to be invisible and hoping nobody would notice me. I held it together, losing myself in every book I could get my hands on, getting by with mediocre grades in most of my subjects, until my senior year when I decided to hell with all this high school bullshit! I was going to quit. My mother, my principal, and a few concerned teachers all talked me out of doing the unthinkable, and I walked down the stage, diploma in hand.

The thing that sticks out most in my mind about that period was the fact that I had missed my senior prom. I didn't buy tickets to the thing, and I turned down the one guy who was desperate enough to ask me. It didn't seem important enough at the time. I didn't want to be at school when I had to. Why the hell would I participate when I had a choice in the matter? I hadn't gone to any of the dances, games, or participated in any extracurricular activities that weren't absolutely mandatory during my entire high school career. I switched one of my classes to Journalism and was on the school paper, but I don't think any of my articles were accepted as all the topics I came up with were slightly more controversial than the importance of not chewing gum in the halls. None of that bothered me. Missing the senior prom, however, left me with an emotional twinge I never could shake.

There was this movie in the 80's called Pretty in Pink about this girl named Andie who is desperately in love with some rich kid played by Andrew McCarthy who likes her too but is ashamed of her because she's poor white trash...with a two-story house...and two cars in the driveway...

Hollywood's version of an outhouse and a run-down jalopy (i.e., a house with a slightly shaggy lawn and a dented car that runs well).

...Where was I? Oh, yeah. The prom. Anyway, there's this scene in the movie where Andie is telling her boss, Iona (played by Annie Potts) that she isn't going to the prom. Iona tries to talk her into going, telling her the sad tale of an old friend of hers who missed her prom, and that if Andie doesn't go, she'll regret it for the rest of her life. I am Iona's friend. The one that didn't go to her senior prom. And I am constantly dealing with that "lost keys" feeling. For those of you who remember this scene and have seen it a hundred times like I did, you know exactly what I mean.

When I realized a few months back that my 20th reunion was coming up, my first reaction was, "Shit, I'm old! How the hell did I get so damn old!" My second was to find out everything I could about the upcoming event. Was there even going to be a reunion? Where was it being held? Would I be able to fit in a decent dress that shows off just enough cleavage not to make me feel like a street walker that also hides my bubble butt and tummy fat? With the help of facebook, I was able to do just that. Well, not the bubble-butt and tummy fat thing, but the rest of it, sure.

I learned there would be a meet and greet followed by a picnic the next day and decided to go to both, dragging my husband Darren along with me. The meet and greet was BYOB, but hubby was good enough to buy me a mini bottle of Ciroc. I didn't thank him later that night after paying homage to the porcelain goddess, but it certainly helped loosen my tongue when talking to the half dozen people I had never had the courage to speak to in high school. I don't remember much about that night (Ciroc plus a champagne toast...hoozah!), but I think I had a good time embarrassing myself in my drunken ramblings. I vaguely remember someone making a comment about my hips, but I forgive them since I can't remember who said it, and it was probably said in jest...probably.

The picnic was the next day. Toya Bailey, one of the woman in charge of the reunion, was there with Diana King and D'amica Smith George who had arrived early to set things up while trying not to melt in the summer heat. Their efforts and the efforts of all those who aided them in bringing about this shindig should be commended. I, as is my custom, aided by eating the food. Not much has changed since high school, apparently.

Everything seemed to be going fine until Toya took out her scrapbook. We didn't have a year book for the class of '94-something I belatedly learned at the meet and greet-but the woman had saved every picture anyone had ever given her in high school, and she passed them around while everyone pretended to have dust in their eyes. There were pictures from proms and dances and ring ceremonies. There were pictures of classmates that hadn't been able to make it or couldn't be found, and we speculated about what had happened to them and where they had ended up, if they were married to the same people they had dated in school...well, everyone else speculated. I was busy scratching my head, trying to put names to faces of people I vaguely remembered, but never bothered to get to know. It was then I realized the true tragedy in all of this: High school had been hell for me, but only because I had made it hell.

I said I wasn't popular in high school. I said I was a total spaz with few friends. This is all true. Not just because I was ugly or spastic, but because I hadn't bother to make friends. To do that would have required opening my mouth to speak to someone and risking the sting of rejection, something I have trouble doing even to this day without the aid of liquid encouragement or advanced preparation (i.e., staring in the mirror while chanting, "You are awesome! You are awesome! You are soooo awesome! Now, go get 'em tiger!" while grinning like a maniac on antipsychotics). I didn't have fun in high school because I didn't participate when it wasn't mandatory-another problem I would have today if it wasn't for the wonderful man I'm married to taking every opportunity to pry me away from my computer screen long enough to see there is a world outside my apartment.

I didn't stay long at the picnic. Darren doesn't take well to heat, and I could tell if he stayed any longer, he was going to die of heat stroke. But part of me wanted to stick around, listen in on all the stories of wacky high school high jinx. I wanted to participate and be a part of something that I could talk about five years down the road when the next reunion comes along. I think I will go to the next one, even if I have to drag a portable a/c unit with me. I'll try to leave the Ciroc at home, though. The porcelain goddess can only take so much tribute.

If I had any advice to give the high school classes of the future, whether you're a spanking new freshman or a senior on your way out, it would be this: Participate. Take risks. And wear sunscreen.


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