Of Reunions and Regrets

Posted: June 11, 2009 in Snapshots of the Good Life, The Ronin Teacher
Tags: , , ,

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thus began Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina. I don’t know why, but I thought the phrase appropriate for the occasion. The past weekend, some of my old classmates from high school in the Philippines held an informal reunion. Typically, graduating classes would be classified more as a blanket social organization than as a “family.” Our graduating class had roughly 150 students. Not so big for anyone to be lost in the crowd, and small enough to be the size a very large, extended family. Naturally we got to know each other quite well, whether we liked it or not. More than 20 years later and an ocean of difference away, I’m surprised to see all these (vaguely) familiar names pop up on Facebook, requesting me as a friend.

The names are familiar – the people are another story. Most of you who have gone through high school can relate. When we lose touch with our peers for more than 10 years down the road, we simply forget. So when Edward (not his real name; identities have been changed to protect the innocent) sent a whole bunch of invites to us via email, there was a mix of eagerness and reluctance. I was eager to see my old classmates in high school again, starved for news on how they had fared in life.  At the same time, I was reluctant to let them see how I’d fared. Which, I admit, isn’t that much to write about lately.

It’s amazing how sane, intelligent adults can still harbor immaturities, insecurities and irrational fears, the moment high school returns, so to speak. Smells Like Teen Spirit all over again, if you know what I mean. When you hit that critical 100+ in your Facebook Friends list and most of them are from your old high school, the old dynamics continue where they left off: The Class President tries to boss everyone into going to the Big Reunion. The Jocks start talking sports – and smack about everyone. The Princess gets all the attention (usually by posting a lot of annoying feeds this time, instead of the “Look at Me, I’m Pretty!” stunts), and all the old cliques reassemble to their former huddles. Nice thing about all of this happening online is that none of us have to put up with it. Most of us have grown up and out of that phase. Or so we hope.

Our graduating class didn’t have the usual stereotypes. There were no varsity teams, so there were no jocks. [All of us guys talked sports, usually basketball. And, yes, we talked smack about each other, everyone else and everything in between.] The class president, or presidents (I never could track who was which) had, well, led a path all the way to the New Land (America) and never looked back. All the old cliques were still there, but with new people jockeying for attention and popularity. The organizer himself, Ed, used to be one of the biggest dorks in school; now he’s a successful lawyer. He also happens to be a talented artist and musician.  Props to him for that.

As for the princesses – all of our girls were princesses! Part of the reason why I think I was fond of these guys was that they were still gentlemen, for all their childish pranks. Sure, we were still… well… guys. There were a few knuckleheads who even used mirrors or other such gadgets to peek up girls’ skirts. Unlike today’s hormone-driven, internet-fed kids, not too many of us felt so much pressure to get a girl to do the nasty, and that was all the difference.  By the time I was there, most of the students had known each other since elementary school; a fleeting moment of sexual bliss wasn’t worth ruining friendships. A few fights broke out between guys (some girls, too) but we always mended our fences quickly and laughed it off the next day.  We were a pretty tight-knit class.

So did I mention that our school broke some stereotypes?

It was a great school to be in, I realize now.  Everyone in that school was good to me and treated me as their friend and equal. A few girls even had a crush on me, which was great for my tender ego. I should have been in Paradise. That is, if my head wasn’t stuck in my ass back then. While everyone else lived carefree lives, happy to be with friends and goofing off, and just being alive – I was always thinking heavy thoughts any precocious teen would.  Will I find True Love? Will I be rich and successful, and prove myself to be better than these guys, and the girls who never seem to appreciate me? I was still getting over the fact that I wasn’t finishing in the high school I’d started out in, an exclusive Catholic school in Manila; that took up all of my junior year. I hit my stride as a senior, when I discovered I was a talented writer. And to a certain degree, talented enough to be able to solve physics problems in a bind. I was even one of the highest scorers on the National College Entrance Exams in school that year, around the 4th or 5th in a graduating class of 150. Not that it really mattered later on.

Because ten, twenty years down the road, people do change. Class presidents become CEO’s. Or quit and become more appreciative of life, in general.  Old jocks, like old soldiers, fade away, reminiscing about the Good Ol’ Days. Class jokers surprise us by becoming successful in life as lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, contributing to society.   Many in my graduating class led quietly successful lives, starting businesses on their own, or families. Things that we often took for granted when we were young.

There were a few of us who were expected to hit the Big Time, whatever that may have been. When I moved to California 22 years ago, I should have been one of them and for a while, I was headed down that path. Then something happened. Just as I was then, I was thinking too much again. I could justify it all I wanted, this time asking why I was working a 9-to-5 grind and that I was so much better than this, dealing with small-minded people at work. While I tried to suppress those feelings and tried to fit, I never quite could.  So… to make a long story short, my future is still being written as I write.

It would have been fun to see how that reunion turned out. Seeing Ed finally become the Star of the show, 20 years after being overlooked and smacked around… that must have been priceless. Noticing all the bitch queens in high school become fat and ugly after snubbing guys like me, that would have made it interesting. For most of us, just seeing how we all were now, glad to be alive and still full of life and fun… that would have been enough for us. It should have been enough for me.

I never did go to the reunion. Ed went through the trouble of setting up a live-cam feed, for those of us overseas. I’m not sure who of us expats participated. As for me… I was too chickenshit. I should have been content and happy to just see my old friends, even from a video feed. The reunion could have reinvigorated me, shown me that there was more to life than the grimness of daily living. But the old schoolboy insecurities haunted me again. While grown-up men continued to goof off and play games (online this time)… I was asking those questions yet again. Maybe I was meant to be.

I will add a fitting rewrite to Anna Karenina’s opener: “All happy people are alike. Unhappy people are unhappy, each in their own way.” Which is certainly a lot more true. In a reunion, all happy people are generally happy about the same thing – which in this case, is a happy reunion.  For those who didn’t go,  I hope they were happy, each in their own way.  As for those of us who weren’t at the reunion, and weren’t happy… it could have been poverty or misery, or a combination of both and more. I had the latter.  After a while, being on the outside looking in gets old.

For now. If nothing else, what I took from this experience (or lack thereof), is that it’s never too late.  If a nobody like Ed could change his life around – so can an overachiever like me. I won’t have to think myself to death and throw myself onto the train tracks like the tragic heroine of Tolstoy’s novel.  I’ll stop asking all those questions soon enough; better yet, they might be answered for me. Either way, and when I finally accept myself and my friends for who we are – I’ll stop having regrets and be at peace, and be ready for that next happy high school reunion. Whenever that may be.

Copyright Anabasius 2009


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