Saturday, September 17, 2005

High School Reunion

High School Reunion

The Bridget Jones Version: weight, let’s not go there; alcohol units, please; cigarettes, second-hand smoke but just from the one; calories, see weight; husbands, nil; children, nil; biological clock, tick tock; pets, one cat not in my custody; property, Sydney um no; houseplants, see calories; ghosts of high school past, just the one or two hundred…

High School Reunion

It’s a marvellous concept, isn’t it, the high school reunion? Indeed, high school is a fascinating concept – a holding pen for several hundreds of teens who have yet to become aware that they really do not have to be there and that there is infinitely more to life. Teens who are forced together by the proximity of their homes to a certain group of school buildings and whose solidarity is fostered by the intolerability of their situation, their own stupidity, and the halfwits with cattle prods elected to educate them. It is natural that in such a situation that the inmates, being unable to see beyond their multifarious prisons, would turn on each other. There was little else to do, we weren’t being educated or anything. Five years of high school, five years in each other’s company, five years of loves and hates, five years too long and then release. Those five years created some friendships that have lasted, that will last, as long as we do. Those five years created a world of enmity that nothing can overcome. Who forgets the slights of their formative years that are laughed off by the perpetrators as childish pranks? Who left school believing that those were mere pranks, that we weren’t playing it for real? Who believes that seeing those old buddies, those chums, those cunts who dumped you the moment they could, and those old buddies, chums and cunts that you dumped as soon as you could should be brought together to relive the joys of the old days when we were young and free and complete arseholes to each other? Who wouldn’t want to see the people who ignored you for five long years and in the insecurity of first year university were suddenly your best friends? People like that are pure gold and surely must be kept.

It’s a marvellous concept, isn’t it, the high school reunion? It is a wonderful way to herald the successes and failures of one’s life. It is a brilliant way to compare and contrast the progress of those deluded pilgrims of a high school hell ten years stale. Can’t imagine why anyone would be less than eager to attend. Gosh, think of the catching up that can be done. After ten years the oldest of us would be twenty-eight, life has succeeded or failed by the time one is twenty-eight, hasn’t it? Isn’t this why we congregate, to find out who the winners are and which of us predicted the losers? We’ve had ten years, plenty of time to have adapted to an adult world and adopted the accoutrements of adulthood. I, for one, am terribly eager to be tried and judged by the yardstick of ten years. Life has not, I’ll admit, been quite what I planned it. It’s funny how you actually have to work at things rather than just dream them into existence. You have to work at life, to make it what you want. I guess it all depends on what you want and how you judge.

High School Reunion

I’m superstitious about the number three. Life, unfortunately, has a tendency to follow patterns, these patterns may be real or they may be imagined. I imagine that for the little things three is significant.
So I heard about the high school reunion, the first time, via an email from the organiser [mother of two beautiful, wonderful children, wouldn’t you know] via some crappy school friends’ site that I joined because there were a couple of people I regretted losing contact with. We didn’t really lose contact, that was a definite choice, it almost always is. Joining the website did, in fact, put me in contact with one of those people as she emailed me and we began to tentatively reform our relationship. It also led me to hear about the school reunion for the second time. The third time was through my sister. Minding her business while shopping one day she was accosted by a girl from my year who just happened to be her checkout chick. ‘Tell Nails that there’s a school reunion and blah and blah and blah.’ Seems she really wanted me to go. They all wanted me to go. The question is why. I can see that for an organiser the success of the event is marked by participation. If you can call people back from interstate or, better yet, overseas then you have been truly successful. Isn’t it funny how capital outlay equates to success? Locals you never really lose contact with. They serve you in the shops, the see you in the food court, you attend the same movie session, you live in a fishbowl you’re bound to see the other fish every so often. Having someone dedicate a trip to your cause is worth bragging about having them turn up because they only live twenty minutes away and might as well is an achievement nothing. I can also see why the other two want to see me. I spent a lot of time in their company, a lot of forced time, a lot of teenaged time and I guess they thought they knew me quite well. They, of course, want to see if I’ve turned out like they thought I would. I have and I kinda haven’t but then, I don’t know what they were expecting.
I know what the general attitudes of the school and the town and the generation were. I grew up there, it’s hard not to know the people if you’re around them. There is a sloth in that town. I think it’s because of the heat, the deadening tropical heat. Heat that drives you insane because it’s too hot to move, the air is soupy with humidity, you can feel your brain softening and melting, you blame the heat but is better bestowed upon the apathy born of entrapment. It’s a small town so there isn’t much to do, lots of alcohol and sex with strangers in a way that isn’t replicated here, but little else that it isn’t too hot to do and nothing that you haven’t done before. Culture flees somewhere near the border despite the attempts to bring everything in mini doses, again ten years too late. There are drugs, of course, if you’re lucky. There is a certain sad inevitability to life, a small town expectation that is fulfilled one generation after the other.
The make-up of the town in a strange one. There are those for whom it is an awesomely big city, almost scarily so, they cannot imagine places that sprawl greater with millions of people. There are those for whom the town is small and incestuous, without even six degrees of separation. There are quite a lot who a forced there by posting and the money that some crap jobs entail. These are the ones who are filled with horror and leave shattered months and years later screaming never again. There are those who come as outsiders and quickly acclimatise – they find the tropics relaxed, the climate enjoyable, and don’t mind the parochialism. There are two choices for anyone really – go mad and leave or go mad and stay. For those who ingest the myth of the good life as it is taught by parents and by school there is really only the one option, staying and living the small town life. There are those who flee and are defeated and return with gruesome tales of big cities and interpersonal callousness but everyone knows their failure. Still, it’s a nice place to raise the kids. You don’t have to worry about the terrible things that go on in big cities, the abuses and the rapes; we’ll have none of that here. You don’t worry until the national news starts telling the nation of exactly what goes on at the barracks when the boys are at play. Tucked up in small town suburbia you go on ignoring and discuss how the media makes a meal of the slightest thing. Those who stay inevitably end up suburban. There is no city to speak of, no inner city life in fact or in style. The town itself is an amalgamation of suburbs that seem to have accidentally drifted together and have no grand unifying theme. Those in the suburbs always end up with children in fairly short order. Sometimes there are husbands or wives, sometimes defactos, sometimes the sex was too easy and there were moral considerations. Never mind, move on. The cycle that led to deadened suburbia turns again and creates a new generation.
Of course, there are those who flee never to return for longer than a week or two and then with nerves taut and valium at the ready. Careful, they might keep you. They are the few and are forced back, every so often, by family and friends or drawn back by notions of success and showing those bastards the who’s who. It is the majority that judge the minority. The minority judges and cling tight to that moral high ground but they just don’t have the numbers. You will be judged on how you look, but then you always were. You will be judged on your success. Ah, but what is success? Is it successity or necessity that forces you to work despite your screaming brats? Perhaps you are choosing to do something meaningful while mum minds the kids. The house is being paid for, slowly and surely, with your sweat while you uphold a society that is otherwise crumbling. Your norms, I stress your, are the norms of everyone, or so you tell yourself. You cannot understand what stops others from embracing the life you claim to cherish and you do not analyse your nebulous envy. You’re nearly thirty. This is what it is to be an adult. You have your whole life together and it will go on this way decade after decade after decade. You will work to keep what you have. You will work harder for the dreams of retirement when you will be free to roam the world and do what you want.
One day you will look back at how young you were ten years after school and you will wonder why you didn’t do more. Until then you will judge those who do not conform as freaks, hell, they were probably freaks at school, you always knew they’d be a bit strange as they got older. You will laugh at their lack of responsibility at twenty-six or twenty-seven or twenty-eight. You will congratulate yourself on how you’ve achieved so very much, on how wonderful your children are, you will leave the party early, at twenty-eight, because you have to tend your well ordered life. You will laugh up your sleeve at those untied who carry the night away and dance on through the hunting grounds of youth. Those who behave, at twenty-eight or seven or six, like they’re still so very young when you’ve left all of that behind. You will tell yourself that their independent lives are aimless and soulless that happiness lies in another and in serving others. You will tell yourself that it is the family that matters, that will always matter and that will go on mattering. You will tell yourself that they were unsuccessful and couldn’t find what you have but they want it, everybody wants it. You tell yourself that they’ve copped out, denied responsibility, live like children.
You go to your school reunion to show them all how successful you are, you go to laugh at the losers. It is a black and white world in this sense, there can be no going back, the school reunion is not to catch up with people it is there for you to rate yourself. You go in telling yourself I am successful look at what I have achieved and you come out successful because of your already determined measure. Before you go on you have decided success and failure, just as you did at school, just as you will always do, and you will leave knowing that the triumph is all yours just as you did at school.
Oh I know why they want to see me and it isn’t goodwill and friendship. We used those excuses up a decade ago and were glad to see the end. They want to take out their little yardsticks and measure me up. They want to tell me who I was then, who I am now, how I’ve changed, how I haven’t changed. They want to tell me who I am and they want to tell me who they are. They want us to all pretend at each other again. They want validation ten years on because it’s all changed so very much…


themarina said...

Those same thoughts had crossed my mind, more so recently because I'm only a few years from my "10". I am still looking forward to my reunion and seeing a few people that I do regret losing touch with. Let them judge if they'd like. I could care less.

Myke Bartlett said...

Wait wait wait, life has succeeded or failed by the time you're 28? Shit.

This (long-awaited) piece acutely sums up my own feelings about what it's like coming from a small town, as well as what it was like despising school.

My school was demolished (hurrah!) a few years ago and I was harrassed to attend a reunion. But I didn't. Part of me - being reasonably well adjusted - thought I should be mature about the whole thing and go along and be chummy. The rest of me remembered I'd decided some time ago only to spend time with people I actually liked. I don't regret this decision, just as I don't regret slipping away on the last day of school without saying goodbye to anyone.

The other part of your post that tallied with my own thoughts was that telling and terrifying word: suburban. Suburbanality. I think that scares me more than anything - slipping comfortably into ordinariness. A beige life in a beige brick house.

It's amusing (no really, it is) that those I know who have slipped into beigeness seem to think that I've somehow missed the point (or perhaps the boat) by avoiding it.

Pah! I pity the fools.

BourbonBird said...

What a killer post, Nails. I loved every word, and while it was a long wait, it was totally worth it.

So... heading up for that reunion, then? :P

Mark said...

Hmm, I would have preferred a few examples there. If you go to the reunion you'll be 100% wiser than ten years ago and you won't have to talk to anybody who you don't want to. If worst comes to worst you can a) rock up completely drunk or stoned and puke on someone's only nice shirt or b) wear a caftan and pretend you've joined a cult. (Caftans are available from that litte store at the end of my street - isn't Sydney lovely?)

nailpolishblues said...

I probably should have mentioned this in the post - I'm not going, I would have once but not now, I will, however, be in town a week or two before that. I will see the school a lot [including on the trip from the airport to my parent's place] and will try to refrain from fire bombing it.

Mark - though the kaftan sounds swell and it tempting to go back via Nimbin and turn up as an escapee from Nimbin I don't think I will - nice idea for the 20th reunion [ooh then we'll be bearly 40!] though. Alas, one of my cousins who lives there seems to belong to some sort of cult - it would just be overkill to have more than one in the family. What kind of examples were you after [raises an eyebrow]?

Bourbs - ha ha I know where you work! Remember that when you hear 'will you accept this reverse charges call'...

Myke - isn't every day it's own little success? [yeah, I'm clutching my sides laughing at that too] I fear the standards they judge by and I know what those standards are. I could have reached Nirvana [oh that does bring back some amusing high school memories, seances in the library, that kind of thing] and I'd still have failed by their standards. I could be overly harsh but there's really something to the mentality that frightens me. I was scared of it then and it's gotten worse with age. One of the people I am in contact with recently sent me an email with a line about her boyfriend - she said [she's 27] that she's too old to have a boyfriend, she should have a husband. I can only hope that was a bad joke.

themarina - like I said in the post, I do wonder about that 'losing contact' thing. If you want to find people it really isn't difficult which suggests, to me, that there is a lot of choice involved in that. I hope your reunion [in a few years] works out.

Now, excuse me all, I'm off to invent post-its...

JtH said...

I have never been to a reuinion. I went to an 'old school tie' sort of school where you remain a member of the old boys club and meet up every year to give the school money to buy the cadets tactical nuclear devices etc, but I won't have a part of it. The yardstick I measure my life with is mine. Short, but mine.

Misha said...

I don't blame you for not going. I am definitely not going to my highschool reunion.

It really is just an excuse for others to compare themselves to you; to talk about things you've accomplished and act all happy even though this is the opposite of how you really feel.

Too bad they don't have a primary school reunion though - i'd go to that for sure. But not the highschool one - there is something innately bitchy and miserable about highschool.

Yeah, I don't have many fond memories for my single-sex catholic school. It sucked.

Mark said...

Hmm. I understand that it's all about comparing yourself to others, but how is that a drawback? Sounds like good sport to me. You must misery addicts.

Mark said...

/ 'be'