Jun 22, 2012

20: Reunions

My daughter, Natalie, had this friend in PreK named Hannah.  They were very good buddies, played all the time, couldn't wait to see each other.  Hannah was one of the handful of girls that Natalie invited to her fifth birthday party at a local tea house.  It was a nice friendship.  When we moved to Tallahassee, it was hard on both of the girls.  Natalie would complain frequently about missing Hannah.  When she started at her elementary up there, she kept wishing she could find a friend like Hannah.  She never really did.  [This past year, Natalie finally did find a friend at school that was as close as Hannah had been.  Naturally, she moved to Washington, DC after the school year.]

Three years later, Natalie still will ask about Hannah.  Last year, when we moved back to Orlando, Nat wanted to know if she would ever see her friend again.  We live in a pretty big city and I had no idea where this girl lived.  The chances were pretty slim.  On Monday, Natalie and Josiah went to the Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Oviedo.  The church houses the preschool that Josiah, Natalie, and now Gabe, have attended.  We don't attend that church anymore, but I thought the big kids would have fun at the event.  Beforehand, Natalie went through her typical nervousness of entering a new situation.  I told her that it would be fun and that she would be with other kids.  And I reminded her we used to go to that church and the preschool, so she may see someone she knows.  "Like Hannah?"  "Sure, honey, like Hannah."

I walked Natalie to her class on the first day.  She peeked in the door and then popped back out.  "Daddy!  That's Hannah!"  I looked inside and saw the girl.  I wasn't sure, so I stole a glance at the roster.  Sure enough, it was Hannah.   Natalie was thrilled and raced inside.  When I picked her up, I asked how it went.  "She doesn't even remember me!"  I could tell Natalie was disappointed, but she also is a very strong willed young lady.  She had spent most of Monday trying to remind Hannah.  Then she continued it on Tuesday.  She missed Wednesday with some weird cold thing.  On Thursday, she returned with the ultimate trump - a picture of Natalie and Hannah at the tea room party.  When I picked her up, I asked what Hannah said.  "I showed her the picture and said, 'So, do you remember me now?!?'  Hannah said, 'OOOOhhh yeah.'"  I figured that started a day of catching up and reminiscing.  Nope.  "She still wouldn't really talk to me."

I could tell Natalie was disappointed, but when Heather and I were talking with her about it, I said, "It is probably good, though.  It brings Nat closure.  She's been hoping to find this girl again and now that she has, she can realize that she doesn't need to be thinking about it.  She can make some new friends.  Right, Nat?"  Natalie looked at me, scowled, and shook her head.  "Nope.  None of that what you said.  It stinks because I want my friend back."

I could have gone into a big discussion on how things change and all that, but I knew it wouldn't do any good.  I understood her feelings.  It is hard to move on and lose people along the way.  Compared to me and Heather, our children have had a pretty tumultuous childhood.  We don't own a home, so we move from rental to rental.  We have had to move to Tallahassee and back.  They have switched schools more than I wish they had to.  Part of it is today's society is more nomadic than in decades past; part is that we seem especially mobile in our living scenarios.  That makes it tough to make friends and keep them long term.  I have encouraged the kids to try to find some friends at our church, since we plan on staying there for the duration.  But, it is a long process when you only see the other kids once a week at the MOST.

All of this has been on my mind because this weekend will be my twentieth high school reunion.  I held out until the very end to decide to go.  I had dozens of reasons why I wanted to and dozens of others why I did not.  But I decided to because I knew if I didn't, I would regret it.  In preparation, there has been a Facebook group with the people all talking about the event.  Some of these people have stayed very tight in the last two decades.  Others of them I cannot even remember.  For me, I know that I am a part of this whole group, but I feel very disconnected.

If you remove Facebook temporarily from the equation, I have not kept up with people from high school.  When I think of how many of my classmates I have physically seen since we walked across the stage at the Auditorium, it is pretty pathetic.  I visited one in prison, ran into one in a completely random meeting in college, saw one at Pizza Hut when I was back in town visiting my mom, and had one visit my church in Orlando.  That may be it - four.  Facebook has changed this somewhat.  I have been able to connect with some of them.  I actually have worked to re-establish a relationship with a few that I really regretted losing track of over the years.  But I still feel like there has been a huge gap.  It was like one of those sci-fi movies where eighteen years pass in a moment.  One second we are all tossing our hats in the air, then we are married with kids and I don't know how anyone got there.

For some reason, when I left Forest Hill High School, I never looked back.  I didn't go back for Homecoming.  I didn't keep in touch with anyone over the summer. I didn't catch up with people over Christmas.  Truth be told, I didn't like high school very much.  I had some good friends and some great times. But it wasn't an era I cherish.  I always invested more time and energy in church and the relationships there.  But I didn't even stay tight with that group once I moved to Orlando.  There are intermittent contacts with some of them.  Most of the time, there is just a big gap in my friend circle from West Palm Beach.

I remember these people.  One of my friends who is going said she doesn't remember half of them and hopes we have to wear name tags.  That isn't the problem for me.  A couple of them cause me to draw complete blanks.  The vast majority of them I remember.  I have always had a bizarre ability to recall people.  I will see someone shopping at Publix and know they look familiar.  I'll think about it and realize they work at Target.  I'll see a waitress and remember that she used to work at a different restaurant.  One of my weird quirks.  Also, some of my activities in high school contributed to this.  I was copy editor of the yearbook, so I had to literally proofread every single page of the book.  You start to recognize people after that.  I also was on class board and was Senior Class VP, which helped me to know some of the popular kids I never would have hung out with.  Then there was the brainiac classes, nerd clubs, chorus, stuff like that.  So I had a wide spectrum of interactions.

I always used to say the reason I didn't like high school was because I didn't like most of the people I went to school with.  I realize now that wasn't true.  True, I didn't like a lot of the activities that they did and didn't participate with them.  But more than anything, I didn't like MYSELF from high school.  When I think back now, with a more mature understanding of things, I realize that I was just a big jerk in high school.  I was arrogant and judgmental.  I looked down on others for so many reasons.  They weren't as smart as me, or as ethical as me, or as moral as me.  I've realized over the years that this was all because, in reality, I felt so insecure and lousy about myself that I grasped at anything that made me feel better.  I wasn't as popular, I didn't dress as nice, I wasn't athletic, I wasn't attractive, I wasn't thin, I wasn't rich.  All of that made me feel so bad that I would find areas I "won" and made those super important in my head.

I hated West Palm Beach.  The weather was hot and muggy.  There was family history that made things uncomfortable.  I had no desire to dwell in that era.  So I ran.  I wanted a fresh start, which I got at UCF.  When I moved to Orlando, one person knew me.  But the pattern didn't stay in WPB.  I have battled it time and again with every "fresh start."  It took me a long time to realize that I was the problem.  By then, I had burned so many bridges and scorched so much earth that I had almost cornered myself.  It really hasn't been except in the past four years that I have started to get some of this stuff right.

A lot of people see Facebook as the tool of Satan, the way all of us will eventually become owned by some great multinational corporation.  That may be true.  But I am very thankful for FB.  It has given me a chance to go back and try to repair some of the damage I incurred as I blazed out of town.  I have at least gotten back in contact with some of those people I regretted abandoning.  I can't replace the lost years, but I can at least try to rebuild something.  I now have friends online from every era of my life - elementary, middle school, high school, college, Tampa, Orange Park, Orlando, Tallahassee, church AND school AND family.  Now that I am going, I am excited about the reunion.  I am looking forward to seeing some people that meant a lot to me.  I have not been back in West Palm Beach for EIGHT YEARS.  My youngest two kids have no idea what the city is like.  It will be interesting to revisit the part of my past that I have so desperately tried to erase.  No matter where I have moved, I have always gone back from time to time.  Except South Florida.  I make an actual effort to avoid it.  So this will be an interesting experience.

What I plan on doing is writing a series of posts about this trip.  It may mean much to anyone else, but I think it will be good for me.  This was the first entry.  I plan on taking pictures and posting on a variety of things.  The reunion is Saturday night.  On Sunday morning, I get to hang out with my brother, Chris, which rarely happens.  Sunday afternoon I plan on driving around and visiting the places I remember - my old house, my schools, old jobs.  I want to post on that time of discovery.  I wish my family could come with me, but Heather's schedule won't allow it.  In some ways, though, I think this may be for the best.  I may need to walk through this alone before I want to take anyone else through it.  So keep your eyes peeled for the 20 series.

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