Last Saturday I ran into someone I went to high school with in my small town. This isn't the first time I've seen her; we've run into each other a few times, the first being at a pediatric dentist that neither of us live very close to. Randomly we only live a few subdivisions away from each other now, and although we weren't friends in high school we always liked each other as people. It's strange how now, years later and miles away and even though we never spent any time together outside of school, we recognized each other almost immediately. It took me a few moments to remember her name. We looked at each other and pointed, said, "Hey!" and chatted until we were on firm footing. It's strange to me how strong that bond is, that "We went to high school together," and how it makes us almost friends now without anything else to support it.
She even told me that there's a facebook page for our graduating class. I had no idea! So I went on to facebook and checked it out. Boom. There it was. High school on facebook. And I realize that I am such a different person now than I was more than a decade ago. Hugely different. The funniest thing about it is, I don't think they'd notice. In high school I was very active in theater and in debate, and confidence is key to being successful in those fields. So I faked it. No one can tell if you're faking confidence as long as you follow 3 simple rules: good posture, eye contact, and say nice things. These three rules are equally important but it's the last one that seals the deal. If you feel good enough about yourself to say nice things to other people (nice things are NOT self-deprecating things, it is not nice if you aren't being nice to yourself) they believe you, and if you say nice things about other people they want to believe you because they want to believe that you're right.
I was a pro at faking confidence in high school. Some real confidence sneaked its way in, but being confident in how well you fake confidence seems wrong, somehow. I was in all the school plays (never the lead- too tall for an ingenue) and brought back a record number of debate trophies for our school (which was never very good at anything, so bringing back a "record number" of awards is not nearly as impressive as it sounds). People knew who I was, if they didn't know me very well. I was even voted most likely to succeed, although if my elation was somewhat tempered by another friend saying, "Of course you won. Who else is there?" and by the boy who won most likely to succeed also winning most likely to become an evil scientist and trying to take over the world. Someone also said I had nice eyes. I maintained my facade of confidence by never expressing any of my own opinions, by always being accommodating, and never staying in one place or with one group too long.
Dating was almost non-existent after my sophomore year. I had my one and only boyfriend then (my husband and I got engaged after being friends for over a year and then going on 3 dates, so we skipped the whole boyfriend/girlfriend status). My boyfriend was also in debate and drama, and he was always the lead in school plays. I'd had a crush on him for years before, but he was a senior when I was a sophomore so it was his first time really meeting me. My faked confidence fooled him, too, but it wore down the relationship because I was never relaxed around him, and it ended it a very private very devastating break-up after he'd graduated. I didn't tell anyone about it. Wouldn't have been good for my image.
Then I slid through the next few years doing my best not to let anyone get too close to me. The break-up had confirmed and intensified my inner monologue of "If they get to know the real you they won't like you," and I redoubled my fake-it-till-it's-over persona. Seems like a big waste, now, but it's how I survived. Looking at all those faces from my yearbook on facebook I wondered how they saw me. If they really believed the confidence or if they were so busy with their own lives that they rarely noticed mine. I wondered if they remembered me fondly, or coldly, or at all. I was a medium fish in a pretty small pond and most of the people I interacted with weren't in my own grade.
If I were to go to the next reunion, I wonder what it would be like. They probably wouldn't have any idea the immense changes I've undergone and the entirely new person I've become. I doubt any of them knew how intensely lonely I was those three years. Why did I do that to myself? Why was it impossible for me to be normal, or honest with anyone? Ironically I doubt that anyone I talked to now would think that I've changed at all, because I'm not faking the confidence any more. I'm more than three decades into my life and I finally like myself. I express thoughts and opinions that are mine. I'm comfortable in my own skin. The first time I realized that my husband was someone I could marry was when I realized I was being myself around him. It was eye opening. It was liberating. It was freaking awesome.
Not that there isn't anything I would change, given the chance. But those things that I'm not don't define me anymore, and most days they don't even register. I've got other things to worry about, other people to care about, and other goals to accomplish to spend much time obsessing over my weight or whether I can get through lunch period. High school is the world's biggest social experiment, and no one escapes unscathed. I wish I'd spent less time worrying and more time doing things. I wish I'd invested more in the friendships I did have then. I wish I'd spent more time playing with the band I was in (electric bass guitarist. Bask in the envy). I wish I hadn't dated that one guy my sophomore year and ruined an almost friendship I had with a really cool girl who also liked him. He was a jerk and he broke my heart with such force and efficiency that it took me more than five years to recover, and I don't think she ever forgave me for dating him when I knew she liked him. These things stay with us. They don't define us, but they do color the way we see the world.
I want to go to the next reunion. I want to see these people that I spend so many years with, in some cases from preschool to graduation, and have my first real and honest conversation with them. We can be friends now, years away and miles apart, because once upon a time we were Lions. There were sports games and school plays, dances and concerts, but most of all we went through the fire of high school together. And high school ends. Most of life waits on the other side. But nothing is ever as intense again, because high school is like all of life compressed and concentrated into one building. And you never forget it. Faces pull you back. Yearbooks pull you back. And today, facebook pulled me back.