So, who had (or will have) a 10-year high school reunion this year? I was a member of the class of 2000, a bit of trivia that was burned into my brain at a young age. I remember my kindergarten teacher telling us as a group that we were going to graduate in the year 2000, and the date seemed so impossibly futuristic to me. I couldn’t wait to finish high school, and drive off in my flying car to the next adventure.
But of course, high school ended up being a mixed bag for me. In addition to feeding myself a heaping spoonful of self-sabotage, there were always other kids on standby to make me miserable. There were the frenemies, whose insidious sabotage was often too subtle to even be perceived. But always worse were the Popular Kids, who, contrary to their titles, were hated by everyone. Even each other.
Bullying at my high school didn’t resemble the kind of bullying I read about in the news today. Namely, I had the good fortune of being a high-schooler during the early days of the internet. Sure, there was the odd argument over AOL, but bullying really hadn’t really taken off online. Probably because, before the bullies could get very far, someone in their house would pick up the phone and kick them off the modem. Or they’d get distracted by the Hamster Dance.
Also, at my school (in a snooty NYC suburb), outright aggressive bullying was seen as gauche, so the Popular Kids rarely took part in it. Their bullying was more oppressive, in that manner that rich people have perfected: you don’t matter. If you weren’t popular, you weren’t allowed to have opinions or stand up for your friends. You just were not allowed. (Also, you weren’t allowed to be a slut. My best friend dared to be unpopular and slutty and she got no end of grief about it, from the girls and the guys.)
Fast forward to today, and there’s a planning committee in place for the aforementioned reunion, and a lot of us are communicating over Facebook and email as we pull the event together. Many of the specific people who bullied me are now cheerfully helping out with the planning, asking how I’m doing, friending me on Facebook, commenting on my wedding pictures! (And yes, I’ve accepted their friend requests. Not because I expect them to be doing badly, but because I want them to see how well I’m doing.)
The weirdest part of this new chapter in the Not Terribly Popular Girl Chronicles is facing the reality that those Popular Kids are now just people. And, contrary to what I had hoped, when I look at their current lives, there’s no schadenfreude to be had. Most of them are doing well. As much as I hate to admit it, it makes sense. The same traits that propel someone to the top of the social ladder in high school (self-promotion, charisma, ruthlessness) are rewarded in the work environment. It also appears that some of them have just chilled the F out since high school.
In a sense, who you are in high school often doesn’t end up being who you are later in life. Not necessarily because you’re lying in high school; you’re just still figuring things out. What are you like? What matters to you? How do you want to treat others?
I wouldn’t want to be frozen, in reality or in anyone’s mind, as I was back then. I was insecure, I was mean to my parents and brother, I spent way too much time worrying about boys, and I skipped class. Maybe some of the former Popular Kids feel the same way when they look back on their high school years. I don’t expect, or even really deserve, an apology from any of them. Maybe being nice and behaving like actual human beings is their way of making up for it.
I know from experience how good it feels to let go of a grudge. It feels like unclenching your fist when you didn’t even realize you’d been clenching it. It might just be time to let some of this stuff go. But”¦we’ll see how I feel after the reunion.