The Grand Illusion


I’m not friends with any of these people, but suddenly I want to gather them all in the same room for the purpose of conducting a perverse psychological experiment on my own brain. In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve gone from “I couldn’t care less about high school” to I want to help organize the twenty-year reunion next year just so I can see what happens when you attend one. Bucket list.  Chum bucket, that is.

I want to peel back the terrifying layer of skin that has hardened over me. I want to answer the question once and for all: who the hell are you people? Except that’s not the correct question. It’s who the hell am I?

Why are high school reunions a thing? They were not even my most formative or influential years. I went to school for another decade compared to the four years of high school. And now of course, I’m an accomplished doctor. Oh wait, I’m not even an accomplished writer.

I have spent twenty years convincing myself I did not exist in high school. It never happened. I was not really there. I was not important. I was not interesting. I wanted to be someone. I turned out to be no one. I molt through new identities and perceptions of self every few years. High school was five or six selves ago. It’s not that I didn’t exist then — it’s that shedded self who doesn’t exist now.

It’s not unique. It’s just growing up. I don’t know why I struggle with it. I hate where I grew up. I wanted to not be of it. I wanted to get out and reject it and burn it. These feelings have no basis in any event — they simply come standard in my base model, like a car that comes with thin grey floormats that do nothing to prevent the mud from seeping through. The mud does not wash off of me.

Some people are always up for going out to have a good time. High school reunion in a bar sounds like a fun night away from the kids. Yet if I want to have a good time, first I’ll have to use the ball-peen hammer to break the glass in case of emergency, chisel though the five stages of grief, including anger and bargaining, as well as the bonus levels of existential dread and gripping insecurity.

You bet I’m fun at parties.

Which is why I thought I had never been invited to any of my high school reunions. Was there an inviting commitee of overlords who had chosen to forget and discard me? Isn’t that what I really wanted? Maybe I had been wiped off, cleansed of the mud.

There are no overlords. It’s just a Facebook group where people have awkwardly bumbled around trying to arrange something, shamelessly posted their pyramid schemes, and tried to rile up a sense of nostalgia that no one really has, but thinks they ought to have.

Nostalgia guilt is the final layer one must break through — it’s okay to feel nothing. It’s only a group of strangers who want to ask the same question in the same place. Who the hell are we?

Or maybe they just want to get away from the kids. Sometimes that’s fun, too.


9 thoughts on “The Grand Illusion

  1. …Whoa. I don’t think anything has ever described my feelings about the weird desperate nostalgia of high school reunions more perfectly. I feel all of these same things so deeply. I love your writing and how it always hits home so sharply and accurately.

  2. I went to my 30 year reunion. It was the first and last one I’ll have gone to. It was awkward. I am awkward. The food was very good. I sat next to a girl I remembered well but could barely hear her because she was soft spoken and it was loud. She spoke about her dogs a lot (I think) and I nodded and she seemed content with that. It was fun to see who I could recognize. You’re not getting the whole story with facebook photos, btw. Maybe do it just to do it. If you join the committee, help steer them towards a place with good food. I forget how old you are so you can always wait til the next one. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know why I felt so compelled to go.

  3. I chose not to go to my 20 year. I sort of regret that choice and I sort of don’t. My high school years weren’t a great part of my life–I couldn’t wait to get out of there and go away to college. I wasn’t eager to rehash the old days. But I had good friends and some of them took it personal that I didn’t show up, which wasn’t at all my intent. The videos looked fun and casual, but I also heard about some drama with the usual drama llamas. I dunno. Maybe I’ll go to the 30 year one. Anyway, I’m enjoying these introspective posts. Keep it up!

  4. “High school was five or six selves ago.” Spot on. I cringe when I think of my teenage self. I went to my 20 year reunion. I had to drink a lot before I could even walk in the door. One classmate I barely know high-fived me because I “oh my god, don’t look old yet!” Um, ok. We took a group photo that got posted all over FB for all those who weren’t able to come. Another reason to avoid all things high-school.

  5. My 10-year reunion was fun enough (though a chain reaction partially led to my divorce, ugh), and my 20 is next year. Looking forward to it.. Get there, brother!

    And yes, you should TOTALLY organize it. At least get on the board.

  6. Focusing more on the literal illusion side of this post, what are your thoughts/opinions on the “Laurel or Yanny” thing going around? I mean what the crunch is that? It’s like the blue dress or gold dress thing all over again.

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