July 6, 2012
I graduated from high school back in 1989. Almost 23 years ago. It seems a lifetime ago. In fact, it’s over half a lifetime ago.
I wasn’t popular at school. I was probably what many would have called a “dork” or a “reject”. I wasn’t the one the guys wanted to go out with, I wasn’t the one the girls wanted to hang out with. I guess I was simply quite unremarkable. I felt fat, I felt ashamed that I didn’t wear the latest fashions, and I was too scared to speak in class. As a result, I had only a handful of friends.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t hated or picked on by the kids in my year. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was pretty much left alone. And that meant I wasn’t subjected to peer group pressure or trying hard to be someone I wasn’t.
However, due to my unremarkableness, I missed the chance to get to know others in my year and often felt lonely. I graduated from school not knowing anyone else but my own group of friends. Oh, and the girls who were known as the “bitches” – we ALL knew what they were like.
It wasn’t until many years later, through Facebook, that I started getting to know others from my high school year. I went to school with a lot of really nice, friendly kids. But I barely ever spoke to any of them. I felt so intimidated. There were the girls who were smart and pretty and very “girl next door”, and girls like me wanted to be girls like them. There were the boys who were funny, and who knew a thing or two about english and maths. There were the athletes, the ones who always did well in swimming or athletic carnivals and were admired for their stamina and speed. And then there were the bitches – the ones who were arrogant, obnoxious, and just plain nasty. The ones who used to make fun of others, and prance around school like preening peacocks.
For years, I didn’t see a single one of my classmates, and nor did I want to. I wondered how I would have anything in common with them when that wasn’t the case as teenagers. It was only with the advent of Facebook that many of us reconnected (or connected, in my case). I found myself suddenly friends with girls I’d only ever admired at school, girls I’d been too scared to ever talk to. And I realised I really liked them. Perhaps waiting all this time to be in contact again is the reason why we all get along, because most of us have grown up and had families, or experienced similar situations.
Today, I caught up with one of those girls. At school, I thought of her as pretty and smart and popular, the girl everyone wanted to be friends with, the “sweetheart” of our year. I barely said two words to her all through school. And yet we connected through Facebook and we got along quite well, albeit only online and not in person. So when she suggested we meet up with our kids, I was both excited and nervous. What would she be like? Would she be the same person, or had she changed? Have I changed? Would she judge me based on what I looked like or what I’d gone through? Would we have anything to talk about, or would our meeting deteriorate into a date of awkward silences and a race to the exit as soon as possible? And so I asked a friend to join me, an old friend who also happened to go to school with us but had left a few years earlier. These two knew of each other back in high school, but not enough to become friends in the cyberworld. I was the common thread.
I needn’t have worried. We met, hugged, introduced our kids to each other, and spent the next 3 hours catching up on the 23 years since high school. There were no awkward moments, only excited chatter and reminiscing. The three of us have had vastly different life experiences – one had a baby at 21 years of age, one was a widow who had since gone on to marry one of the guys from our year at school, and one of us has a son with a terminal illness. One of us has had drugs touch our life in a way no other person should ever experience, one of us had been through divorce and remarriage, and one of us has lived around the globe. Three vastly different stories, three very different women, and yet we connected like we’d always been friends. We talked and we laughed, and we remembered times and people from our past. We spoke of those we have kept in contact with, those who have since passed away, and those who never grew up and were still the self-absorbed and nasty pieces of work they were at school. We laughed about our time at school, and talked about our children, our partners, our mistakes, our achievements, and other experiences that moulded us into the people we are today.
Three lives, which had gone in three totally different directions, with life changing experiences that were poles apart, brought together by internet and geography, only to find that we could have been friends all along. Or perhaps it’s the moments in our lives that have allowed us to grow and become the people we are today, with a greater appreciation of others and the differences that our experiences have created.
And so we talked and compared our life stories, all the while watching our children play together. Each of us have girls the same age. Donna’s daughter Sabine, Melinda’s daughter Ella, and my daughter Charlyse are all born months apart. The three of them look so similar to the three of us as children. However, most likely because they are still young and peer pressure hasn’t clouded their judgement of others, they got along beautifully. They laughed and played and ran amok together, giggling like the little schoolgirls they are. Looking at them, they could have been us. And that’s what was so sad about our teen years, and why we are lucky to have grown up in the time that we did – because we now have the luxury of Facebook to put us all back in contact years later, once all the pretences and appearances are realised to be less important than what we are like as people, once we have experiences behind us that allow us to realise that everyone has a story that moulds them and changes them, and time makes us mellow and less judgemental.
We are lucky to have that luxury, and I am thankful for it every single time I log onto my Facebook account, knowing that I have a world of friends out there who like me for who I am now, and not who I was back in school. It’s just a shame we don’t realise that until long after we stop donning our school uniforms.