Kelley: The wallflower takes look back

By LINDA KELLEY
Rantoul Press columnist


There are inevitable events that cause one to enter a natural period of reflection, like when your youngest child literally meets you at eye level while you’re handing her the car keys.

Life is a continual adjustment from beginning to end.  

I’m finding that the oddest thing about this particular stage in my life is that high school is suddenly all front and center again, when I originally thought I’d never have to relive that disheveled time again.

Thanks to my continued involvement in online social networks, I’m privy to all of the latest high school drama that unfolds through the written word online; it’s part of being a parent of a teenager.

Verbal and written drama amid high school students is obviously nothing new. 

When I was in high school, I took to the pen as I do now, and while the audience for those notes was limited to how quickly an item could physically be passed between friends, it’s amazing how quickly the gossip circled even then.

Technology aside, basic human nature is the same as it has always been.

This year while college brochures addressed to our daughter arrive in the mail every few days, and we’re talking about things like prom, another surreal milestone is looming on the horizon, my 30th high school reunion.

Honestly, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered attending.

I was never Miss Popularity, wasn’t a cheerleader or a sports hero.

My first two years of high school, I could best be described as a wallflower in the definition of someone who has no one to dance with or who feels awkward, shy or excluded at a party.

Any personal attempts of coolness were futile. I was in the German Club one year, and to somehow perpetuate my awkwardness, gave a presentation on the basics of disco dancing during a sophomore speech class.

Quiet, yet outspoken
While those who didn’t know me well might have regarded me as quiet, my closest friends and family knew me as outspoken, loud, loyal and creative; some things never change.

I emerged from my shell around junior year, but still basically coasted along uninterested in extracurricular activities other than hanging out with my friends.

Unbeknownst to most, I avidly pursued writing and art in private.

Our graduating class was huge, in the hundreds, and the oddest thing in my memory of graduation day is that it’s as if I stepped right into another life at that very moment, never looking back.

Unlike alumni who still routinely attend homecoming games and can recall every word of the school fight song, I maintained only a couple of my closest friendships from that time period and never stepped foot in my old alma mater again.

I immediately began work while others went off to college; we parted ways, and it was as if it never happened.

I can only recall a few teachers’ names, whereas in contrast, my dad has remarkably corresponded for the past many years, with Sister Genevieve, his fifth-grade teacher who just turned 99 in January.

He’s also attended several reunions, the last being his 60th high school reunion, and enjoyed them all, even though Dad will attest that I was not unlike him during high school.

At a large school such as ours, unless you were someone popular, a reunion is akin to attending a wedding for a co-worker, or one of those boring corporate parties, where you find yourself all dressed up at a dinner, with dated music, in a room full of people you don’t even know.

Facebook helps
If it hadn’t been for Facebook, I wouldn’t have reconnected with a small group of high school classmates this past year.

A few were close friends back then, but most were simply acquaintances — people who shared a class with me or lived in our neighborhood but ran in completely different circles.

Having my old yearbook near the computer is helpful, because when I receive a friend request from someone whose name I don’t recall, I can look up their picture to place a memory with the name.  

Some of my present connections are people I would have never associated with during high school, those that were considered popular, class officers, cheerleaders, and it’s funny because we now know each other in an entirely different light.

Now we’re all just moms, executives, tradesmen, dads with receding hairlines.

Oddly enough, they’ve come to know me as a writer and an artist, something that I was all along, but somehow when you’re a teenager, the world pretty much just revolves around you, and we don’t always get to know others for who they might really be.

Our reconnections often begin with their comment of “I always remember you being nice.”

Thus, I’m memorable as an ordinary nice person, and I suppose there are worst ways to be remembered.

One recent evening, I read the news that yet another classmate of ours had lost a battle with cancer, and I paged through the yearbook to his picture.

There he was frozen in time at age 18.

While death can reach us at any age, there’s still something entirely humbling about your high school classmates dying before the 30th reunion occurs.

After all, we’re only in our late 40s, and several have already passed on.

I stumbled back a couple of steps and sat cross-legged on the bed with the book titled “The Poet” in my lap.

Turning the pages of the yearbook, I read all of the autographs, squinting through my reading glasses at sentiments such as “stay sweet” and “2 good 2 be 4 forgotten” and suddenly feel a whole lot older.  

Some of the inscriptions by my closest friends were lengthy paragraphs, proclaiming the endearment of our friendship and vowing to be close forever. It’s what we believed at that moment, when it seemed like the days of youth would always last.

Every dramatic event that occurred during those years seemed so earth-shattering at the time, and yet if we were lucky, we lived onward to the present, forgetting so much of the past until a time of reminiscing. I stopped along the bottom of a page of senior photos to laugh at the serious expression on a girl’s face framed by feathered-hair.

I vaguely remember that girl. She’s me.  

Fellow parents frequently comment on how quickly our children are growing up, but I say, forget that thought for a moment and consider instead — how did we grow up so fast?

I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll attend the reunion this October. I find it difficult to believe that anyone really cares to see me, and already one of the popular groups is busy planning an extended outing for that weekend.

I’m still pretty much the wallflower, the one who would probably end up just sitting with her husband at a table of fellow misfits.

At least I’d have someone to dance with. Stay tuned. I’ll report back in the fall.

Linda Kelley of Rantoul writes a monthly column for the Rantoul Press on life experiences and family and social issues. She also writes a blog, which can be accessed at http://my-over-the-fence.blogspot.com/



    

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