Today a classmate of mine was buried. After a long battle with cancer, preceded by a brain aneurysm in 2004, the Valedictorian of my class died early Tuesday morning. I found out via facebook.
He and I were not close, though there were only 20 kids in my graduating class (I'm a farm kid from the rural mid-west. My town had 370 people in it.) J.P. was always kind of an awkward guy, very interested in classical music, science and learning in general. He seemed kind-hearted to me, and one thing that always sticks in my mind was his unwillingness to compromise. You see, he was what a rural mid-west town would call "nerdy". He wore the same grey corduroy pants every each, and olo shirts of various colors. He had big thick glasses and very pale skin. He was too uncoordinated to play sports and could barely manage to march to the right beat in band. Yet he was light years away from the rest of us on his understanding of math and science. He was proud of that, and didn’t care that he didn’t act like or dress like the popular kids. (At least, it didn’t seem as though he cared. It’s quite possible he did, behind closed doors.)
He was made fun of a lot. So was I. I knew the pain of being laughed at and called names, so I tried not to make fun of him when others did, though I am sure I was unnecessarily mean to him at some point. He was to me, so I am sure I was to him.
I’ve never had any desire to keep in touch with my high school classmates. Most of them were pretty horrible to me, and any fond memories I have of high school were in spite of them. I learned early on that I needed to find other sources of friendship and trust, so I kept myself at a significant distance from the 20 people I sat with in classrooms years after year… day after day. When graduation day came I never looked back.
Facebook has changed that for me, to an extent. I was friends with four people from high school, and since J.P.’s death, two more have friend requested me. I’ve never attended a high school reunion and probably never will. This is something my mother has always found strange, because she loved her graduating class (she was also the homecoming queen, so her high school experience was a lot different than mine). So the wounds I have from that experience are still there… they may always be. (I have a thing about wounds. To read more, click here.(I even talk about Troubadours.)
I was intrigued by how the facebook messages from classmates unfolded. One gracious classmate took charge of getting us organized to send flowers. We all took turns calling those who aren’t on facebook yet to let them know what the plan was. So many talked about how much he would be missed and how their hearts were breaking. There was much talk about how we are a “family”. While I’m sure these sentiments were heart-felt, I found myself unable to join in with the reminiscing… with the resounding agreements that we must all get together soon. I know there this whole idea of “buying the hatchet” and “letting bygones be bygones”, but my heart just doesn’t work that way. I am sad that my classmate died such an early death. He was probably intelligent enough to help find a cure for cancer. It saddens me to know his quality of life was so poor near the end. It saddens that his parents and sister lost him so soon. But do I miss him? No. I don’t miss anyone from high school. And I’m not sure what to do with that information. On the one hand, I see the point of moving on and letting a grievance past. On the other, I don’t care to let my classmates think I’m okay with how they treated me or J.P., God rest his soul.
One of the strongest characteristics of those with my personality type is a strong sense of right and wrong, and innate sense of justice. There are reasons why this is good... and I’m struggling to decided if t his is one of those times. My mother, with all her rosy-colored glasses, wants me to let bygones be bygones and let myself enjoy my graduating class at this stage in my life. I simply don't want to.
Right after our 10 year reunion, I was performing some Oleo Spots at a melodrama. (The musical numbers in-between acts). One of my classmates was there, and she grabbed me afterwards and asked me why I didn’t attend. Gently (I promise) I said to her, “I just didn’t want to attend a reunion with people who I know don’t like me.” The mature adult in me knows I should get past this. The petulant child in me doesn’t want to budge. The Generation Xer in me wants to not care. The counselor in me wants to do the healthy thing, work through this and forgive. I’m wondering who will win.
This trip down memory lane has not been an easy one. It would be easy to roll my eyes at these facebook messages about us being a “family” (though it’s very possible they aren’t talking about me when they say that). It would be easy to go on without contact with these people and never attend a reunion. I want the easy way right now. What do I do with that?