Wednesday, August 6, 2014

High School Reunion

I was too scared to make friends in high school. 

I had been bullied horribly in middle school, and the few friends I had ditched me in 9th grade (middle school in my district). So in high school I kept people at arm's length. I was so scared of opening up to other kids, even the oddballs that I suspected I could become friends with, that I was extremely quiet and introverted. People who know me well can't imagine me as quiet. This tells you how much I inhibited myself to stay off of people's radars. 

I had a few casual acquaintances in high school, but nobody I connected with let alone saw on the weekends. In fact, I asked very few people to sign my yearbook, and many who did just wanted to say "hi" to my mother, who had been their teacher in 9th grade (at a different middle school). Obviously they didn't realize how annoying it was that they were using me just to say hi to my mother! It would be as if someone contacted George Carlin's daughter or Richard Dawkins's daughter on a social media network just to say, "Your dad is cool." Yeah, I don't know you, but your dad is cool!

As far as I was concerned, my real "yearbooks" were the albums that I created with photos from my years at Camp Negev, which coincided with high school. These "yearbooks" actually had dozens of signatures with sincere messages in them, telling me what an amazing person I was. I wished I could get the same feedback from kids in high school.

Over the years, some of my high school acquaintances and I found each other on Facebook. A few expressed frustration that they could not be themselves and had to pretend in order to fit in. Some hadn't had any real relationships either. Even though they didn't have Asperger's Syndrome, a few were socially awkward and had the same concerns as I. If only we had been comfortable enough to get to know each other! Others told me that they had always thought I was an interesting person. I was surprised. I had no idea that anybody I went to school with felt this way about me. Well, they probably had to keep their mouths shut so they wouldn't get bullied themselves.

One person, Annette (not her real name), who I went to school with from 1st grade through graduation, friended me on Facebook in late 2013. We hadn't really known each other, or really talked to each other. But why not? I accepted her request. A few months later, she commented on one of my links to a blog post I had written about bullying. She said she was certain she knew who some of the bullies were that I had mentioned in the post (she was wrong-- she actually named some kids from elementary school, not middle school). We started talking. Annette said that she always felt bad for me but was too scared to step in and defend me, knowing she would be next. Water under the bridge, I told her. It was about twenty years ago, after all, and bullying was barely acknowledged back then, even by parents and teachers. I already know from a few other people I talked to that they felt the same way. I am now certain had enough of the kids who secretly liked me said something, the bullying would have stopped-- and I would have been confident enough to make friends in high school.

Annette and I continued to talk on Facebook over the next few months and got to know each other better. In July, I flew in to Pennsylvania to visit my family for a week. Annette and I met up and went out to dinner. She said something about the weekend dinners she and her group of friends often had in high school. I felt a pang of jealousy, that I had missed out on a simple pleasure of the teen years that so many people take for granted. While my peers had gone out to dinner or the movies on Saturday nights, I stayed home and found ways to entertain myself. I, of course, don't regret that much of the way that I entertained myself during that time was to work on personal projects, but I regret that going out with friends wasn't even an option for me. 

When we went back to my parents' house, Annette and I looked through my yearbooks. I realized that this was the first time I ever was anything other than indifference while looking at them, let alone having fun. For the first time, I was looking at them with someone from school who I considered a friend. I thought to myself that at last I was getting a taste of what high school was supposed to be-- at age 33.

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