There were no “reunion show” antics at my 20-year high-school reunion, except when I was talking with one of the people I most anticipated seeing and observed how so many of our former classmates looked exactly as they did back then.
“Exactly?” my friend asked with shade I recognized from our teenage years. “I don’t know about that. I think I look good, but I don’t look ‘exactly’ like I did in high school.”
I might not have been at the reunion, or a member of Kenwood Academy’s class of ‘98 (Go Broncos!), without the type of brutal realness my friend apparently hadn’t lost in the two decades since we graduated. We met in sophomore English, where I was one of the class clowns and she was someone who hated humor, laughter, and most other expressions of goodwill.
She was beautiful and focused on academics, and her fashion sense was surpassed only by her surliness. We constantly bickered in class, which is why I didn’t mind how she treated me after the midpoint of sophomore year, when I was still showing up at school every day but not attending a single class.
While most people greeted me in the hallways with a worried smile or by playfully shaking their head, my English-period nemesis never missed an opportunity to call me a dropout and a “fucking fool.” Her words didn’t sting until I read the note she wrote in my yearbook, which was filled with an angry kindness that pierced me deeper than any admonishment or consequence I received.
Redeeming myself in her eyes became one of the quiet motivations I used when I re-enrolled the next year and worked to undo the damage of my truancy. Despite graduating, my high-school years would’ve given many peers and teachers every reason to worry about my future, and I looked forward to the reunion as an opportunity to reassure them things turned out OK.
Being connected via social media mitigates the impact of not having seen each other in 20 years, but being in the company of my old classmates was more invigorating than I anticipated. Adulthood teaches you how frequently the people in your life can be erased by death, addiction, or the daily grind, and it was inspiring to see children I once knew as adults I admire.
It also lifted my spirits to be in my high school for the first time since last century, and to see signage on the guidance-counseling office designating it a safe space for LGBTQ students, even though Kenwood had openly LGBTQ students in the ’90s, if not earlier. A couple of alumni attended the reunion with their same-sex partners, and when a photo of our classmate who transitioned from male to female appeared during a slideshow presentation, the crowd let out a collective “ahhhhh” that was distinct from the “awwwws” generated by other pictures.
Our sigh seemed to recognize how far the world has come since high school, how early we were exposed to culture changes that are now mainstream debates across the country, and how although it might have been imperfect, there is no shame in how the class of ’98 accepted and adjusted to our classmate’s transition (in the senior notables, she was voted “Most Unique”).
The reunion was the first time I’ve seen most of my classmates since coming out, and just as I wanted to reassure some that my youthful delinquency didn’t doom my growth, it was important for me to show my classmates that despite the militant and flamboyant homosexuality I bombard them with in social-media posts, the totality of the person I am corresponds with who they knew when we were younger. The affection I enjoyed throughout the reunion made me remember how terrified I was that being gay would cost me whatever popularity and friendships I had in high school, and this weekend made those fears feel all the more fucking foolish.