It was effortless to say “I love you” as I said good bye and hugged each of these four amazing women—whom I’ve known since childhood, but haven’t seen in a lifetime. Seeing them again was surreal. Because—in spite of the full life I’ve lived since high school graduation in 1986—as soon as I saw them, it felt like I’d just seen them.
It’s hard to near fifty and not re-write your own history a little—partly because you just don’t remember stuff and partly because you want to remember things in a certain way. But reuniting with some high school friends after more than thirty years, reminded me that I remembered everything just right: I grew up with funny, kind, amazing people–who, just like me, were doing the best they could to figure out who they were–in the 80s. In Indiana.
I’ll say up front, I always knew I was different. And I don’t even mean gay. Sure, that was a part of it, but it was bigger than that. My humor, my introspection, the combination of traits that are unique to me. I still think I’m different. I guess I hope everyone thinks they’re different. In fact, it’s always been easier for me to not be like other people–something I embrace as an adult, but something that didn’t always make my life easy as a youth.
Going back to Indiana for a family party gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: meet up with some class mates. I’m not exactly sure why I did it. But the thought came to me quickly and decisively. I like to think maybe it was Ken whispering in my ear. Do something different. Take a chance. You won’t regret it.
If it was him, he was right.
Once I graduated from Tri-County High School (home of the Cavaliers), I didn’t go far geographically. Purdue University was only 30 miles away from my home town. But once I began to experience a world beyond the tiny farm town I’d called home, it was easy to hunger for an urban life. It was when I moved to Chicago that I truly came into my own. High school and small town life–beyond holiday trips back–occupied little space in my brain.
I was the first one to arrive at Nine Irish Brothers pub. It was a crowded Friday night in my college town, and as I got bumped around by passers-by I regretted selecting this location for this gathering. When I looked at the door next, I saw Lisa in the crowd, making her way inside. Her face lit up, mirroring mine I’m sure, and we pushed our way together to hug. In that instant, I knew it was going to be a fun night.
Stephanie used her connections to hook our little group up with a private room in the back. It was a relief to know we’d be able to hear each other as we caught up. Not long after Lisa and me were shown to the room, Stephanie and Carol bounded in, then Paige arrived shortly after. Lisa, Carol and I were together since kindergarten, Paige came to town in 5th grade, and we met Stephanie in 6th grade because our school and the town next door (where she lived) shared the middle/senior high school.
Carol lived just down the street from me. She and I were besties all through grammar school. In fact, our friendship inspired a blog I wrote several years ago. As funny as ever, she regaled us with one side-splitter after another. Lisa lived nearby as well. She recounted a story I didn’t recall (see? Memory is not what it used to be) when she and I went down to the town creek a couple of blocks behind my house to play. She was forbidden to go there by her mother, and when she showed up at home, muddy from the adventure she tried to expertly blame on me. “Ronnie made me go to the creek.” (If you knew Lisa, you’d know no one “made” her do anything.) Her mom must have known that too. Lisa couldn’t sit down for a couple of days after that adventure.
A vivid memory of Lisa from first grade–at the end of the year, we got to walk to the town park and play for the afternoon. Some kid asked her what her name was. “Charlie Brown. If you ask me again, I’ll knock you down.” Badass answer, I thought. But I made to sure to remember her name.
Paige was always artsy and edgy. I always admired her bravery in exploring who she is and expressing it in different kinds of ways. She pushed boundaries–not for the sake of just doing it, but because being true to herself was important to her. Growing up in a small farm town in Indiana in the 1980s–no internet, no mobile phones, no way to realize you aren’t the only one raging against the machine–was tough at times, to say the least.
Ever the organizer and caretaker, Stephanie set up the perfect stage for this get together. She was always perky and funny. She always seemed to be involved–in the middle of the activities that swirl around a high school. While I stood on the sidelines, observing, Stephanie dived into things. I admired that, as well.
Connecting with them was a full circle kind of moment for me. Returning to my roots and reminiscing about all the experiences that forever bind us together was soothing for me in a way I didn’t expect. It was like sitting down and wrapping up in a blanket of your fondest and most innocent memories.
I don’t believe any of us has really changed that much. We are still the same kids: the organizer, the artist, the badass, the storyteller, the observer. Maybe not trying as hard to figure out who we are as much as figuring out what’s next for us in our lives as we all approach the half-century mark.
<Cue Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”>