My hands shook as I turned off the mini-van and pulled into the bar's parking lot.
I allowed myself a chuckle.
Shaking? Really? I mean, seriously? I've stared down killer mountains, completed a marathon (a killer in its own right) and finished our third year with twin girls. I've covered tornadoes and murders and approached angry men a lot bigger than me for quotes. I've swam in open water, faced charging dogs and dodged lighting bolts.
And going to a bar to see people I hadn't really even talked to in 20 years is what makes my hands shake?
That's what the past can do to you.
I barely considered going to my 10-year high school reunion. I even chuckled at the thought. I mean, I really did like high school. In a way, I even loved it. I have good memories of being a Shawnee Mission Northwest cougar.
It was, in fact, quite a comeback story after what had to be one of the worst junior high careers anyone's ever experienced.
But I had a good life my first decade out of college. I had a successful career as a newspaper writer, something I'd wanted to do since I wandered into journalism class my sophomore year. I had a lot of friends from varying backgrounds. I had good hobbies, as a musician and a mountain climber. Why in the world, I decided, would I want to bring back those feelings of angst, of not belonging, even bits of unworthiness, when I hadn't felt anything like that in years?
What was the point?
I paused as I sat in my van. I felt the same way I did a decade ago. In many ways, I my life was even better now. The career was the same, even after a couple of scary years in our bad economy, but I was also married, with three beautiful (if not challenging) children, and I was in the best shape of my life.
Still, there was no backing out now. Facebook can cause problems, which I understand, but it's a wonderful opportunity to get back in touch with people you thought you'd never see again. I always regretted losing contact with some of the best friends of my life, even if it felt good to shed all those awkward, lingering feelings from my teen years. It seemed like losing all those relationships was a pretty stiff price to pay to feel like a different person. I even wondered if it was also unnecessary.
And it was because of Facebook that I was in that bar, and so, before I knew it, I had committed to my 20th anniversary high school reunion. I planned our annual trip to Kansas to see my family and Kate's grandmother around it. I bought tickets, and they were, quite honestly, too expensive to throw away. I tend to do things like that in advance to prevent me from chickening out at the last minute. I entered the marathon four months before the race for the same reason.
But I had to wonder, even as I'd already called my old group of friends and texted others that I would meet them there, why I was putting myself through all this again.
I sighed as I got out of the van. I tried to slip on my ragged bulldog mentality, as if this was just another peak.
I saw one of my good friends right away and relaxed. This will sound awful, but he wasn't one of the "popular" students, and so I felt like I was on his level. Here's a confession: I got pretty hung up on the class system of high school, even if I didn't really care about not being in the upper echelon, and I did it mostly to keep myself in my place, not others. As silly as it sounds today, remember, we WERE, like, 16. At 16, I thought U2 sucked and Poison ruled. I had a mullet. No one should really be held too accountable for the choices we make at that age, which is why teen pregnancy breaks my heart. But I'm kinda rambling. It was a long weekend.
ANYWAY, that last sentence might have given things away a bit. I entered the bar, saw some friends, my closest friends from high school arrived, and it was comfortable almost right away. They looked the same. They were more mature. That, unfortunately, is also unavoidable. But I was stunned at how easy it was to talk to these people again.
I even talked to some I hardly ever saw in high school. We had a large class - more than 400 - and so it was possible to completely avoid whole groups of folks until you graduated. Some of those were the upper echelons who ran cross country (which was actually cool at our school thanks to a coach who has won like 25 state titles), and they approached ME and wanted to talk running. Well, I mean, let's be honest. I know a thing or two about it, and they immediately said they'd heard I ran my first marathon. How did they know that?
It would have confused me a bit if these people were talking to me 20 years ago, but I quickly realized that while some of those people would hang on to those classes, but I needed to let them go.
When we gathered at another bar later, with at least 100 others, I had one of the best times in recent memory, and I even closed the place down. I got home at 2:30 a.m. I remember getting UP at 2:30 a.m. many times in the past few years, thanks to the twins, but I hadn't to bed that late in a long, long time.
It was wonderful, I told Mom the next day, after I got up at 9 a.m. when one of my girls jumped on my head and told me I "needed to get up."
That made the actual 20-year reunion the next night easier to take. I felt those same nerves at first, and to be honest, it didn't get much better after the first hour, until the beers kicked in, and even then it was sort of weird. I expected that though. People had their friends, and naturally they wanted to talk to them. I wasn't in a lot of those groups, and I remember being OK with that. I was even more OK with it that night.
I introduced Kate to some close friends, watched people for a while, regrettably missed talking to a couple others and left an hour before it closed.
We had a 5 a.m. date with the road back to Colorado.
I will probably talk to a few of them again, either on Facebook or maybe through a Christmas card. But then again, I don't know that for sure. I may never seem some of them again. I'll do my best, but people have their lives to lead, we all have our own futures to carve, and we can't keep relying on the past to make us happy along the way. That's what the present is for.
So what was the point?
Well, one of those best friends commented on Facebook the next day that there was something about knowing you've still got close friends in the world. These people know you in a way hardly anyone else does, even your closest friends today, and you know them just as well. It's nice to know that these people who you loved do not completely change. One of my friends laughed in that same goofy voice, and another still talks in rapid bursts, like an English Uzi, without ever taking a breath, and another still chews on her hair when she's quiet.
People do change. That's inevitable. It's good that they do. But their core, their internal selves that brought you all together like magnets, doesn't really evolve, and that's wonderful because it means you know those people will always be there for you.
Even if you haven't seen them in 20 years.
The past can be scary. It never changes. But it is possible to replace some of those worst moments with memories that actually make you smile instead of cringe.