I recently attended my thirty-fifth high school reunion in Miles City. I cannot believe I’ve been out of high school that long or that I am fifty-three years old. There are days I barely feel like I’m twenty. Although I ended up graduating from Bozeman (another story), the kids I love are the ones I grew up with and shared the angst-filled years of dating disasters and maturation that we all go through.
This reunion was an eye-opener for me. There were plenty of faces I didn’t recognize. At all. And plenty of folks who didn’t show. For whatever reason.
But the most cathartic aspect of the weekend was finding out how differently we all remember certain parts of high school. I was one of the smart kids. Not bragging. School came easy for me. And I liked my classes and most of my teachers. I was one of those annoying kids who got A’s without a lot of effort.
I was also one of those kids who participated in a lot of activities; band, sports, student council. Pretty much anything at school, I was involved.
I wouldn’t call myself one of the popular kids. I certainly was friends with most of my class of 130. But I wasn’t an elite jock or anything like that. I was just kind to most of the kids and would call the majority of my class friends.
But I wasn’t one of the ‘it’ girls. I didn’t get phone calls from boys, asking for dates. I didn’t get hit on. Or flirted with. Maybe because most of my buddies were boys. Maybe because I wasn’t pretty enough. Or cool enough. Whatever it was, I just never developed a sense in myself that I was attractive.
And eventually, that was okay. I was content being who I was, although I admit some envy toward the girls who knew how to giggle at the right time. Who knew how to bat their eyes just enough to keep a boy’s interest. Who could walk with a hint of sway when leaving a room. Not me. I just didn’t have it in me to play those games or learn those skills. So, I stayed the awkward smart girl who could be friends with anyone.
At this reunion, it seemed easy to morph back into that person. A handful of my best friends made it, boy and girl. And I felt at ease with each of them. Before too long, we were laughing like I remember doing at 16.
But then a strange thing happened: several of my guy buddies admitted, separately, that they each had a crush on me during high school. I laughed at every one of them. And asked them why they never asked me out.
“You were too pretty.”
“You were classy. ”
“You were too reserved.”
“You’d have never gone out with me.”
And the comments were all very similar. I was shocked. I never thought of myself as pretty or ‘above’ anyone. I always figured the boys just didn’t like the way I looked. Then another comment:
“I was terrified.”
“Of me?” I asked.
When my mouth hung open, he replied, “You were one of the cool kids.”
I did laugh hard enough for my drink to shoot out my nostrils, cementing my role as a dweeb. “I always wanted to be one of the cool kids.”
“You were. You and your girls.”
“We all had a crush on you,” one friend said. “But we knew we had no shot with you.”
“There were other girls who would do ‘stuff’,” another friend added.
It took me several minutes to digest the conversation. A cool kid? Me? Too pretty? No way.
I have to admit, it fed my ego a little bit to think that all my cute, funny guy friends had crushes on me. Those boys who were now tall, handsome, successful men. I gave them each a hug and a cheek kiss.
Do I wish they had asked me out? A part of me does. But a part of me treasures the fact that they held me with such regard. At the time, it stung and hurt that I wasn’t attractive enough to get dates. But today, I look back, and I think about the girls they mentioned as being ‘easy’ and I’m okay with the way I was in high school.
I was the quintessential ‘good girl’. All American girl, as one of my friends’ moms used to say. Not sure if she meant it as a compliment or a dig. But I was who I was. And I didn’t try very hard to change. I didn’t know how.
So, looking back, all the awkwardness I suffered through was okay. I’m proud of who I was and who I’ve become.
And the coolest part? One of those good buddies of mine, one of those boys who admitted to ‘always being attracted to me’ is slowly becoming more than a buddy. We are spending this weekend on a first date. He’s driving over from Billings to go through the Caverns with me and then on to the prison museum in Deer Lodge. He’ll spend the night here – in the basement guest room – and we’ll do something more tomorrow before he heads back home.
I haven’t been this excited about seeing someone in a long time. Who knows? Maybe karma will let us find some happiness together that we haven’t been able to achieve on our own, respectively.