I recently attended my high school reunion. The initial idea to have a reunion started from an individual messaging me via Facebook, and inquiring if I had heard about anyone planning one. I then sent a message to the ladies that had planned the previous reunion, and they in turn spread the message via social media to everyone they could essentially connect with from our Grad class. From that a small group formed and spear headed the organization of the reunion itself, putting on an excellent event enjoyed by everyone in attendance.
Interesting thing though, reunions, they have a way of, for an instant, pulling you back into memories of a past left behind. Walking through my old high school it was oddly different. I mean I recognized it on the outside, but when inside… mind you renovations had been done and things had changed. However, it wasn’t until we entered the last wing, that memories started to pop back into my head. It reminded me of a Canadian made movie I saw about a year or so back called ‘Room’. Things were there, same as always, but the world had become much bigger.
During the reunion I was talking to one of my former classmates and he mentioned that when he first heard about the reunion, he didn’t want to attend, not enjoying social settings. I thought to myself ‘Who the hell does enjoy these things?’ Seriously, for the first hour and a half they are awkward and extremely uncomfortable, at least for me they are. And then I thought, you know, they are obviously that way for others also… it is like most of us need to do this uncomfortable interaction to start things off.
Some of the individuals who have become successful may be more comfortable with this type of social setting, possibly attending several different functions on a weekly basis. When some of those individuals would approach, I could even feel myself almost robotically default into business/network mode, ready to hand out my business card and brag myself up… but then I would stop and catch myself. That is not why I came here, to solicit myself. My sole intention for attending was to simply see individuals that had been a huge part of my early life. Some of the individuals that were in attendance have been my friends for well over 30 years, and distance/living in different cities, along with raising kids, essentially life, causes it so that we do not connect as often as we did growing up.
I also find there are different stages amongst us. Some people in attendance have never left this small Southern Alberta town. Others have gone on to attend college or university. Still others have completed graduate school. Some have started businesses, and others have become world travellers. Yet we all grew up together, at least for a portion of time, some right from childhood into adulthood.
Growing up I often saw myself as an outsider, a ‘mis-fit.’ I wore many masks, maybe just trying different ones on to see if one would fit. At times I was the brain/nerd, at others a shit disturber, was bullied at times, and at times I bullied and hurt others. I once won an award for being most congenial, and was also a complete jerk/asshole to people of great significance in my early life. In high school some teachers would see me as a model student during the week, and on the weekends I would rebel to the point of ending up in the hospital from almost drinking myself into an early death. The one thing I think I neglected while growing up was to step back and look beyond ‘myself’, had I done this I may have realized earlier that many others may have felt similar, at times as though they didn’t belong, at times as though they wanted to escape, or end it all, and I do remember some of those that did.
I took a drive through our small Southern Alberta town after the reunion and as I drove, a line from one of my favorite movies Pump up the Volume spoken by Christian Slater popped into my head. ‘Just remember it can’t get any worse, it can only get better… being a teenager sucks, surviving it is the point, quitting will not make you stronger, living will, so hold on.’ Often when I was feeling low, I would remember this, and think about doing something ‘crazy’.
Guess that is the point. As you grow up you have all these people ‘expecting’ things of you, your friends, your parents, your teachers, possibly even your church. You don’t have to work, but you have all these ‘rules’, these restrictions on your freedoms, what to say, how to behave, how to act, what to believe, and the constant nudge to conform. Play the game little man, you marked down that you aren’t afraid of anything, well I could give you the strap, and then we will see if you are afraid, words spoken from my 5’2” principal whom I realized later in life likely suffered from his own ‘Napoleonic short man syndrome.’ What demons must this man have carried to feel the need to ‘break down’ the spirit of a child in Grade 1?
In Grade 2 I remember repeatedly receiving lashes of a ruler across my hands from my Asian teacher Mr. Oka… later I remember smiling in high school having bumped into him and having my good friend Trevor mention – ‘Hey Wes, don’t you have a ruler in your truck?’ – if only I had a camera to capture the expression on Mr. Oka’s face at that moment in time.
It wasn’t until college that my roommate Tricia pointed out how ridiculous my mute laugh was, a defense mechanism, I figure I developed in elementary school (Grades 3-5) to avoid getting the strap, as I would often find it quite humorous at how upset teachers could become, when you weren’t ‘respecting their quasi-authority’. But these are just some of the experiences and trials I went through, and everyone would have experienced their own.
I remember as a child catching tadpoles in a ditch by the bowling alley, riding my bike to the local candy shop at noon hour to get a sugar fix, drawing pictures on sidewalks, walls, and my fathers suburban, imagining crazy things that would years later become a part of our material reality, like map computers (GPS systems) and flying squirrel suits (wingman base-jumping suits). I remember young love and heartbreak, air bands, and endless hours of video games. I remember dialing rotary phones, watching sunsets, camping under the stars, exploring nature, catching fireflies and bees, shooting gophers, cutting class, egging vehicles, and drinking slurpees until my insides would freeze up.
As I continued my drive/cruise through this small Southern Alberta town I realized that a lot has changed. Most importantly I realize that the physical place where I grew up doesn’t matter, I could have grown up anywhere and had similar experiences as the ones I had. What matters is, and has always been the people with whom I shared these experiences. The nice thing about reuniting with individuals from this period of time was that we all shared in a part of each other’s personal experience. We all ‘grew up’ together and we all played a role, whether active participant, or observer from the sidelines. Looking back on this portion I have no regrets, life is too short. I made mistakes when I was 3, and 5, and 10, and 13, and 17, and 21, and 29, and 34… and I will continue to make mistakes as long as I am alive existing, until the point I take my last breath on this planet we all share. If I hurt you while growing ‘I am truly sorry,’ please cross me off your Billy Madison style people to kill list should you have one. If I helped or inspired you in anyway ‘I am glad’. I gave up the desire long ago for having had lived a better past, had less pain, and had things come easier. The past has brought me to the life I have now, and I love it.
– Wes Paterson