Sunday, March 1, 2009

High-school then and now

By the time I was five, I had lived in four different countries. If you do something often enough you get really good at it, and I am really skilled - sometimes to the point of seeming heartless- at leaving things behind, at not looking back, at being gone and not being found again. There have been people from my past that have looked for me for years without finding me. Even in these cyber times of blogs and email I managed to stay hidden. So when I joined facebook, I was utterly unprepared to be suddenly and overwhelmingly found by many many people from many parts of my past all at once.

High school, for instance. Let's talk about high school. I found these pictures, recently, of me in my sophomore year of high school after my winter prom.

As you see from the faux-pearl tiara, I was elected sophomore prom princess. 'Oh Social triumph!' you say. But it wasn't really. It was more uncomfortable and perplexing than anything else. I went with a boy I didn't know well. We had an awkward time. When my name was announced as princess, another girl squawked, "But I'M more popular than SHE is! I should have won!" So I was not alone in my perplexity.

After the prom was over, my date took me for drinks (this was Taiwan. No carding in bars.) I ordered some girly drink - a singapore sling, I think - and offered my date the Maraschino cherry from it. And he, predictably perhaps, replied "That's not the cherry I want." That's high school. Not all of it. I had friends and joy, and read William Faulkner which blew my mind wide open. But the good things are so interspersed with squirm-making memories like the prom that, when I graduated, I was thrilled to leave it all behind. And I left it completely behind. Never went to a reunion, only stayed in touch with a couple of friends, and that was fine with me.

Now here I am, a middle-aged woman, found by a whole heap of people who seem to remember high school much more happily than I do, or who, at least, have a much healthier sense of the continuity of their own lives. And I don't like it. So here's a question for those of you who have lived more or less in one place - one country, one state, or one city - all your lives; how do you do it? How do you reconcile the self you are now with the self you were then, especially when you run into someone who, say, remembers that time you were puking drunk, or who might have leeringly implied things about your maraschino cherry? In the pre-cyber past I was always able to put all that far behind me. But, apparently, putting it behind me is behind me now because there it is in front of me. So what do you do with your pasts?


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I hang my past out to dry on my Facebook account and on my blog.

ayem8y said...

I signed up for Facebook and it rooted through my email and came up with a bunch of people I really didn’t want to visit with all that often. It kind of scares me. I too have been a well hidden secret over the last twenty years and would sort of like to keep it that way. I’ll occasionally run into someone I haven’t seen in decades and it’s different with each one. Some are a welcome surprise and full of history to catch up on and others feel awkward and detached and they usually leave me feeling like I’ve just seen a ghost.

It’s funny I was reading this post and about to comment when I saw that you had just left your comment about Eudora Welty. Synchronicity and kindred spirits from Mississippi I suppose and a love of great Southern writers.

I’m dying to know if you still wear the tiara around the house from time to time?

yellowdog granny said...

dang..i wish i had a tiara.
i was raised in the air force and went to probably 13 different schools..but so far none of them have found me...but i have a different name now being married so many times..and most of the kids i went to school with are dead..haha..well, maybe not..but other than 2 friends that I have known for over 40 years and my x-sisterinlaw from my first one has found me out..
I keep expecting someone from my trial to pop up one day..but so far..not..

a thousand shades of twilight said...

A few things:
1. Faulkner was one of the first "grown up" authors I read as a teenager and, like you, my mind was suitably blown. I can't remember any other books having the same impact as The Sound and The Fury did when I read it, apart from,perhaps, Carson McCullers. I still remember the different settings (locations, weather etc) in which I read it.
2. I loathe being so trackable. I'm all for moving on. Although I've moved around a bit, I keep coming back to old Adelaide which feels smaller than it is. I sometimes feel so suffocated by my past that I am tempted to become a total shut in! I avoided our Central Market for years for that very reason even though it has some of the best produce around! That said, I have since ventured back there and I've learned not to make eye contact and wear shades at all times. What I find comforting is the thought that all those ghosts from the past are probably as equally keen to avoid me as I am them.
3. I had a guy from school (who was one of the kids I had least to do with in my year)facebook me. Whatever exchanges we did have at school were not particularly memorable or pleasant. I always thought he had an irrational dislike of me. Irrational because we didn't know each other. Anyway, he facebooked me last year and I was gobsmacked. One night he tried to instant-message me and I was so freaked out that I turned my computer off without responding. I suddenly felt self conscious and vulnerable like I had at school. I just don't get this rose-coloured glasses thing about school. I am curious, of course, as to what became of certain people. I would like to observe their lives through one-way glass. But that's about it. The few good friends I keep in touch with all became friends only after we left school, more by coincidence than anything.
4. I like the fact that you look so unimpressed in your tiara!

Willym said...

First off: Love the tiara - you were a princess, in the best sense of the word.

As for me I stayed in one community - a typical post-war suburb of Toronto - until I was 20 then I moved to the big TO proper. My lifestyle changed: I admitted I was gay (something more than a few of my classmates knew from experience)and worked for an airline. I began to travel and needless to say my circle of friends changed. Then I moved to Ottawa and met Laurent - and more changes, move travel, more moving around.

I lost contact with most of my high-school friends and to this day only correspond with two of them to any degree. The one I have known since she was born - she'd be a few years younger than I. The other was my next door neighbour for 20 years.

Several tried to make contact through facebook and classmates but I found there was too big a gap and many (particularly those who had experimented along with me) were uncomfortable with my lifestyle. As we say here with a demonstrative shrug: BOH!

One very close friend from the past sent me a lengthy e-mail all about his 2 failed marriages, 4 kids etc etc. So I thought it only fair to go back with the details of my life. The response was incredible: I cannot approve of your lifestyle choice - however if you're ever back in Toronto and want to get together for coffee give me a call!

I went back to him and suggested that I had not sought nor did I need this approval and the wish that marriage 3 would be more successful. Never heard from him again, BOH!

mrpeenee said...

Sweetie, you should have gone to the prom with a gay boy, he could have helped with your hair and at least he wouldn't have given you a yellow corsage for your burgundy dress. And the tiara’s swell, but I want you mother’s kimono.

I had a very similar time to Willym: I grew up in the same house and then fled. I did go back for my 30th high school reunion and was astonished at the number of people I’d gone to school with who had never left that wretched town. Some people are just drawn to misery.

Elizabeth said...


Dr. Monkey - Maybe I should follow suit. My past still seems messy and squishy.......

Ayem8y - I know! The nerve of it rooting around in my mail! And then the friends I do keep up with led to an avalanche of being friended by other people. Some of whom were and still are nice, and some of whom I never spoke one word to in high school. So why start now?

Someday I'll tell you about my great aunt's run-in with William Faulkner!

Granny - "I keep expecting someone from my trial to pop up...." Woman, you crack me up! Always! it wouldn't surprise me at this point if you told me you were really Bonnie in disguise and that you ditched Clyde because he was an asshole!

1000 shades - I keep telling you that I must be your mother's illegitimate oldest daughter. Or something.... Faulkner, McCullers, I read everything they wrote and, especially with McCullers, identified passionately.

My dear, I solemnly swear I will never IM you! And I wish I could use "Godsmacked" without sounding like a pretentious jerk or Madonna, which is redundant now that I think about it.

Don't you wonder about those people you never passed one word with who have friended you? Did they nurse a secret passion for you or, as you suspected, an irrational dislike? Just odd.

I wasn't impressed with the tiara because 1. I knew I couldn't keep it. 2.I was so bemused and befuddled by the night. Let's just say I stuck with my artsy friends and never bothered to go to a prom again!

Willym - The nerve to blab self-righteously about his failed marriages and then not "approve" of you. God, straight men give me a pain (except, always, for my husband)!

Mr P - Believe me, if I'd known who the gay boys were I would have gone with one of them. But this was a military high school and they were probably pretty deeply closeted. I keep waiting for one of my old high school guy friends to come out, but it hasn't happened yet. Several of the girls from school have come out as lesbians. The California "earthquake lady," Lucy Jones who they trot out on TV every time there's a quake in CA, was a year ahead of me and, I am told, gives all the girls vapors!

And as far as dress v. kimono? Yeah, the kimono beats it by a silken Japanese mile!

more cowbell said...

Oh girl, you looked so pretty and composed! I can't believe the cheap bastards took your tiara.

You know, I haven't been able to figure out why I am so resistant to Facebook. My daughters are always imploring me to get a profile. When I say the ONLY way I'd do it is anonymously, they look at me like I'm an idiot. Apparently, that goes against the whole principle.

I can relate to moving a lot and being able to adapt easily to leaving/arriving. (The only thing I've really had trouble adapting to is Seattle weather, actually) It's hard, but it's not ...

I went to HS in a little farm town where I was one of the few who came from outside, instead of being "born 'n raised". I guess I was fairly popular, but didn't hang with the popular crowd. I kind of hung with the brainy nerds, mostly hung with the music crowd or my youth group - those were part of my religious days, mind you - got along with the cheerleaders and the "freaks", but wasn't really in any certain crowd.

I joined the Army for the college money, was stationed in Georgia and Ohio briefly, but spent most of my adult life in Germany and Hungary until coming here to Seattle a few years back.

Like you, I never went to a reunion, although I apparently won a ton of "awards" in absentia for living the farthest distance, living the most places, etc.

I'd like to Facebook to connect with the Germany/Hungary folks, but really do not want to get into the high school or religious crowds.

I don't know why the thought of it makes me cringe, but it kind of does. Glad I'm not the only one.

Anonymous said...

I think people who carry on about how great high school was are deliberately misleading, or drunk.
High school as apotheosis? Just say no. ~Mary

Doralong said...

Being one who flies under the radar herself, I completely understand this. Ironically I actually have been working on a post regarding this as well. I'm actually rather uncomfortable with the intersection of people I left behind 30 years ago and my life today- not to mention I have less than no desire for any of them to run across my blog. While I am sure they are all lovely people- and it has to a degree been nice to re-connect with some of them- I lay low in the pseudo anonymous way on my blog for my own reasons and really am starting to wonder which I ought to give up.

Pyzahn said...

The time has come to laugh about when you were puking drunk, et al.

I moved around quite a bit after school. Maybe I'm overly nostalgic but I like hearing what people are up to. What I tell them about my own life is another matter.

Tinker? Tailor? Soldier? Spy?

Doctor? Lawyer? Indian Chief?

A few times I have heard from folks who were exceptionally mean to me in my earlier life. I take great pleasure in ignoring them. The delete button becomes my accomplice.

Elizabeth said...

FrankandMary - Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Yeah, I have to say I agree. I have to say that hey all do seem to be nice people now, but still.... it weirds me out. Which is certainly more my problem than theirs.

Cowbell - I know. But in a way, I'm kind of glad I got flung into this maelstrom of pasts so that I finally have to face this thing down, because it's not like it doesn't follow us around anyway.

As for your daughters, it's not like they can't reach you any other way! (Though yesterday my husband, who did join FB, was IMing our twins who were up in their room! How sad is that?)

Dora - I linked my blog on fb, and then unlinked it. How weird am I? I don't mind telling complete strangers every little thing in my head, but don't want to tell people I once knew. Silly me. I know it's because cutting off my past was the coping mechanism I developed growing up, but maybe it's time to grow up and get over that.....

Pyzahn - I couldn't agree more. And believe me, I do laugh at it all, or most of it, anyway. I certainly have dined out on the "That's not the cherry I want" story for years! I have to say, though, if that guy ever tried to friend me I would most definitely hit the ignore button!

sageweb said...

Since Fartbook is the one place where all family/real life friends/internets friends are all in the same place it makes me nervous sometimes..not wanting my family and real life friends uniting with my internet friends. Even though I use my internet name real life high school friends track me down.

I have a horrible memory or just choose not to remember the past. Facebook has brought up some memories...mostly by people who say..remember when....
usually I don't remember. Although my popularity in highschool was mostly the result of having 2 older popular sisters, I hated the attention. I was never comfy in my own skin..but I had no idea why..
Going back this weekend and running into people ...who my sister had to remind me who they were...sorta creeped me out...they were still in the little town, nothing had changed for them. Some people find happiness in the same old need change. Maybe that is why I can't keep a girlfriend very long.

Kim Hambric said...

I "joined" Classmates years ago -- the freebie method. I had no interest in paying money to be reached by people I didn't want to be reached by. Anyway, I get the frequent email from Classmates saying that someone has scribbled on my blackboard or some such thing, and up until earlier today, I didn't much care. I thought about blogging about it, but didn't and then I read your blog and now it's really on my mind.

I grew up in Roanoke, VA. Lived there until I went to college. Went back briefly afterward, and then moved on. I retained only one lifelong friend. All others dropped away & the ones I was closest too never came to the reunions. Yes, I went to my 10th and 20th. I'm one of those that, if there's roadkill, I have to see what it is. Reunions are great places to drink too much and not care if you make a fool of yourself. Can't do much worse than I did in high school.

I'm tempted to sign up for Facebook or just pay the fee for Classmates. I must know what is dead on the road. I must know who is gray. I must know who gave up screwing and drinking and found God.

I really don't think it will have much impact on my life. Then again, it may provoke someone to stalk me. Or perhaps I will find an art collector who will buy all of my work.

I don't think I'm all that different. I don't think I will care what others think. I'm just looking for a few wrinkles and gray hairs on previously pristine people.

And yes, high school sucked.

Elizabeth said...

Sage - I don't understand how someone can live a couple of decades, whether it's in the same place or all over the world - and not change. So that would creep me out too. Seems sort of pod-people-ish!

As for me, I'm trying to figure out a way to let all these different selves exist together. But it is weird weird weird!

Kim - Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Former classmates as roadkill! Ha! Yes, now that I'm on facebook, there is a fascination to seeing how they've all turned out. I'm definitely slowing down the car and looking! And at the same time there's something, for me anyway, very surreal about it, like seeing a ghost.

Jeff said...

I'm on facebook primarily to have a more real connection with my blog friends.

Along the way, I have reconnected with a couple of old HS friends, but I apply this simple decision tree:

If I don't want them to know about my life as it is now, I don't add them.

If we weren't friends then, I don't add them.

If I have any doubt, I don't add them.

It's my profile and I am free to use it to my own best interests, including self preservation when deemed appropriate.

Sparkleneely said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I read this weeks ago and have thought a lot about it. I'm one of those people who did stay in the same area for most of my life, except for college. (Where I too fell in love with Faulkner.) But I was lucky and grew up at the "end of the rainbow," as Armistead Maupin put it. And I've been lucky because I still have my friends from high school -- but was able to not see the people I hated until my ill fated high school reunion, and still question why I went except it makes a good, ridiculous story.

So I've been wondering if I'm one of those people who haven't changed, and have been grappling with it, because back then that's all I wanted. And I think that maybe I haven't, but maybe that's not a bad thing because I'm not "stuck." And I love being friends with all those people who knew me back then, and have met many more people along the way. I've never consciously tried to shed my past or recreated my identity -- it's happened organically.

What's so weird about facebook is that I have friends through every stage of my life on there -- all the way from 1st grade until last week. And since they are all people I've loved anyway, I'm okay with that. These days, with so many changes happening, I like the consistency and feeling like I'm grounded, at least in my relationships.

Sigh. Anyway, thanks for making me ponder. Yet another reason I love your blog.

Speaking of which -- when you get your book published, people from your past are going to say, "hey! I knew her when!" Ahhh, fame. xoxo