Southwest High School Class of '92 RAWKS!
June 11, 2008
I didn't hate high school. I know I'm supposed to. I know I'm supposed to cringe at the thought of my hair and clothes or get faint when I remember dances or lip syncing to "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," but I don't. I don't want to go back and relive those years in their entirety, but also I don't plan on shaking the cosmic Etch-a-Sketch over them or acting as though they were the worst years of my life.

A few of my high school friends have taken this route. In one instance, a very good friend suddenly and inexplicably cut off all communication with everyone the summer following our senior year. The trip to England that she and I were supposed to take with our mothers didn't happen. My mother and I went alone, and Leslie disappeared from my life. Not forever, mind you, because I eventually got a letter in college sort of explaining that her enforced retreat from post high school society was a personal choice that she didn't regret in the least. I also saw her a few times on my trips home and at my wedding. Effectively, however, the Leslie I knew in grade school, junior high, and high school was gone.

I'm sad about it, and not because our friendship would have endured the test of time and span of states, but because Leslie wants to erase her past and I'm part of that past. I assume it's because she wasn't happy with who she was in those days and so she decided to reinvent herself, but in drawing such a black curtain over whatever adolescent awkwardness or angst she had, she also snuffs out all the good times we shared. As one of my kookier friends -- the San Franciscans would call her a "free spirit" -- Leslie and I had no end of hysterical escapades together. (A few of which were caught on videotape, and all of which would be funny to no one else but us.) With an unexpectedly wicked and dry sense of humor in such a shy person, Leslie was quite unique. She was smart and studious, two things I know she felt were a curse at times, but she could also be extremely silly and irreverent.

I know that what hurts the most about Leslie's withdrawal is that I had once thought us so close, and the fact that I saw none of this coming makes me feel as though I failed her as a friend.

At our wedding, we had pieces of paper, pens, and a box where people could drop notes to us. It was the equivalent of a guest book, but without all the worry of other guests reading whatever hopelessly generic sentiment you had written -- something I was always self-conscious about at weddings I attended. On the flight back to Boston, I started going through the folded notes from friends and family. There were no less than three folded notes from Leslie, each one containing a single word that had been an inside joke between us for over thirteen years. At that moment with the Boeing 737 putting more and more miles between us, I felt a rush of closeness for my old friend that had been absent for so long. She knew! She understood! She remembered! Somewhere under that blasť attitude and careless personality, the old Leslie lurked.

On the opposite side of the BFF spectrum, there's a high school friend who remains my closest friend to this day. We haven't lived in the same state since high school, and I never see her for more than a week at a time once a year, but she still knows more about me and my life than practically anyone else. She is still the one I go to when I can't or won't go to anyone else. Oddly, we are closer and more honest friends now than we ever were in high school.

There's no way that I'm the same person I was in high school either, but it's the sort of morphing and transition that happens naturally. You go away to college, you go away to work, maybe you marry and have kids -- all of these things are bound to change you naturally. Why force it prematurely?

When I drive the same Minneapolis streets I biked as a ten-year-old and cruised as a sixteen-year-old, I feel a pull back to my high school years. Admittedly, it's not always a comfortable feeling, and at times, I have have to remind myself that I'm all grown up now (sort of). But that person is still inside of me. That person is still who I am. I can't deny my high school years or hate who I was then any more than I can my college years or even my twenties. Without that person with the curled bob and feathered bangs who once wore elbow-length black gloves and pantyhose with the seam up the back to Homecoming, I wouldn't be who I am now. So while it would be preferable that I hadn't sent anonymous Carnation Grams to a certain group of boys or home-permed my hair or worried about popularity, it's there. It's in me, and there's no ignoring it or pretending it didn't happen.

Instead, I embrace it. There has yet to be a trip home when I didn't get together with old high school girlfriends to pull out the yearbooks. We only look at the photos if we can't remember who a particular person was, because we're in it for what we wrote. We decode promises and inside jokes, nicknames and love triangles. Eventually, one of us will drag out a box or two filled with folded squares of torn notebook paper. Reading those hallway-passed notes aloud makes us ache with laughter and gasp as we remember certain intrigues and crushes. I never get tired of it.

A few other high school friends have pulled a Leslie and deliberately dropped out of touch. Some withdrawals are more puzzling than others, but all of them make me sad. The summers at the cabin, feeding greasy pizza to fish, Brady flying back and forth in the back of Matt's big orange monster of a van, Mike never failing to crack the same Fozzie Bear jokes in Matt's direction every time we drove by the same ceiling fan store, and the laughing.

Don't you remember all the laughing?

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