Near this time tomorrow I will be attending my high school’s reunion, milling around at the local country club. Instead of being thrilled to reunite with my classmates, I’m dreading it. I keep asking myself-Who in the bloody hell ARE these people? So, I’ve decided that the only way I can cope is to get blind, stinkin’ drunk...(kidding)!
Rather than drink myself numb, I’ve decided to approach the event as I did some of my studies in anthropology. After all, theirs is a culture that has mystified me almost from the first day we attended kindergarten (and Sunday School) together. And it continues to baffle me even now, as evidenced by their interactions on Facebook. Therefore, I will conduct an ethnographic study of sorts. I am an outlier whose job is to simply observe and study.
It seems appropriate that I would finally willingly embrace that role. I realized, so early on, that I thought differently than most everyone around me (including my parents, I regret to say). I was adopted, so I was that much further removed, as if it were a scarlet letter. But I tried, over and over, to fit in, only to be sabotaged by mean girls and their mothers, by authoritarian teachers who resented the fact that I was likely smarter than they were, by boys who teased me into thinking they liked me when they really just wanted to either cop a feel or win a bet.
The geography and demographic data speak volumes: This is a small, but not tiny, Texas town, dusty and flat, far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities-the liberal bastion of Austin is a world away. As one would expect, churches were (and continue to be) the cornerstone of the community. But the churches, in addition to school and my family, were the first places where I saw the separation of class, sex and race. It was bewildering-surely the rest of the world wasn’t like this!?
The town had one high school-there were approximately 300 people in my graduating class. A rough breakdown of some demos for that microcosm, according to the pictures in the yearbook: 75 Hispanics,or as my family called them, Messkins (oh, there were other slurs), 17 African Americans (you can guess what my parents called them...), and yep, you guessed it, the rest were white like me. Oh, wait, we were more diverse than that! There was one Indian girl and a Vietnamese girl. So diverse.
If a person of color happened to be good in sports or attractive, they were amply rewarded with recognition and popularity. Otherwise, they would be relegated to the fringe...yes, there were others, much more removed from the center of that universe than I was.
The memories started coming back when I moved back to the city of my childhood a few years ago. And the more I feel anchored to this place, the more the memories linger. Now, they’re everpresent with this event. Some might ask why I would bother to go...believe me, I have struggled with that. But I was lucky enough to have two real friends during my childhood that will be there. One is flying in from Hawaii, and will be staying with me. If not for that, I would not go.
There was a 20-year reunion, so I heard. Someone posted pictures on Facebook recently. It was clear that a very small group had orchestrated an exclusive get-together. As my friend and I discussed, such a mendacious act would not be possible in the age of Facebook. People “friend” people that they barely said a word to in high school. All of a sudden, everyone likes everyone. Funny, that.
And speaking of Facebook-it has been a great tool for me. I’ve gained more insight into who these people are and were. It’s not surprising (disappointing, though) that the Class of 82 is filled with racist, sexist republicans who never evolved from their narrow views. Their hatred of “the other” is splayed across the screen, with rants about welfare queens and chik-fil-a, with slurs and jokes about our President, and so on, interspersed with Bible quotes and cute kiddie and animal pictures. The contradictions are astounding.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes-Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” These people showed me when I was growing up, but I didn’t want to believe them. I do now.