|The Class of 1989 at our 25th Year Reunion|
The prospect of attending a high school reunion is often portrayed on television sitcoms as fraught with anxiety about several things, such as the inevitable weight gain or hair loss we have undergone, or the question of the level of success we have reached and if it is comparable to our peers' successes. I'll be honest; even as I remembered how much I enjoyed my 20th year reunion, I still felt the same anxiety that usually transpires on those sitcoms. While I was excited to attend the events, the Facebook event page showed that a lot of people were going who I was not close to in high school. I imagined I'd be sitting at the bar alone, sipping a drink and watching my classmates trade fond memories and ask each other, "Who is that?" while watching me nurse my glass of Chardonnay.
I was also anxious about something else. There was a possibility that someone would be at those events who I'd told last year never to contact me again. Since that moment seven months ago, I'd been concerned about this particular reunion. He had broken my heart repeatedly, and while I had moved on from my past in many ways, I wasn't sure what my reaction would be if I did see him again.
It took me a long time to get ready on the night of our first event last Friday night, more so because my anxiety was making me feel physically sick than any kind of vanity. But something made me go despite my fear of seeing him again. I told myself that I wanted to go, that I wanted to have fun, I wanted to see my classmates even if they didn't remember me, and, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know if I'd gotten stronger in the time since I broke off that connection completely.
He was one of the first people I saw when I walked in. I was surprised by what I felt; a level of comfort that someone I knew was there, as opposed to the fear, or maybe even brokenness, I thought I would have felt. But before I could even decide if I was going to walk past him or stop and at least acknowledge him, another classmate came up to me and said hello. Then another, and another. And little by little, almost every person in that room greeted me with a hug and a "Hi, Patty" (a nickname I don't remember earning in high school, but that's what almost everyone seemed to call me that night). And before I could get very deep into socializing, he came up to me as well, giving me a long hug and telling me a whole lot of stuff that was just as sophomoric as if we were still in high school.
I moved on. And I socialized, and had fun, and truly enjoyed being in this space with these people who I was not currently friends with, but who, for some reason, made me feel welcome, and even cared for. While I knew this person was there, I genuinely could not see a reason to let him, and the things he'd done to hurt me, ruin my night. And I definitely had a great night. (Let's just say YOLO was in full effect.)
At one point during the night, however, he came up to me and shared some news that took some of my breath away (and not in a good way). He asked if we could get together before I left town, and I said okay. We got together a few days later, and he shared a few more details. As he did, I sat there, feeling like one boulder had settled into the pit of my stomach and another on my chest, so that I was not able to breathe. He then asked if he could be a part of my life again. We had a long conversation about what was wrong with our relationship and what the point of reuniting in any manner would be. I was very clear that he'd had more than enough chances to do the right thing as it concerned me. And while we both said we still love each other and still think about each other every day, I was still dubious about his true intentions for wanting to start over.
I went home and cried - I had held my emotions throughout the weekend, and with the additional information I'd been provided, I had more to be upset about. And I cried, and cried some more. And then I got angry. I felt a slow, long, simmering anger that continued throughout the week, threatening to manifest itself through Facebook rants and Twitter subtweets. (Instead, I shared less emotional and more philosophical perspectives on accountability, love, and the like.) Of course, I asked myself if I could possibly start over with this person, someone who I'd felt emotionally and psychologically abused by, someone who had no empathy or compassion for anyone but himself. Despite all of that, I did have to admit that I still felt connected to him.
During our lunch meeting, he asked me if there was anyone else that I was excited about. If there was anyone that I loved or could imagine being with. He asked (not for the first time) that if I loved him, how could I possibly be with someone else? And I thought about that. I wondered if I would be living a lie if I moved on with someone else. Part of me wondered if he was right, and we were supposed to be together because somehow, even when things were hard or horrible between us, we still found a way to reunite.
Then I got past my emotions, and I thought about something else. I thought about how friendly all of the men were throughout the weekend. I thought about the men who let me know, to varying degrees, how attractive they thought I was. I thought about those two men who checked to make sure I was okay on Friday night before I drove home. I thought about the ones that I'd connected with after the reunion through Facebook or phone conversations, and how, in some ways, I felt more supported and more cared for after last weekend. I'm not discounting the connections with the women - we always seem to be genuinely happy to be together - but it was what I noticed about the men made me realize something. Those who were at our reunion events with their wives and significant others enjoyed being with them. Showed them off in some ways. Had fun with their partners. Those who were there alone were attentive and enjoyable to be around. I felt warm being around these people. Not hurt, not anxious, not fearful. And these men reminded me that men can be good; men can be caring and concerned about someone other than themselves. They reminded me that I don't have to settle for someone who says he's always loved me, but was never able to demonstrate that love in any meaningful way.
Most importantly, this past week of reunions gave me the opportunity to assess where I am mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after having moved to a different state earlier this year. The purpose of moving was to remove myself from a toxic environment and create opportunities for personal and professional progression. After seeing this person, I was anxious that reuniting with him would take me back to a place I thought I'd moved past. I thought that maybe he was supposed to always be a part of my life in some way, regardless of how much he continually hurt me. And for a few days, I lacked the peace and contentment I'd experienced since making the decision to change various aspects of my life. But when I thought about what I've learned about myself in the past few months - specifically that I took a risk to make my life the absolute best it could possibly be, and that I AM BRAVE, and that I refuse to SETTLE and be stagnant - I realized that some reunions should not be prolonged, because they aren't meant to create new and meaningful connections. Some reunions are meant to take you back from where you came. And while going back to the place you once called home is usually enjoyable, going backwards never is.