So my 20 year high school reunion is in a week. There are ice breaker events, the reunion and post reunion picnics and such planned for the whole weekend. I’ve been a part of the reunion committee and have played a, probably-not-so-insignificant, part in getting classmates interested in the reunion. Way-back in May I started the Voices of ’93 Podcast. Twice a week I’ve been interviewing my classmates from San Dieguito Class of ’93 and posting them on the internet for everyone to hear.
It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of work, and a real labor of love. It’s also been one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done.
Now, for those who know me – and those who’ve listened to my podcast – my difficulties in my youth are well documented. Early alcoholism and drug use, early sexual experiences that could be constituted as rape though the perception is “you’re a dude so it can’t be” stuff, crazy parental units from polar opposite worlds, school administration fuck ups, bad relationships, insecurities, terrified of women and commitments, bad grades, worse teachers… the list goes on and on…. you get the point. The fact of the matter is… while the memories of high school have faded over time, many of the emotional attachments I made to those memories have not.
When the details of memory fade all that we are left with, often times, is the vague impression of our emotional response to those memories. I might not remember the specifics of being a self-imposed exile in high school, but my feelings about that time have remained. No matter how little I can explain to you about my moment to moment experiences from that time of my life I have always been able to tell you I felt alone, neglected, ridiculed, small and scared.
The podcast, and the over 30 hours of interviews I’ve produced on it, has somehow been a form of therapy for me and the residual emotional baggage I’ve carried with me into adulthood from high school.
You see, what I’ve found for me, the more I have opened up and shared with the class… the more I’ve heard them open up as well… the more I’ve come to realize that nearly all of the bullshit I lived through in those years was also experienced, in their own ways, by my classmates. So many of us dealt with drug-dealing parents, rape, feelings of inadequacy and ridicule, a sense of not fitting-in (yes, even in the so-called “popular kids”), neglect, school issues and more. I was never truly alone in the things I experienced. There was nothing truly unique in my hardships. We were all experiencing our own personal hardships through that time. And for many the outward appearances of being completely together was just a facade. One that apparently I was also able to outwardly convince people I had as well. Torrey Nommesen, a theater friend of mine from San Dieguito, said that he always thought that I was completely together. That I was always “in the know” and involved and composed. He never got the sense that I was batshit fucking terrified of the world. I had them all fooled!
And there lies the truth of the matter. Everyone had everyone else fooled. No one has their shit together in high school. And no one really has their shit together as an adult. We are all still “making it up as we go along.” The difference is, most of us don’t hide that fact anymore. We embrace it. Like adults. There’s no roadmap for life. There’s no right or wrong way to approach your existence. You figure it out. You do what works for you.
The difficulty of high school for me was that I never understood how “not alone” I really was in the world. That if I had just reached out and learned more about the people I spent every day of my life with I would have understood that the things I was so scared about were the same things they were scared about. That we weren’t all alone in our search for meaning, compassion, understanding… We were not alone.
And just knowing that one little thing, 20 years later. Well that has done wonders for my memories. Yes, the podcast has helped me remember some details better, but what it has really done for me is remove the dark veil of bitterness and resentment that had clouded those memories for years. That’s right. I’m no longer able to look back on my own memories of high school and feel bad about it. Yes, bad things happened to me. But bad things happened to all of us. The school wasn’t out to get me. My teachers that were bad to me, were bad to everyone. It wasn’t about me. The students who made me uncomfortable or were mean… they were probably as messed up and confused as I was. I certainly did my part to contribute to being mean and cruel on occasion. It wasn’t that I was mean or cruel… I was just hurting and lashing out. I can’t be angry and unforgiving of those who did the same and also hope that I can be forgiven by the one’s I did it to as well. I want forgiveness… I also have to forgive.
Liberating. The whole experience, which terrified me to start, has turned into an incredibly liberating one. I am a different person because of this podcast. I am a better person because of the podcast. And I thank my classmates for participating, for listening and for being the amazing people they all are. May you all find your joy and successes in life. I will keep doing the podcast after the reunion, for as long as my classmates want to keep participating.
I’m looking forward to August 17th. The reunion will be a whirlwind of activity and then it will be gone. Yet one more emotional memory to file away with the rest. But what a personal library I’ve built. I can’t wait to continue adding chapters and rewriting history. The story of my life just gets more interesting.
Until next time, you all take care… and we’ll talk soon.