Welcome to Chapter 5 of my blog-to-book project: Life After High School: Secrets To A Successful Life By Those Who Have Had Twenty Years To Think About It (or) What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. This chapter is called Family Fun Day. If you missed the last post, click here, otherwise, you can start at the beginning here.
The morning after the reunion we got our kids ready to go to Family Fun Day. Scott’s folks live on Parkside Drive in Skyline, which is adjacent to an absolutely beautiful beachfront campground called Washington park. A few remnants of the reunion who managed to stick around for another day convened in a beautiful beach picnic spot.
To my delight, two people I really wanted to catch up with showed. Suzanne Earles (formerly Roberts), and Kim Griffin came together, along with Suzanne’s wonderful mother Janet. The reason for my excitement was that the four of us spent quite a bit of time together as co-conspirators in both projects and pandemonium.
The two women and I were all transplants to the town in sophomore and junior years, so we didn’t have the benefit or the curse of growing up with our peers. Scott always felt like a bit of an outsider simply due to his disposition, so it worked out great and we got to be whomever we wanted. Suzanne and I even went to prom together. I took her to my grandparents 40th wedding anniversary that just happened to be the same night, donning a white tux with a green bowtie next to a matching Suzanne in a green dress.
The four of us collaborated to help produce an original musical that Scott’s dad Steve McKinstry wrote, called Bumble’s Garden. There were a hundred different things we did as a team or as partners, and it gave us hope for a better future.
At the picnic, my wife sat with Janet Roberts and had a wonderful time trying to be patient with me as our kids ran around like lunatics, while I was deep in conversations and completely ignoring them.
I focused intently on these deep conversations as the skin on my forehead burned to a crisp. Being fair-skinned and red-headed, my mom hounded me about wearing my sunscreen. I caught myself several times looking around to see if she would be standing there scolding me. I brought the bottle with me and then of course promptly left it in my bag back at the house.
Among all the conversations, the most interesting thing I picked up on was how many mixed emotions there were concerning the process of reconnecting, along with the strange pandora’s box of feelings that spontaneously abrupt when the memories begin to surface. It is like a strange group therapy session, where old habituated patterns and automatic reactions seem to surface subtly, or not so subtly, as the old neural pathways and brain synapses begin firing again. It is like an old engine that has been sitting for far too long, that someone begins trying to crank up again. It sputters and chokes, but eventually the pistons start firing explosively and sometimes clouds of blue and black smoke might spit out with a cough.
In this case, old friendships seem like they never left, and old uncomfortable relationships still foster an odd memory too, sometimes manifesting the faint old memory of a grudge, a desire to flee, or a desire to hug. I am not sure if I made all this up in my head, but I felt like I was seeing high school kids in adult bodies. The only change was the pain and scars of surviving this long in such a cruel world. There were battle wounds and there was wisdom, but the same kid was still in there wanting to sprout wings and fly away. Of course, most people have done a very good job of beating the kid into submission and tying down the wings, but there is a little spark in all of us that remains, even if imprisoned in twenty years of layered stories, discipline, hurt, loss, and pain.
One particular comment from Suzanne made me particularly intrigued. I am not sure how serious she was, but she expressed a little concern or perhaps even remorse about the idealism we all bought into and perpetuated in high school. I think her comment was directed specifically at the four of us, which would make sense (and if I get this wrong, I apologize Suzanne).
We shot for the stars and thought anything was possible, and perhaps we did have delusions of grandeur about life and its possibilities. After all, I was taught by my parents that I could do anything if only I could figure out what that was, and then disciplined myself to go after it with all my heart, blood, sweat, and Tears For Fears.
Come to think of it, I think if you asked Scott and me what we wanted to be after high school, we might both have said simultaneously like Siamese twins: “A rich and famous Oscar/Emmy/Tony-winning Hollywood performer, actor and director, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Nobel Prize winning Physicist, an astronaut, and the President Of The United States…” as well as several other things, all in the same breath.
After high school, we all went through some difficult challenges and hurdles that none of us saw coming. Suzanne had a dream in high school that eventually was shattered and she had to later embrace a completely different life path. I think all of us do. Our best-laid plans often get bazooka-blown to smithereens.
Suzanne had done some amazing things with her life and I am proud of who she has become, and I do see her point. After all, there is a balance when it comes to idealism and goal setting. Let’s be real for a minute here Captain Amazing. It might be a little difficult for me to become the next NBA star if I started today. After all, I am under six feet tall, I’m thirty-nine years old, I don’t have connections in the world of basketball, and perhaps most importantly, I never practice. I’m no career counselor, but my guess is that it isn’t going to happen.
Yet part of me was reticent about accepting the philosophical notion I felt was underpinning Suzanne’s comment. In other words, there is a part of me that is still a dreamer and absolutely refuses to let it go. I must get that from my mom, who was an eternal optimist. Even on her death-bed, she saw the world with rose-colored glasses—on purpose.
We may be a little naive, and we may be selective in what we choose to pay attention too, but in the end, you either have a growth mindset or a “that’s-just-the-way-I-am” mindset when it comes to your life. The glass is half full and it is half empty, but most of the time it is better just to drink it down, find a purpose for your life and a reason for living, and get moving.
There were several people who felt the pull and wanted to do this reunion thing again in five years, rather than ten. Some people wanted to stay in touch. Some simply said goodbye, knowing that most likely many will never see each other again. We live in a much busier and technologically complicated world than we lived in during the 1990’s. It could make it easier to stay in touch, but for some reason, I feel the experiment backfired. Nowadays, everyone communicates, but very few connect. It is the connection that we secretly crave and that we get so little of in all the noise.
Mae and I said our goodbye’s to the McKinstry family and thanked Ryan again for watching them. I gave Ryan some money which he kept on refusing and leaving on the table and I ended up having to force him to take it. The kid has a heart of gold. Scott’s parents Pam and Steve had been wonderful hosts and even left us a bottle of Champaign that we didn’t open, but by the time we left I could have used some of the Old-Bubbly myself.
I left in silence as we drove away and then something very strange happened to me. I had a bizarre surge of confused feelings, both of joy and sadness at the same time. I had an ongoing flashback that lasted for ten minutes but felt like hours. It wasn’t just about high school for me, however. I had a million other neural connections to the place and the people.
Both of my parents have passed away from cancer over the last few years. Driving by our former home, which was their favorite place they ever lived, just brought my emotional house down. Realizing the monumental significance of all of my life decisions and unkept promises, along with the stark realization about how fast time passes, I completely lost it. I literally broke down and bawled my eyes out all the way home.
Of course, my kids were bewildered and asked mommy what was wrong with their crazy father. Thankfully, my wife and I have been together long enough (we had just celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary only weeks before), and she knew me well enough to just let it ride. Mostly I think she just ignores it since it never makes sense to anyone else and she would at least like to keep up some pretense that I am a real man and don’t act like a woman most of the time. No offense to women! And no offense to men who cry either! Just stop taking offense and get off my case, will you?
Now, you might be thinking: “Oh, it is because his parents died. I guess that makes sense.” However, it wasn’t just that. It was much more than that. The out-of-control sobbing was coming from a deeper place. There are several stages of the grieving process that all take considerable time to go through, but this was a different grief stage altogether from a different source of pain.
In the next post, I interview Tanya Sydnor.
Are you from Generation X? I want to hear what you think! Please comment below and participate in the conversation about What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. What do you wish someone told you when you were eighteen?