I recently went to an Off-Broadway show for a school assignment. The task was simple: see the show, talk to an old high school friend who happened to be working on the show, ask him a few questions for my piece and go about my merry way. But on that night, I happened to have also run into another classmate of mine, also there to see the show. As I’m sitting in my seat, taking preliminary notes in my frayed notebook, I hear my name be called, only to see them talking and walking up the stairs to me in the mezzanine. I give my old classmates a hug and have pleasantries. But then she and him started to talk about things that related to their schooling and other things that I didn’t know about. Although I pretended to be completely zoned out of a conversation that clearly should not have been happening in my presence, my response was to fall back and become my high school self — socially awkward, with my insides spinning and my brain completely unsure of anything surrounding me.
Has anyone else felt like this when they see people from their pasts? This weird feeling that builds up in your stomach and you’re not sure whether you’re going to die of embarrassment or just crawl through the floor in order to avoid this feeling? I hadn’t experienced it for a while until that moment. I understood that these two went to school together — both high school and college. It just made me feel out of the loop, something I tend to feel a lot these days. It made me feel like all the maturing I went through in my own years in college — a different one than theirs — went through the window and I was left with a shell of myself in that moment.
When most of us graduate from high school, we try to make something different of our lives. We try to leave the past behind to an extent. We grow, we build, we learn new things about life that most probably would’ve terrified our teenage selves. In the process of doing so, we also try to prove to our former classmates that we have better lives than we actually do. That we have built something that changes their views on us. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not painfully awkward and uncomfortable in the process. It took all of me to not grab my stuff, say it was nice to see you, and leave the theater entirely — all before the show began!
Thinking back on that moment, I realized something important. High school classmates don’t matter. If they weren’t supportive of you when you were in school together, why would they be supportive of you now? It’s not like you’ve spoken to them recently, even being ghosted by the other when trying to reach out. It’s not like you’re about to see them on the train ride home every week. It’s not like you’re going to bump into them every five minutes. But it’s also important to remember to keep your head held high when you are thrown into those situations. Remember who you have become, despite feeling like you’re crawling into your teenage skin all over again.
Back to the story. As my former classmates are having their lovely conversation about college (both are in/went to Princeton — a college I could never dream of getting into, let alone afford), I take a small second to breathe. I remind myself of a very simple mantra — remain calm and all will be okay. This conversation will be over in a short bit. This weird, uncomfortable feeling that has been dormant deep inside you for so long will once again be dormant in just a few minutes. And the most important reminder — the only person you need to impress is yourself.
At the end of the day, I knew that these two individuals were not going to make a difference in my personality. They were not about to change the way I choose to dress, the way I do my hair and makeup. They were not about to choose the way I think or feel at any particular moment in time. They didn’t dictate me. I needed to remember that and believe that any feeling or thought I have is not invalid. I might not be as book smart as they are or have the same privileges as them, but I’ve been pretty lucky in my life since high school and no one is about to take that away from me.
As they leave to take their seats and the lights come down, the feeling I had earlier starts to calm down in the pit of my stomach. The music takes me in and my purpose of being in the theater comes back to me. I’m slowly becoming me again. Before I know it, I’m back to the person I know and love.
The person I am today has remnants of my past, but people from high school are not going to determine my future — that is all me and I’m forever grateful for it.