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Then

They say you can never go back to the way things were. I say, Thank God for that! Despite the warning, despite my philosophy, I went back.

It was around 1992, after my mother’s death and the unseemly distribution of her property, that I gleefully slammed the door on my hometown. “That’s over! I don’t ever have to come back to that stinking hole again!” I was so relieved, felt so free—so euphoric.

But a funny thing happened. Facebook (FB). Yes, I know, social networking is an empty, vacuous waste of time. Facebook is artificial and downright dangerous. Why, don’t you know, “they” are looking over your keyboard strokes, tracking every page you open, compiling data about you—“they” may as well have your social security number and fingerprints! But I’m more curious than I am afraid. If I get hacked, I get hacked. Bad things can happen every single time I walk out the door of my home. Heck, as clumsy and stupid as I can be, I don’t even have to walk out the door for something bad to happen.

Like a stubbed toe…?

On FB I connected with friends from the way-back. I connected with friends I’d completely forgotten I ever had. I had meaningful discussions and conversations—yes, that is possible on FB— with people whom I’d barely exchanged glances with back in high school. And in those conversations I learned some things:
• FB is not nearly as artificial as high school and junior high are.
• Each on of us was wrapped up in our own petty dramas in high school, too nerve- wracked to escape from the prisons we either lived in or fabricated in our own minds.
• In high school, we were all mere babies. Yes, we thought we were grown up and brilliant—of course we were far more sophisticated and erudite than our old-fashioned parents. But looking back, there is not one of us who could claim to have been fully formed the day we walked out of that school for the last time.
• Because we were so young, so untested, so naïve, it is ridiculous to hold grudges against classmates whom we swore were out to undermine us.
• We are all mere mortals, still struggling to do the right thing: to take the high road rather than the easier low road, to think before we speak, to speak the truth rather than the pre-programmed, to accept rather than to condemn, to be thoughtful and kind rather than reactionary and mean.

Okay, maybe not everyone lives up to that last item. I suppose there are a few who fully believe that they have all the answers and that their answers are the only correct answers. But those folks are the minority.

The renewed and invigorated connections I made on FB encouraged me to try the unthinkable. I decided it was time to grow up and take myself to my first high school reunion. At 40 years, the class is beginning to shrink exponentially. I’ve lost some important people lately and those losses have taught me how tenuous our connections are and what a privilege it is to push past the barriers that separate us from each other.

The Wall of the Departed (photo courtesy of Terri Johnston)

Prompted by FB conversations, I’d hauled out my high school yearbooks, desperate to remember the faces, the people whom I’d so diligently exorcised from memory. Just gazing at all those smooth-skinned faces, so serious, but yet so innocent and filled with the richness of experiences yet to come, forced me to contemplate numbers. The following statistics are relevant in 2011, but there is no reason to believe that there were any fewer of them in 1971, and this is only a list of reported cases:
• 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused by the age of 18.
• 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18.
• 70% of teen sexual abuse victims know their abuser. It is generally a family member, or someone close to the family.
• 69% of the incidences of teen sexual abuse occur in a residence.

The previous statistics address sexual abuse only. There are reams of other types of abuse often dovetailing with sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological abuse, neglect, and poverty augment misery. Looking at my class of about 300 students, these figures boggle the mind. In addition to the American condition of teenaged angst, some of us were further undermined by personal tragedies that were out of our control and definitely stashed in the closet.

Understanding these hard facts casts my classmates in a new light. I cannot hold them accountable for the hurts they may have inflicted upon me, for god only knows what hurts were being inflicted upon them.

And that brings up the subject of my own perceptions. How many people knowingly inflicted pain upon me? How many people did I unwittingly inflict pain upon? How long can I hold every boy in my high school accountable for the futile fact that I never had a date? Perhaps if I hadn’t been ultra-defensive, someone might have screwed up the courage to invite me somewhere. And had I been asked on a date, there is no guarantee that I would have been allowed to go, so the whole issue is a mute point. How embarrassing that it has taken me 40 years to grow up enough to accept responsibility for my lack of a social life in high school.

Photo courtesy Linnaea Kimble

I’m happy to report that I returned to this town which I had treated with such disrespect. I found the friends I’d lost, ignored, tossed aside, forgotten. I even got to know some folks I’d never bothered to have a conversation with 40 years ago. We are all just people. As my beloved orchestra teacher once said, “we all put our pants on one leg at a time.” RIP Mrs. Gillespie.

And Now   (Photo courtesy Linnaea Kimble)

And its true: you can never go back to the way things were. But you can go back and make things better.