My friend recently went to her 30th high school reunion. She danced with a guy who was shy and awkward in high school. My friend was glad she had the courage to ask him to dance, because in high school she would not have felt comfortable doing it. The guy thanked her, and said if she had asked him to dance back then he would have been petrified. But now he was just a little scared. Then he exclaimed, Growth!
My friend related that as the night wore on, many overdue apologies were exchanged, and that it became contagious. That reminded me of something that happened at my 25th high school reunion a while back. Like so many people, I had troubles with bullies and being ostracized in middle school. I could go on at some length about what happened to me, but suffice it to say that I was different, which left me isolated and thus vulnerable. I saw the two main perpetrators talking to each other at the reunion, and I had the sudden urge to confront them, since it had stayed with me all these years. Trauma has a way of not going away. I knew I would not get another chance.
We exchanged quick greetings and I looked back and forth at the two of them and said without any tension or fear in my voice, You guys made my life miserable back in middle school and I want to know why you did that. I wasnt looking for an apology; just the truth.
The guy to my right made an uncomfortable smile that showed me how little he wanted to talk about this. The guy to my left, who was by far the worst of anyone back in the bad old days, looked right back at me and did not hesitate, nor did he show any surprise at my question. Because I was a little shit, thats why. And Im sorry. He hesitated a moment and then said, After I graduated, I worked in the tobacco fields, and did the same thing to the migrant workers. Now every time I see anything like it on TV or anywhere else, I cringe inside.
By asking my question forthrightly, I felt I reclaimed a piece of my dignity that I lost way back then. By him answering the way he did, he reclaimed a little of his. We talked for a minute or two about what we had done since high school, but I was not looking for friendship and went back to my wife. Later that evening, as I was heading for the door, the other guy, who showed discomfort, and who never said a word during that conversation, came up to me, shook my hand, and said he was sorry. He then told me that kids in school used to tease him about his red hair, and he didnt like it. It is shockingly foolish and painful, the things that go on.
The people I most wanted to see did not come to the reunion, but the people I most needed to see did. The evening was well worth it. It is good to know people can change and mature, and that demons can sometimes be put to rest.