My wife and I were talking on a recent episode of my podcast about who we were when we graduated high school and went away to college. One of the things that came up was the idea that when you leave a place that has been your home for a very long time and head to a place where nobody knows you.
But as I was cleaning out the “high school and college stuff” box, I found an old address book that has addresses and phone numbers as well as the outdated contact information for a number of other people I lost touch with over the years. I’ve reconnected with a handful of them via Facebook and we’ve got that acquaintance-level relationship where we comment, post a picture, or wish a happy birthday every once in a while but don’t share much beyond that. Others I haven’t been interested in reconnecting with but could identify in an old photo. Still, there are some who I vaguely remember.
Now, a number of these people are classmates from high school, but a few of them are people I met while on a trip to Europe I took during the summer before my senior year. It’s a trip that I still consider one of the most important experiences of my life because of the way that since nobody with me been going to school with me for years, and therefore I wasn’t feeling the apprehension that came with my low high school social status. Quickly rereading that sentence makes me a little embarrassed that I probably spent too much time worrying about if popular people liked me or upset that I didn’t have a girlfriend, but I became uncool in the fifth or sixth grade and I will admit that I never really adjusted to it. I had been led to believe–through my family, through what I was seeing on television and in movies–that my social role in junior high school and high school was to find a “crew”. Everyone seemed to have a “crew”, and that’s what led me down the road to a number of toxic friendships in high school and college.
So by the time I went on that trip when I was seventeen, I had been searching for a “crew” going on six, maybe even eight years and had crap self esteem dogging me. But I think it took a couple of conversations with a few people and I let my guard down. I didn’t become a totally different person or anything, but I’ll be honest that I think it was one of the first periods of my life as a teenager when I felt that I could be myself instead of feeling like I had to play myself.
That sounds incredibly sad. It’s even sadder when I say that I knew those people for three weeks as opposed to hometown friends I’d known since I was a little kid. But in hindsight, it’s not, because when I see those names in that old address book as well as the names of people I met from an Anchor Club convention in San Antonio later that July or a retreat at Valley Forge the following October, I’m not filled with some sort of existential dread and I know that any chance I reconnect with them will not result in their dragging up decades-old mistakes and faux pas of mine. Yes, it’s a rose-colored glasses nostalgia, but I’ve done so much dredging of how terribly I was treated by so-called “friends” in these past twelve months that I feel like I need something like this.
And the title of this post is a little misleading because the people who really have known me the best over the years who are not my wife are dear friends from my hometown whom I feel I’ve known and know me on a level that very few do or ever will. But knowing that I could be my awkward, unassuming self and not have that used against me in any way is in a way, empowering, especially times when I find myself trying to work my way back out of my shell