Sunday, January 9, 2011

Who are we, really?

(Note: Stupid Me! I published this last Wednesday and realized, tonight, that I had set it for 1/5/2010 and not 2011. Thankfully I'm not running the New York Stock Exchange or working as flight control at some major airport, 'cause then my little mistakes would not be so endearing. My minor mix-up aside, here's what should have published days -- and not a year -- ago...)

Last week I met up with an old friend from high school who I hadn't seen for 8 years. This meeting was huge on two fronts: 

1.) I never kept in touch with anyone after high school. No specific reason why (i.e., had a Real Housewife-esque blowout a la Camille and Kyle), I just didn't. I suppose the overarching reason was I didn't feel like I had a lot in common with most of my high school friends. We got along fine (some of us more than others) but except for about three good friends, the rest I found tedious, annoying and on the fast track to nowhere (you know, the kind you could easily picture playing beer pong well into their 30s, quite possibly early 40s). Not that I choose my friends based on shared ambitions, but I come from a small (yet cute) beach town where unemployed surfers are the norm. 

2.) I never look people up to reconnect and rekindle friendships. Okay, reading that last sentence makes me feel like Miss Havisham, but it never occurs to me to do so. I think, subconciously, that my life needs to move forward. Not backward with past acquaintances. Which is strange since I admit that I'm often fully stuck in the pass -- the last few days, in fact, my old best friend from a decade ago has crossed my mind so frequently that I even had a dream about her two nights ago, something about us being on a road trip with Che Guevara and my grandma to find a decent cup of coffee. 

Anyway, the point is I had a terrible track record of staying in touch with all the new people I met after high school and through college. We'd have our fun times and then I'd move, or they'd move, and you both knew it would never be the same and this was back in the days before Facebook and Twitter and smart phones, so if you didn't make a concerted effort to pick up the phone and stay in touch then that was that. And even now, with social media as ubiquitous as a new Kardashian reality show, I have no problem staying off Facebook et. al. for days, weeks even, because I don't really care what all my old high school "friends" are up to. If I did I'd be calling them up.

But Laurel was different. 

I met Laurel at the end of my sophomore year, when she was a new transfer at our high school and I noticed her one day sitting alone near the campus perimeter, eating lunch. She was different than anyone I'd ever met. She had a fully shaved head because her hair "annoyed her", smoked cigarettes at 16 and had no real curfew. Back then the only girls I knew who shaved their heads were either Hare Krishnas I saw at the airport or women on Lifetime movies undergoing cancer treatment, neither of which Laurel was. That first day I saw her eating alone I invited her to come hang out with my group.

Laurel quickly assimilated in with my friends. We learned she was from a high school across town, one that was much more liberal and known for its hippie population. During the next two years Laurel grew her hair out, tweezed her brows and became a diehard Backstreet Boys fan. About a year into us knowing her she started sleeping around with different guys on campus, finding herself in compromising situations late at night in the backseat of her Corolla with random guys in ill-lit parking lots behind churches. The nastier of our friends began throwing around the "slut" word behind her back (which I think was stupid since it was kind of hypocritical). I mean, it's high school and she was just experimenting. That's the way I looked at it, at least. "Whore-el" became her new nickname and so it went on till we graduated and went our different ways. 

The last time I spoke with her she was transferring two years into college to a different university nearer to her boyfriend, who she would eventually marry and divorce another two years later, after he walked in one night, admitted to her that he'd been cheating with another woman, he was in love with that woman, and that he wanted her to move in with them asap. Needless to say, the next morning she closed out their joint savings account of $20,000, and never saw him in person again.

I knew I was going to be in town visiting my dad for the holidays, and Laurel had left messages here and there on my Facebook page, so I set up a time to meet. She just had her first baby, and I was genuinely interested in reconnecting with her, meeting her baby and catching up. After all, we were very close back in the day, even though aside from our passion for classic rock and shared love of making people feel awkward and uncomfortable, we didn't outrightly have much in common.

We met up for breakfast on one of my last days in town and it was as if she had come full circle. Funny how life does that. Once again her hair was short (not shaved, but definitely shorter than what I remember so many years ago), she wore no makeup and she plodded in wearing hemp sandals and a matching hemp diaper bag. It seemed like time had turned Laurel back into who she'd always been. Her baby was beyond adorable (in case you're wondering: holding it made me want one infinitely more) and of course it wore a cute little pink cloth diaper because "they're better for the environment," she said. Incidentally the baby's name, in true hippie fashion, was almost named Willow. 

Conversation flowed easily, but the entire time Laurel seemed uncomfortable. As though we'd never really known one another that well. This was a girl who used to spend the night all the time at my parents' house, who I'd sneak out my bedroom window with to go to parties and who'd spend hours at the local diner talking about boys and dreams and life. But you never would have known from our meeting over breakfast last week. Not that it was bad, but I guess I was expecting it to be better. She was much more guarded and distant and formal. 

I can't help but think it's because she felt I'd never really known the real her. That "her" in high school, when she went through her myriad phases, was only a shadow of her real self. Sure, I might have reached a deeper shadow than most back then, but it wasn't really her. Perhaps I didn't know her at all...only what she wanted me -- and everyone -- to know in her quest for acceptance. Which makes me question: who are we, really? Do we pretend to be something else in different stages of life? Because we yearn for acceptance and belonging that much? What bizarre lengths do we go to to project who we want to be to friends and family ?

It was comforting to see that Laurel had reverted to her old self. She fully embraced no makeup and cloth diapers and living a hippie life in the mountains, and she was happy. Beaming, even. And though it might have proven to both of us that our prior connection might not ever have been deep, it proved that we at least had stayed true to our personalities.


  1. I don't know if anyone is really themselves in high school. Like you said, you're still trying to figure out who you are. I'm glad you were able to reconnect with your friend, though. That's a good step!

  2. She sounds like a fascinating woman. Great job drawing me into the story.
    I don't think I will ever know who I am. :)

  3. Interesting, I feel like you articulated very well why I choose not to be on facebook or try to reconnect with people from high school. Frankly I didn't like the person that I was and imagine that I would have few connections to high school friends now days. It wasn't until graduate school that I felt truly comfortable with myself and found "my people".

  4. Do you think you guys will meet up again, then?