I’m standing in a ridiculously long security line at the Southwest terminal at LAX. True to form, I’ve somehow picked the slowest line, the one filled with people who seem confounded by the take your stuff and put it on the conveyor belt part of the process. We’re moving at a snail’s pace. Eventually my thought bubble overflows, and I make a wisecrack to anyone within just-above-whispering distance.
“If we move any slower, we’ll be moving backwards,” I say.
Someone calls my name from behind me in line. I turn around to see Steve, a friend from high school. I always liked him, but I haven’t laid eyes on him since graduation 20 years ago. I’m happy to see him, but I’m curious how he recognized me. “You haven’t changed a bit,” he explains. “Still a redheaded, wisecracking, shoe lover.” I look down at my sparkly Sergio Rossi sandals, almost embarrassed as I realize I had a pair of shoes in high school that looked nearly the same. I’m impressed he remembered, but I’m a bit horrified to notice that my tastes haven’t changed much since then.
That’s when panic sets in. “Oh god!” I think to myself. “I don’t want to be the same person I was in high school. High school was a tragedy. I can’t possibly be the same when I’ve worked my whole adult life to be different!”
I go into a thought tailspin that takes me through my entire flight from Los Angeles to JFK. I’m so different than I was in high school. I’d hate for someone to think of the high school me as the real me. Aaah!
Like most people, I look back on high school in horror. My sole goal back then was to blend in and disappear. I had braces, used too much hair spray and never met a pair of shoulder pads I didn’t like. I’ve worked tirelessly to overcome being an invisible dork. Hearing that I might appear to be exactly the same as I was 20 years ago makes me wonder if I’m still that same invisible girl. Worse yet, it makes me wonder if the world sees me as the same awkward, gawky girl who got boobs late and braces early.
But as I think about it more, I realize high school wasn’t all bad. I had the best group of girl friends–– I’m still trying to replicate them. 1980s fashion was outrageous and fun, and so was the music. But I felt like a kid in a John Hughes movie. Except in my version, Jake Ryan didn’t get my panties back from the geeks; instead, he and his asshole friends tried to cheat off me in AP math or egged my house on the way home from a party.
But the truth is, I’m still listening to the same music as I was in high school. I’m never too far from a Morrissey song, and The English Beat is always on my playlist. I don’t wear shoulder pads and penny loafers, but my hair kind of looks the same as it did in my senior portrait because I thankfully didn’t go full monty with the hair spray in high school. And I’m still a wisecracking redhead who never stops buying shoes, just as Steve noted. I developed those tastes in high school, and they still shape who I am today.
So maybe I’m really not that much different than I was in high school. Maybe none of us are. High school is the first time we develop our own tastes and the first we try to express ourselves. High school is the time we might first get our hearts broken and when we might become someone’s first crush. It’s when we spend endless hours daydreaming about where we want to go and how we want to get there. It may be four years of pimples and pain, but it’s also an innocent time when anything is possible, even if there is an asshole and his friends trying to cheat off you in AP math.
The next time I see an old high school friend, I’ll consider it a compliment if he says I haven’t changed a bit since then. Now that I think about it more, high school wasn’t so bad. Maybe I wasn’t either.