I Hated High School, But This Is Why I Feel Compelled To Go To My Reunion

by Lisa Goodman-Helfand
Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury / Getty

Ever heard of F.O.C.K.?

No? That’s because I coined the term. At least I think I did because it didn’t pop up when I Googled it.

F.O.C.K., or Fear of Cool Kids: A condition one may acquire during childhood when he/she feels inferior to the cool kids at school. Symptoms of F.O.C.K. generally manifest when insecure kids are in the presence of cool kids. Behavior may include: stumbling over one’s words, inability to communicate coherently, and behaving ridiculously to compensate for one’s own coolness deficiency. Though F.O.C.K. typically emerges during the late-elementary or middle school years, it generally peaks in high school and slowly dissipates as one enters adulthood.

You’re probably thinking I’m about to describe how my teenage son or tween daughter came down with F.O.C.K. and I, in a brilliant display of superior parenting, helped them overcome it. Nope, ‘tis I who suffers from a lingering case of F.O.C.K.

If memory serves me correctly, junior high was when I developed an intense case of F.O.C.K., but high school is when my F.O.C.K. fully flourished. I won’t rehash all the details, but it’s safe to say, my F.O.C.K. was the only part of me that peaked in high school.

Back then, I was baffled by the cool kids. How did they walk down the hall, seemingly occupying more space than the rest of us, with such confidence? How could they be having so much fun every single second of every single day? How did they effortlessly hang out on the weekends doing very cool things that I would never be able to pull off? The cool kids intimidated the crap out of me and my F.O.C.K. would flare up within 10 feet of them.

As high school drew to a close, so did my acute case of F.O.C.K. I went on to college and became friends with people who would have been F.O.C.K.-worthy in high school. Although my F.O.C.K. would resurface occasionally, I was mostly able to shed the condition post-college.

Ten years after high school graduation, with my F.O.C.K. firmly behind me, I decided to go to my reunion. I was a happily married woman with a career and my first baby on the way. Since consuming large quantities of alcohol is frowned upon during pregnancy, I found myself stone-cold sober among a sea of wasted classmates. Perhaps it was the lack of booze that resurrected my full-blown case of F.O.C.K.

I don’t know if it was the absence of a Fuzzy Navel, or just seeing so many mean girls in one place, but the instant I walked into the private party room of that bar, I was catapulted back in time. As the music throbbed, so did my heart. In one corner, all the cool kids were gathered, in another was the guy who relentlessly bullied me in high school. I headed straight for the bathroom.

Behind the swinging bathroom door stood a few women who looked vaguely familiar. I smiled, said hello, and then listened to their conversation behind the safety of the stall door. One of the woman was recounting a recent drug and sex-filled wild night. I recognized the speaker’s voice. It belonged to the girl in high school who made fun of me in social studies during freshman year. She was notorious for cutting class and getting kicked out of school for who-knows-what. For someone with F.O.C.K, this was a double whammy — she was both cool and legit scary!

I emerged from the stall and headed toward the bank of sinks the cool/scary posse had congregated around. They all looked at me, knew I was clearly trying to get by to wash my hands, and continued to obstruct all the sinks. I swear I’m not making this up. They intentionally blocked a pregnant lady from washing her hands. I stood there paralyzed by my F.O.C.K., unable to utter the words, excuse me. Eventually, I squeezed my way to a sink and then bolted out the door.

I recovered from the terrifying gang of sink-blockers in time to hear one of the cool kids giving the welcome speech. “Great to see everyone! The last time we were all together on a Saturday night, we were probably being chased by the cops!”

The room erupted with laughter. Hmm… I must have been babysitting or going out for a wild night of spicy Chinese food while the cool kids evaded the police.

Due to my unexpected F.O.C.K. flare at my 10-year reunion, I took a pass on my 20th reunion.

The invite to my 25th high school reunion recently popped up on my Facebook feed.

So here I am, a F.O.C.K. survivor in remission, contemplating attending my 25-year high school reunion.

The baby I was pregnant with 15 years ago is now a freshman himself in high school. How can I tell him and his sister that popularity doesn’t matter? How can I tell my own kids not to let fear hold them back, or worry what other people think? How can I guide them through their adolescent angst when I still can’t face my own?

As a mother, am I not obligated to model positive social behavior and go to my reunion? Who am I kidding? My kids couldn’t care less if I go. This is about me, not them. The truth is, I had friends in high school who I would genuinely like to see, and I’m not going to allow fear to stand in my way. Twenty-five years later, does it really matter who was cool in high school? It’s such an arbitrary and abstract term anyway.

In my high school, the athletes and cheerleaders generally were the definition of cool. What constitutes cool adults a few decades later? Some might say the car we drive, the vacations we take, or the balance in our bank account. Others would argue it’s who has the fewest gray hairs, wrinkles, or cellulite. I beg to differ. I think if you’ve overcome hardships, conquered fears, and feel content, or even happy most of the time, that should place you firmly in the cool crowd. By my own definition, I’ll be considered a pretty cool chick at my upcoming reunion.

So, 25 years later, I’m finally going to tell my F.O.C.K. to fuck off! Look at me — I’m so cool now I casually drop an F-Bomb.