I got the ultimate validation this weekend at my Middlebury College reunion: as I walked by a group of old classmates who I only vaguely remember in passing, I heard one them say to the others, "Who is that?" with a hint of surprise in his voice.
"That's Penelope Wall."
That's Penelope Wall. As though I was a movie star. Or the ugly-duckling turned beauty queen. It did feel good, but the comment also made me pause and think: Am I really that much different than I was five years ago? Even worse: was I really that unnoticeable back then? If so, then what has changed?
Maybe I walk a little straighter. Maybe I'm a little more confident in my self. Still, being back there amidst the unbreakable cliques of forever friends and married pairs, I never felt more like the shriveling wall-flower that I was as a freshman in college, when I realized that I just didn't belong. Back then, I did made things work and I made good friends, a couple of whom are still quite near and dear to me. But as for the others, we've mostly lost touch and that's okay with everyone involved, I think.
Must I really remember my entire college experience by the way I performed at parties? Socially failing back then, I made the most of my excellent education and as as result my most wonderful memories take place in the library and during vivid discussions in my Lit seminar, as dorky as it sounds. A part from a handful of good friends, the people that I remember most-- those who made the deepest impression--were my professors. But I didn't see any of them this weekend.
I can't help but take note of the irony in the fact that reunion signifies a unification of sorts. My weekend felt like anything but. In fact, without my intellectual backbone, I felt totally dismembered and knocked out of rhythm. Reminded of my socially awkward days, I felt immediately ill in my skin and self-conscious of everything that I said. It dawned on me that this reunion business was all really just a dog show. We were all on parade.
Don't judge me. Forget the small talk. Don't most people prefer conversations that are more genuine? Conversations that have the power to continue and grow organically throughout the years? Conversations that build relationships and community? In that sense, I guess I did have high expectations for my Midd reunion: I guess I was hoping it could have been a little more intellectual and substantial. More academic, even, like in my best memories. And my proudest moments.