I'm glad I went.
Like many have said before me, the twentieth class reunion is miles away different from the 10 year. 10 year, it's all about "Look at me!" 20 year ... people have gained weight, lost hair, dyed hair henna red (okay, maybe that's just me), had kids, gotten divorced, accepted compromise. Cliques are gone.
Our reunion was not so much a high school class reunion as it was a slightly incestuous family reunion. I'd say about 85% of those who showed up had begun kindergarten together. Including me. I had the fun of going up to a big, tough, beefy lookin' guy and saying, "You got me in trouble in kindergarten during playtime, making me hold up a toy apron while you charged it like a bull!" He apologized very sweetly and asked if he could make it up to me.
That was not the only apology of the night, though it was a lot more fun than the next. Next time was much more serious ... and I was the one doing the apologizing.
I had a close friend in high school; we'll call her "Sue." She and I had a fairly typical high school friendship -- bickering, making up, sleepovers and giggling over boys. After graduation, we drifted apart, going to different schools. But summer after my sophomore year, we found ourselves waiting tables at the same greasy spoon. We weren't quite BFFs again, but we enjoyed our time working together. A few weeks before I went back to college, she discovered she was pregnant. We talked a bit about it; she was going to keep it. I went back to school and she went on with her life. When I said "See ya," that last time, I didn't know it was the last time. Surely we'd meet up again, as we always did. Except we didn't. And so, 18 years later, we were at our high school reunion.
I had tried to contact her over the last couple of years, once I discovered the magic of online reunion sites. She never responded, but hey, those things aren't so reliable. And then in the last few months, I posted a message to her on our online reunion bulletin board. She never acknowledged the message. Hmm.
At the reunion, it was obvious she had some bitterness towards me. The Husband was the one to pinpoint it. "It was when you were asking about her first child," he whispered, when we were alone.
So, later in the evening, I ventured out with that information. "I'm sorry I wasn't more involved when your daughter was born."
She looked me straight in the eye. "I was very angry with you over that." The tone of her voice disputed the past tense of her statement.
I tried to put my feelings into words ... "I'm sorry. Until I had a child of my own, I just didn't 'get' how huge that was."
We hugged. We talked more about our lives.
When I got home, I wrote her a long email. I explained that she always seemed so self-sufficient and strong, it never occured to me that she needed me. That's true. And what can I say ... I was 20, self-centered, sheltered. My heart breaks, thinking of the incredible opportunity I had. An opportunity to nurture her, to be a part of her journey.
Can you imagine ... for 18 years, she has carried around that anger. For that, my heart breaks the most. That kind of anger is hard to sustain. It hurt her. On some level, it affected who she is.
But what a gift she gave me. It would have been so easy to just blow me off. But she gave me the opportunity to learn about how I had affected her. More generously, she allowed me to apologize.
I don't know if my apology gave her balm in any way. I don't know if she'll ever respond to my email. But I know I will carry the experience with me for the rest of my life and it will affect the choices I make. That is her gift to me.