I have a confession: I spent a good hour this week peering over old high school classmates’ Facebook pages.
And here’s the really guilty bit: they weren’t even on my “friend” list. 😳
Even though they’re public, I still felt like I was making some kind of faux pas – like I was outside looking in. But who hasn’t taken the liberty to look up someone just to see what they’re doing? Lately, however, an undercurrent of nostalgia had begun to sneak around the corners of my mind – the fault of Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
So I squinted at badly taken profile pics and read up on public posts. One person was living in Germany with two kids (there were a lot of variations on this theme, give or take a kid or country) and others with unsurprising jobs (fitness instructors for athletes or the occasional computer tech for the valedictorians). Some had gained weight and others were unrecognizable from their yearbook picture. Everyone was smiling.
Even though I can’t relate to anything the main character Charlie in Chbosky’s book goes through (and it’s an almost Herculean amount of trials), I can relate to being a wallflower – an observer. In fact, my very scouring of old Facebook pages still attests to that – sadly, I know as much about them now as I did then.
The mind is a collection of past experiences and recently mine had decided to relive all of my high school moments. There weren’t many. The same few replayed themselves over and over, not because they were necessarily amazing, but because I had so few to actually recall.
My happiest high school memory was going out with my friends to a café. It was late at night and we had all piled into the car with the radio high. We were declaring our youth to the world as loudly and energetically as we could. I can’t remember much about the café, except that I ordered a chocolate cheesecake and cappuccino, all the while feeling very grown up and very alive. Here I was, sitting with my group of giggling friends, pretending to be sophisticated and finally feeling like I was a part of a real group.
I was 17.
It was the only time I ever did anything like that and the only time they ever asked me. It wasn’t like I turned down so many offers that they stopped asking me. Instead, my wallflower status seemed to have solidified itself into an actual wall where even asking me to participate seemed odd.
A book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg said (and here I’m shamelessly over-simplifying) that our brains hate new experiences. New things mean work and that isn’t want the brain wants to do – coasting through life is its sole objective. New thoughts, new feelings, and new people trigger panic and our brains want out pronto.
But the mind, oh how it loves to dwell. To brew, like a thick, syrupy espresso.
Most of my life I’ve let my brain dictate how to act in social situations. I learned how to be invisible and to turn down any future commitments before they even materialized. I don’t really know when this started. I was a really outgoing child. So much so that I was constantly being told to quiet down, watch what I said and to “consider the situation”. And then, overnight it seems, I wasn’t anymore. I wasn’t shy, but what my French teacher in a moment of revelation called “reserved”.
I used to imagine what everyone’s faces would look like if I really went into the classroom and acted like me. Or if I got up on stage and acted out a scene in the school play with ease and finesse.
But, I never did (nor did I even join the theater club). Instead, I only watched as cliques formed around me with their beginnings and breakups, the dramas and fights, with detached cynicism. I knew every single one of them, but I never really knew them.
My mind drags up old, tattered memories and amongst them sits the elephant of them all: my senior prom. My friends were ditching their boyfriends for a last all-girl night out. I had never been to a single dance, but they wanted me to go (we were seniors, after all). I was immensely proud that I resisted each and every plea with a firm no. I took pleasure in turning down their repeated requests – as if I was making some kind of vital point.
Now, I don’t really understand what I was thinking. I wish I had said yes. Maybe not yes to the dress, but yes to being friends with my friends when we still hung out with each other. When it really mattered.
If given the chance, I’d go out more, live more and just be more. I’d insert myself more firmly into their lives. I’d know them and they’d know me – and perhaps they wouldn’t be afraid and neither would I.
But we can’t hit rewind and record a new history.
In Chbosky’s book, Charlie’s friend asks him if he ever participates. Does he actually do what he wants?
Do I do what I want? Do you?
I really like this image a friend (a real one this time) posted:
Because when my mind sips again at the coffee cup of memories, I want it to be full and deep.