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Mean Girl

Seven years ago, I attended my 20th high school reunion. That night I talked to many people I had not seen for 20 years. In fact, I had not seen MOST of the attendees for 20 years. When I moved away from Louisville in 1988, I had little fondness for the city or its people beyond my family and a very small circle of friends. Keeping in touch was the last thing on my mind; I planned to leave town and never come back.

That reunion ended up being much more fun than I expected. All those almost-forty-somethings had grown up, left high school behind, and (for the most part) developed into mature, perfectly reasonable adults. Perhaps most surprisingly to me, at least one member of the way-cooler-than-me crowd approached me for conversation and was very sociable. Did he not remember being a jerk to me, or was he trying to make amends for being a jerk to me? I’m still not sure. Nor does/did it matter. Seemingly, he’s no longer a jerk, and that’s the part that counts.

Well baby, that reunion was just a practice round for this past weekend, wherein I attended my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, which was populated by at least a dozen people I had not seen in close to 30 years, one of whom was embarrassed by my teenage crush on him (I wasn’t cool enough) and one of whom made my life a living a hell in the summer of 1981 when we were summer camp tent-mates. She was the 12-year-old sixth grade queen bee who knew all about boys; I was the 11-year-old fifth grader who didn’t  know I was supposed to know all about boys that way. It was pretty awful.

Now, when the dude that didn’t want me to like him approached for conversation, I was amused but not stunned. He was never mean, and we had bumped into each in our digital lives via mutual friends several times in the last year or so. Having virtually caught up, it was fun for both of us to continue the conversation in analog life.

But when the other one—who I didn’t know knew my cousin—showed up, I was briefly frozen. What the heck should I say to her?

Well no worries! Because she approached me, started a conversation, was thoroughly delightful, and clearly had no memory of me from the past. Like, none at all; she thought I grew up somewhere else.

By the end of the kiddush luncheon, we were friendly acquaintances, and by the end of the dinner buffet line that night it seemed natural to have her sit at my table. Two hours later we were complimenting each other’s kids and sharing confidences. I do volunteer work she’s genuinely interested in; she’s in a line of work I think is important and noble. If she lived in Louisville, we’d probably be friends. How weird is that?

But you know, I can’t help but wonder if there is a second lesson in all of this? Because, yeah, I’ve now had two social encounters with likable, sociable people who were mean to me in high school and/or the summer before I started middle school. But I have also grudgingly or nervously attended at least two events in which I was not looking forward to seeing many people because I used to think they were mean, tacky, stupid, or weird.

In other words, I might have been a jerk, too. I wasn’t mean to anyone directly; I know and am relieved about that. Increasingly, though, I’m realizing how judgmental I was in my earlier years and how unattractive that part of my personality is. I’m still a little judgmental—I’m not going to lie. However, age, experience, and a few life detours have gifted me with an understanding of my foibles and compassion for those of others.

So the next time I bump into someone I haven’t seen in 30 years, I’m going to assume that they are much nicer now . . .

and that they are assuming the same will be true of me.



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