The Reunion

Cross-post from 9/13/2012:

We often take for granted how much media and culture affect us as individuals, how T.V. and commercials really do seep into our brains without a second thought.  How the individuals that make decisions about programming, in a way, have us by the nads. 

It was 1984. The day after viewing a very ground-breaking made-for-tv movie about childhood sexual abuse, I had a breakdown.  In the middle of Algebra.  It was quite the scene, I was told.  When you’re going through something like that, something so emotional that it rocks your core, you don’t notice anything or anyone else.  At the urging of a fellow student, and a promise to look after my books, I made haste to the Dean.   I knew it was a bold move. I knew the authorities would force the abuse to end; but, alas, didn’t realize how many other people would be affected. Just by simply standing up for myself, and saying “I'm not going to take this anymore.”

I was a human child after all.  Barely 15.  Discussing things that had went on since I was 8 years old.   Adults wanting to take advantage, for whatever reason. And then, of course, showing your best little girlfriends exactly what you learned from those who were supposed to protect you.

People talk about fairness, and how “life isn’t fair” or it’s immature to believe that everyone will treat you with basic human decency.  But, really, we don’t think of such things when we’re experiencing the hate.  We don’t think of this when we’re fifteen, and especially not at eight.  We don’t think of how it will affect our mothers, our sisters, our brothers – the extended family…the community…our neighbors, our school, workplaces, daycare.  The disruption was more extensive than the abuse, more extensive than I, or my family, or even my abusers, ever imagined it ever would be.

I went into the foster care system.  And it worked for me.  I was told that I was one of the (somewhat) few.   At the time, they recommended re-integration with the rest of the family, which at 17, probably wasn't the best idea.  I’d already been accepted into a great college, and so I moved in with my biological father, Jack, after graduation.  

Fast forward 20 years, when my old high-school sweetie reacted in surprise at my success "Um, I have a job and I’m in my second year of college?" or is unapologetically amazed that all the kids in my family finished college and had good lives…I was left scratching my head.

Not the reaction I expected. Even now, I could recall the details of that reunion, as being one of the most bizarre experiences of my life:

Ladies gathered in a group near the boardwalk, staring at me until I walked over and introduced myself – smiling, trying to remember their names, but hearing the word “slut” when I walked away.  Some guys I rode the school bus with, sitting together on the upper deck; I remembered them as always being friendly, and so walked up and sat with them to chat.  You would have thought I disrupted a board meeting.

The tall, blonde gent I shared years of German classes with, standing at the bar staring at me – yet insisting he didn’t remember who I was.

In fact, there was really only one of a few friends, and one couple that would openly chat with me.  I remembered Jordan and his wife, being quite friendly.  He discussed his brilliant job as some kind of data software person, and mentioned wanting everyone to connect later on a website he would build.  Many years later, he’d become the catalyst that would end my career with the University.

I remembered looking for my husband, Pete, for most of the night, only to find out later that he had "made" the odd behavior early on, preferring to camp outside on the upper deck and smoke with the meth heads.  We joked later about being trapped together on a floating judgment vessel… in 98 degree heat with the humidity cranked just as high.

Human beings act really strangely when it comes to High School reunions.  I understood the idea of reflection, lots of fond memories and old friends – and if you never moved out of the old neighborhood, it might be just like throwing just another party. But it didn’t occur to me until much later (too late, in fact), that this scene, this behavior, was becoming regular practice for some, right out of King James bible:

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