Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

The school reunion: a fun trip down memory lane or unwelcome reminder of long-forgotten trauma?

How is it even possible that two decades have passed since I left school?

Selina Denman, circled, in a photo at her Cyprus school in the early 1990s.
Selina Denman, circled, in a photo at her Cyprus school in the early 1990s.

This weekend I am at home, attending my 20-year school reunion. Which gives rise to two very important questions. One, how is it possible that two whole decades have passed since I left school? And two, what in the world am I going to wear?

The school reunion ­presents a series of interesting ­quandaries, starting with: to go or not to go? I know that there are plenty of people who would baulk at the mere suggestion. Depending on how your schooling experience played out (and whether you are prone to sentimentality or not), the high school reunion can either represent a fun-filled skip down memory lane, or an unwelcome invitation to revisit forgotten traumas.

Thankfully, I have fond memories of my former classmates. I went to a small-ish school in Cyprus, so class sizes were limited and everyone knew each other relatively well. Many of us were expats, so carried a shared sense of “otherness”. But because I moved away from home more than 10 years ago and have spent the best part of my adult life eschewing social media, I have lost touch with all but a few of my most steadfast friends. I am excited to reconnect with all those people I once knew, and curious to see how everyone turned out.

That is the point of reunions, isn’t it? Or is it, as the ­Hollywood movies seem to suggest, actually just an ­opportunity for you to go back and try to reaffirm your life choices – a chance to prove to everyone how well you’re doing and how fabulous you’ve become? To show everyone how far you’ve come?

Certainly, the prospect of a reunion forces you to take stock of your life. You start to become ever-so-slightly conscious of how you might be perceived by your former peers. Will you viewed as “a success” by people you haven’t seen for half a lifetime? Does it matter either way?

It has invited me to try to remember the 18-year-old me. Would she be happy with how things have worked out? Have I done her justice? In truth, I can barely remember her. Will others? Will they be surprised at how she turned out?

I am unmarried and childless (by choice), so by conventional standards I have already failed. For some, it may seem like I have opted to take the road less travelled – although I like to think that anyone who knew the headstrong, rebellious, uber-independent teenage me will probably not be surprised.

I am unmarried and childless (by choice), so by conventional standards I have already failed. For some, it may seem like I have opted to take the road less travelled – although I like to think that anyone who knew the headstrong, rebellious, uber-independent teenage me will probably not be surprised. On the other hand, I am happy, I have travelled the world, do a job I love and provide daily sustenance for two very badly behaved dogs and a street cat. Does this even the scales?

I have not been involved in the planning of said festivities, but I am aware that many of my former classmates have been pushing for a daytime, child-friendly event so they can bring their kids and show off their “proudest achievement”. Direct quote.

I am unsure what achievement I will be proffering in exchange. My YSL handbag? Pictures of the dogs? A copy of the magazine I edit for The National? Stories of that time I interviewed Chris Hemsworth?

I, myself, was hoping to party like it was 1999. Literally. That’s the year I turned 18, left school, headed off to university in Manchester and still believed I was going to change the world. But it seems that my peers have left their partying days behind them. They have matured appropriately. I, alas, have not. Perhaps nothing has really changed since 1999.

All in all, I am woefully ­unprepared for the event. I’ve had a few months to plan and there were a few things I wanted to do ahead of time. You know, the usual: get my hair cut, lose a few kilos, stop smoking, magically eradicate all the wrinkles on my ­forehead, etc. As you can imagine, I didn’t get very far. Although I did manage to get my nails done last week, so that’s something.

Right now, the prospect of my 20-year reunion is eliciting ­excitement and trepidation. Will these feelings be drowned out by nostalgia? Regret? ­Disappointment? Only time will tell. More importantly, what in the world am I going to wear?

Updated: August 22, 2019 05:24 PM

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