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My School Reunion Changed How I Think About Me

Photograph by Getty Images

This January, I started guitar lessons at the age of 38, the year of my 20th high school reunion.

It has been 20 years since I sat in my economics class with the same teacher who taught my dad and looked out the window and watched a tree blossom and thought about the lyrics, "These are the days, to remember" by Natalie Merchant. I knew at the time that being 18 was pretty breathtaking.

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Ironically Doc Martens and overalls are back in style. I can't tell you how many times I have paused at a pair of overalls at Target and just looked at them longingly and told myself to move on.

I'm too old and chubby I told myself.

I have literally been telling myself for two years, OK, you have two years until your 20th reunion, time to lose weight. I Googled one month prior, "How much weight can you lose in one month."

I ran to the bathroom and took some deep breaths. What the hell. Was I 18 again?

I giggled over it. I don't really care. I feel OK with where I'm at physically. The question is, am I OK with where I'm at emotionally? Lots of fear and anger and consumed me over the decades, and I've worked hard to shake it off.

I booked my ticket back to Iowa for my high school reunion, determined not to let my fear stop me from returning to my favorite state to surround myself with people I was afraid wouldn't remember me.

I took my Xanax and boarded a plane with my three kids and husband with only one working arm due to shoulder surgery. We circled Omaha waiting for a pop-up storm to pass and landed with green squares to our left and lightning to our right. Just as I love Iowa: rich with green and ripe with electricity.

We spent the week with family and finally it was time for the reunion. My cousin's husband dropped my husband and me off at the bar we all planned to meet at the first night.

We went to a new restaurant next door first and had dinner and a drink. I chatted with the bartender who was my old neighbor. Then we headed over. I was incredibly nervous.

I had over-thought my outfit. I didn't want to look like I was from Los Angeles (which I am). The protocol, where I grew up, is for understated. I went with boot leg jeans, wedges and a coral, flowy blouse.

I didn't think anyone I recognized would recognize me. I hissed to my husband, stay inside, let's grab a beer. And so we did.

I ran to the bathroom and took some deep breaths. What the hell. Was I 18 again? No. But I felt butterflies and a bit goofy, I'll admit.

Finally, we walked outside and three people, who I remembered but was worried they wouldn't remember me, were looking at me. "Hi, I'm Lindsay, you probably don't remember me." They all smiled and said, "Yes, we do." And it was on.

A few conversations in, I heard someone next to me look at me and say, "I don't know who she is, " and she moved on. For a second, I felt both amusement and my inner-teen groan.

Then, 10 minutes later, I overheard a guy say, "Oh Lindsay, she was way out of my league, she was much cooler then me." WTF? I both loved that this guy was being so honest within earshot and also embarrassed. I was very shy when I was younger and never considered myself cool or in. He and I talked later, and he told me what I had already overheard him say. I told him how shy I was, and we laughed.

It was bittersweet leaving the bar. More sweet then bitter, bitter then sweet. (You follow '95?)

And there I was, standing on a porch with people I hadn't seen for 20 years, straining to hear the guy playing and singing guitar from inside, faces illuminated by twinkly lights. Faces that were slightly changed but, honestly, we were kind of shocked that we all didn't look older.

The second night being together with my classmates I was less nervous. My husband did something with my family and the vibe was just good. I loved learning about people's sobriety, kids, struggles. I realized I just kind of loved these people whom I didn't even really know that well.

After the official party ended, we walked to a bar perfectly named El Bait Shop. We tripped and giggled in heels over train tracks as only you can do in Iowa while walking to the bar. The downtown has become much cooler then it was 20 years ago. It's now self-aware.

I wanted to stay out all night, but I just couldn't due to, well, the fatigue of knowing a little body would crawl on my around 6:30 that morning. I went home with the same friend who used to call it quits early like me 20 years ago.

It was bittersweet leaving the bar. More sweet then bitter, bitter then sweet. (You follow '95?)

Before we left, we were outside and no one was talking about what anyone did for work. We were just being ourselves, falling into our old roles but with the mentality of 38-year-olds. It was strange to be thrust back into a place with all of those people and not to have more time with them.

Not to be 18 again.

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To know we all had jobs, kids and big responsibilities to return to. Pretty soon after arriving on the first night, a smart girl/woman came up to me and lamented how she had been too good in high school, how she wished she had done more. We joked over it.

You can't go back. Clearly there are a million songs written about that fact. But you can buy overalls at Target, even if you are 38.

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