My first insight of who I really was occurred at a high school reunion. It was rather comical because I’d made a fundamental error. You see I’d dropped out of year 12, even though I had quite a good IQ, because my memory was forever letting me down. I could think well on my feet, just not in an exam environment. Life for me was for observing and participating, not for storing and retrieving. I’d taken on physics and chemistry electives but I failed miserably at maths and, realising this was futile as one relied heavily on the other, decided to drop out and find my way in the world without a HSC. (I still went on to uni though – just to work, not study). I think I still have my last maths exam paper somewhere. I saved it for posterity. It’s the one covered in hand drawn illustrations with 5/100 at the bottom. I guess my imagination had the better of me then. And still has in a way.
So here I was, approaching the reunion venue thinking I’d be catching up with the gang I used to hang out with in year 12. But when I arrived I got a bit of a shock. Because I’d dropped out of year 12 I was deemed a Year 10 graduate. So this was the year 10 reunion. Full of the progeny of tradesmen and truckers rather than the highbrow intellectuals I thought I was going to be chatting with.
I smiled and chuckled to myself “Oh fuck, what have I done?” But it wasn’t bad at all. I actually hung out with a lot of these guys and they were ‘real’. Not here the spruiking glam set of the year 12ers.
I sat down with the guys I primarily hung out with up until year 10. They were physical sporty guys who went on to take up trades. We joked and reminisced and it was fun, but as the night wore on, I got bored with this group. We quickly fell into our old stereotypical conversations and I realised I had moved on. My inquisitive intellect and big city life had taken my mind and body elsewhere.
So I got up and walked around to see who else I knew and could chat to. I soon found myself moving from table to table, chatting and reminiscing. I actually knew and shared interests and conversations with a lot more people than I realised. So although I hung around a core group, I kept on reaching out to engage with others.
I looked back at the guys I used to hang out with, sitting around the table I’d just left. I was visiting other tables, made up of groups who used to hang out together. Few were leaving their table as I had, to visit others. Stuck, even 10 years after leaving high school, within their same groups.
But another thing occurred to me. And it occurred to me for the first time ever at this event – that many of my significant high school friends were women. It hadn’t occurred to me before this time and I don’t know why.
In the school playground I’d hung round with guys, talking about guy stuff and doing guy stuff. But in the classroom I would often sit next to girls. Because there was something intellectual or insightful that I couldn’t get from my male friends. It was conversations about life and feelings, standing back and observing instead of running head long into it. And these interactions and observations, for some reason, only came from conversations with woman.
So here I was. Sitting in a high school reunion talking to a few old ‘girl’ friends from high school and having a small revelation about who I was. I look back at it as the first small realisation. The first ‘aha’ moment of who I was and who I might be in the future.
I never did catch up with the crowd from year 12. They were the smart set with the smart looks. I wanted to be part of that crowd because they were supposedly a good intellectual match. And let’s face it, girls from well-to-do families scrub up well. But I barely penetrated its edges. To them I was a middle class kid who hung around with the working class kids up the other end of the playground. Humoured yes. Accepted? Well, maybe. Just don’t hang around too long.
The reunion night dragged on, most people left and the loud, heavy drinkers took over, so I decided it was time to leave.
On my way out the door someone grabbed me in a headlock, pushing my head under the lip of the bar. “Rusty!” he shouted, with drunken exuberance. “I always hated you in class. You were the smartarse who knew all the answers.” I had no idea who this was. All I could see was the wood panelling of the bar, the legs of bar stools and beer stained carpet. He continued ranting, with seemingly no interest in letting go of my head. So I had to listen. I had no choice. He seemed to be annoyed that I could answer questions in class that no one else could and other stuff I can’t now recall. But his boozy, cheerful headlock was insightful. The whole evening was. How we sometimes see ourselves as sitting below some people and seemingly above others. Sometimes not comfortably with anyone, but equally comfortable with everyone.
He eventually released my neck, and the head and body attached to it, and I continued out the door. I didn’t look back to see who he was. It wasn’t necessary. I’d left high school years ago.