“You haven’t changed at all!”

Back in the days at grammar school, there were lots of different groups in my year: The sporty ones, the computer geeks, the “cool kids” who smoked in the backyard during break time, the artists, the goth kids, the girls and boys who could best be described as preps, the weed heads, the guys who lived in the rural areas around the city, the music freaks, … You get the idea.

I did not really belong to any of these groups: I loved music, but did not play an instrument; I was interested in computers, but never really into gaming or coding; I liked sports, but was not keen enough on volleyball or handball to be an asset to the school teams; I couldn’t (and still can’t) draw for the life of me, didn’t smoke or drink alcohol, and was too rock’n’roll for the preps and yet too boring for the punks and goths. Basically, I felt like a bit of an outsider during my school days. It wasn’t that I was lonely or did not have any friends; it was more a feeling of not completely clicking with any of my classmates. I got invited to parties and hung out with people in the afternoon, but never really had the feeling that there was a real understanding between us (which might have been due to the fact that I wasn’t really sure about the person I wanted to be, so this was at least partially my fault).

I was happiest reading; in sixth form, I regularly skipped school to go to the library instead. While I never missed maths, chemistry, or history lessons (because I loved the subjects and had fantastic teachers, which shows you how much influence a good teacher can have), it got so bad with the other lessons that the head of sixth form told me I would have to do year 12 again if I did not manage to increase my attendance rate. Given that I managed to get pretty good marks in all my exams, I did not understand why I had to attend the lessons, but grudgingly agreed.

Apart from reading, my favourite free time activity was riding my bike, especially at night. I would tell my parents I was going to hang out with a friend (which I dutifully did, albeit only for an hour or two); for the rest of the night, I would cycle through the city, around the lake, down some back alleys, through the parks. Had my parents known, they would have probably locked me in my room for the next couple of years, but I loved being outside when it was dark and quiet. I can still think best when cycling at night, which is something I do whenever I have writer’s block or can’t focus on a task anymore.

In sum, I was a kid who was really into books and riding alone at night; no wonder people thought I was a bit odd. So when I received the invitation for the 20th graduation anniversary, I was not too bothered; I had not seen any of my classmates for at least 15 years – actually, I had already lost contact with most of them the day after the graduation party – and I did not really feel any urgency to rekindle that connection. On the other hand, the reunion took place in a restaurant less than 1 km away from my place, and I had no plans for Saturday, so I decided to go anyway.

It was … an interesting experience. For one, the first sentence everybody (I kid you not) said to me was, “You haven’t changed at all!”, accompanied with a look that was a mix of fascination and bafflement. Initially, I thought they meant my physical appearance, as I have apparently good genes and the same hairstyle as 20 years ago (that, or I was a really old-looking eighteen-year-old…). But it turned out that they were mainly referring to my personality. Vera even exclaimed, “When I am with you, I feel like I am 14 again!”; when I cautiously asked her whether that means that I come across as rather immature and ditzy, she just laughed and said, “Of course not – but you still have that energy and buzz you had when we were teenagers!” At that point, I was starting to become utterly bewildered: What energy – I had been reading books for most of my teenage years!?

Turns out people remember things (and your personality) quite differently than you do. While I always had the feeling that I did not fit into any of the aforementioned groups, my classmates were much more relaxed about this – they had seen me as somebody who was rather popular, precisely because I did not fit into any mould and was friendly with everybody. While I had thought that they had not taken me seriously due to me being a bookworm, they would recall incidents when I had impressed them with my knowledge of things they had never heard of (for example, Betty kept going on about some radio quiz which was popular back then, and the fact that I knew most of the answers before they had even finished reading out the questions. I have since wrecked my brain about this radio thing, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever). Nicola, Sonia, and some other girls remembered that I had cycled home with them after parties, just to make sure they did not ride alone across the city at night – “It did not seem to bother you at all that we lived in different parts of the city!” (No, it really didn’t.)

People were able to come up with quite a few positive memories of our time together: The evenings out, the bike rides to school, things that happened in the lessons, the concerts we went to, school trips, hanging out at the lake, and especially my laugh (“I would recognize that laughter anywhere!”). Andrea had even brought along her eraser which I had “decorated” during the last days of school (again, I have no recollection of that): Andrea's eraser. (“ANDREA who for three years sweetened English, German, and maths lessons for me”)

It was rather weird to readjust my mental image of me as a teenager to the stories that the others told me; their recollections seemed to be much more lenient and positive towards me than my own. As there were “only” about 65 out of the original 126 students, it should be interesting to see what the others have to say when we meet again – for our silver anniversary in 5 years’ time.
Looking Up.

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