Maybe all I want before I die is for someone—anyone—to really know me.
The room was full of familiar faces, most of whom I couldn’t tag with a name. Thirty years ago we’d shared lockers and gym clothes. We’d drank from the same beer bottle and swapped eyeliner, yet as I strolled over to the few folks I recognized, I realized that in high school, I’d only let my schoolmates see the me I wanted them to see. I’d masked my insecurities then as much as they likely had too, with sarcasm and a chuckle, or a tear shed in a lonely bathroom stall, but as I hugged my friends who’d once strolled the same high school halls with me, I felt an acceptance that transcended time and space. I was comfortable in my own skin and it felt sweet.
The acceptance wasn’t the kind that’s extended through handshakes or even smiles. The acceptance was internal, radiating from the being beneath my belly. I knew myself—and liked myself—quirks and all. This feeling wasn’t earned overnight or learned by taking excellent notes from a lecture. This feeling of inner peace was gained through challenges from situations and people who’d attempted to define me—to create the me they wanted me to be—and they were partially successful for years.
Once I got “in touch” with myself through self-inquiry and honesty, I dismantled the persona others had created of me. I permitted my preconceived notions of others to dissolve right along with theirs of me. This upheaval of old paradigms created space in my body as well as in my life. Space where I constructed a remodeled version of myself—one with a firm foundation of authenticity and a frame of ingenuity that will withstand life’s storms.
High school reunions conjure all sort of emotions. Memories of those years are painful for some and joyful to others, but usually it’s a random mixture of both— of remembering the honor of being nominated for class office or scoring the winning touchdown and of remembering the first heart-break that hurt even more when Madonna sang, “Crazy for You.”
In this way, high school did prepare us for life, much more so than the algebra class I nearly failed. We learned we could laugh and cry in the same day and not be committed to the psych ward. We learned that we could mess up, like really mess up, and our parents would still love us. We realized that we need not be perfect to survive.
We knew we were a work in progress. We still are. For me, the difference between then and now is that I accept the inner workings of progress for what they are—an unravelling of potential—an investigation into the mysterious “I am.” This doesn’t mean I’m not perfect enough already. It simply means I enjoy uncovering traits in myself that I didn’t know I possessed and exploring new facets of myself that I never knew existed.
I’ve been getting to know the being inside these bones for forty some years. I keep discovering new interests, talents and fears with each day, and it’s obvious to me that, even as the universe is ever-changing, so am I—that is, if my taste buds are an indication. Sushi that I once described as tasting like I’d licked an ocean rock, is now yummy on my palette.
Life had led each of my classmates to sit on various bleachers and to eat at different tables, but for one night, we all dipped into the same bowl of tortilla chips and salsa as we shared the common bond among us that extended well beyond the structure of any school building. We were all still students, learning about each other and discovering who we want to be.
The discoveries are surprising and they excite me, like finding a ring in the box of Cracker Jacks. I relish experimenting with the recipe that allows me to taste interesting textures of myself. I’ve created my own version of me—one I can live with. One I will live with until I die—even if no one else ever knows the me I do.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio. Access more at soundcloud.com\lifespeaks.