There’s nothing like being called by an old nickname to take you right back to high school.
“Hey, Momo!” one of my classmates called out as I approached our reunion picnic recently.
The name fit like a well-worn pair of shoes — comfortable, even after 10 years. Hearing it immediately soothed my nerves.
I had a lot of nicknames in high school: Momo, Moser, Mama Mo, Big Mo. (That last one wasn’t meant as an insult, just a fact. When you’re a middle blocker on the volleyball team, a center on the basketball team and a thrower on the track team, there’s no point in pretending. Plus, it’s better than my middle school nickname, Jolly Green Giant. What can I say? I was neither green nor particularly jolly, but you don’t get to choose your nicknames.)
I loved having nicknames. They’re inherently familiar, informal and, obviously, silly. A lot like friendships in high school, I think. Those friendships are intense — forged over long bus rides and high-stakes hallway dramas. And the friendships you make in high school are different than the ones you make as an adult. There are fewer rules or something.
I had a great high school experience. I wouldn’t say I was the most popular person, but I was lucky to have a lot of good friends. And I was always busy, always involved in something. The aforementioned sports, of course, but also newspaper, KEY Club, quiz bowl, Latin club, et al. I definitely had my share of angst in high school, but overall, it was great.
Still, as this reunion approached, I was incredibly anxious about seeing my classmates. For one thing, I had been out of touch with everyone, even my previously close friends. That’s ironic, because we are the Facebook generation. It was developed during my freshman year of college, and my friends and I all signed up as soon as it became available for our universities.
To me, it seems that Facebook has made it easier to keep up on a superficial level, but perhaps harder to connect in a more real way. People sift through your family’s holiday photos without you ever knowing, without even exchanging hellos. It’s all very strange.
And maybe I was also nervous because I was having some sort of existential crisis, like, “Who am I, really? What am I doing with my life? Where have the last 10 years gone?!?!”
Facebook didn’t help in this respect, either. I was always seeing someone move to New York or land a killer internship or post elegant yet candid photos of themselves in Tahiti or graduate from medical school.
I know it’s not good to keep score. But faced with the prospect of reuniting with a bunch of people after a decade, you wonder two things: “Have they changed too much?” and also “Have I changed enough?”
My palms were sweating as I carried my fruit pizza to the reunion potluck that day. In addition to my nerves, my husband and I were running late and hadn’t brought cash for the zoo entry fee required to get to the picnic shelter. But as soon as I heard my old friend call out, I knew it was going to be okay.
There were hugs and warm greetings all around. There was lots of small talk as we found out who was doing what where and with whom. And here, social media did seem to help a bit, providing conversation starters like “Oh, I saw that you got a job in Minnesota.”
What had I been so worried about, anyway? Everyone who came just wanted the same thing I did: to reconnect, share a bit of nostalgia, and have a nice time.
The dancing portion of the reunion, that night at a local hotel ballroom, was even better. More people showed up, and there was a happy, festive atmosphere. (It didn’t hurt that I could keep a glass of wine in hand.) We talked and talked and laughed and danced all night in the carefree way that you can only with old friends.
We were all telling each other how we hadn’t changed a bit, but when I saw the slideshow of photos from high school, I realized it wasn’t true. We were just baby-faced kids in those pictures. And who was that girl with the bangs and the braces? Momo. Despite her awkwardness, she looked happy. And I realized then that I was happy, too. Happy in that moment and happy with my life in general. Nothing else really mattered.