I say crashing because although they are my class, I wasn't there graduating with them. I was lucky to make it out of puberty alive, never mind a diploma. People seem to remember high school as either the best time in their life or their own personal hell. All I remember is thinking - knowing - that everyone thought I was crazy.
I went to school in prehistoric times before the internet, when social media meant handwritten notes tucked into locker vents. There were no emo web forums where kids traded photos of shredded wrists and angsty poetry. Cutting wasn't something I'd even heard of.
All I knew was that I hated myself and I wanted to die. Physical pain was more manageable than living inside my own head. While the kids around me carried on with their seemingly perfect lives, I was slashing myself to ribbons and swallowing any drug I could find, trying to numb myself to...me.
The cutting became such a habit that I didn't even realize I was doing it. I remember sitting curled in my chair in algebra class, absentmindedly slicing bloody doodles on my leg beneath the desk, when one of my classmates called me out.
"What the fuck is wrong with you!?"
He jolted me back to reality and I remember the flush of shame creeping hotly through me as a few others snickered uncomfortably. I was humiliated, because although I'm sure it seemed like a creepy cry for attention, I hadn't even realized what I was doing.
And I couldn't answer his question. It would be more than twenty years before I could*.
I suffered a psychiatric breakdown my sophomore year, not long after the photo above was captured. I was hospitalized twice and ultimately left school. From that day forward, I assumed I'd be remembered as only The Crazy.
With the advent of Facebook, I began years ago to reconnect with old classmates and was relieved to feel no judgment. Some of them remembered me, some of them didn't. We were all so lost in our own little worlds of insecurity and suburban oblivion back then. It was stunning to me to hear how many others had struggled terribly during those years.
Back then I truly believed that I was alone, that everyone dismissed me as an utter freak. I was the only one who didn't fit in. Talking to these same people now as adults, I've been dumbfounded to see the adversity we've all faced in life.
Even more amazing, though, is how much kinder and wiser we've all become.
If I could turn the clock back twenty years, this is what I'd tell that angry, broken young girl:
You are never alone. You will get through the hard days. You will smile, and you will laugh and you will love. You will come out the other side. And someday, so much sooner than you think, this will be but a distant memory. So embrace the happy times, those shining diamond moments in the midst of the daily shitstorm - for that, my dear, is life.
These gentle words, though I write them to a lost little schoolgirl many years ago, are applicable to all of us. Today. Every day.
So, even though I wasn't standing there at graduation with the others, I'm going to my reunion this weekend. Even though I'm not skinny or beautiful or wealthy or successful, I'm going to my reunion this weekend.
We will smile and we will laugh, and we will raise a glass to the many in our class who have left this hard world too, too soon.
Because reunions aren't about celebrating a high school graduation. They are about celebrating life.
I can't wait.
*Self-harm in adolescents is a textbook reaction to chronic sexual abuse. It's also a common manifestation of the crushing depression that can accompany Lyme disease. I'd been subjected to the former and was harboring the latter and when the hormones hit, it was like a match to gasoline.