For several months I knew the first weekend in August would be my High School’s 25th Reunion. I also was keenly aware I expertly avoided our 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th reunions. Always begging off that I was too busy with kids or working on my second master’s degree or the best was that I didn’t like how much weight I gained since high school.
While many of those are typical reasons to avoid the relationships from the past, I knew the real reason I avoided returning to Spokane and my High school, Lewis and Clark’s class of 1986 was I was gay. Granted in the past 4+ years it’s been a little hard to hid the fact I’m a lesbian, not as I wanted to before Lisa’s death or after. But as I stared at the page to order tickets to the event, I knew in my soul the reason I couldn’t push ‘purchase’ button was because I feared I never really existed at LC and no one would know “me”.
As I do with many projects these days, I did push “purchase” and bought my tickets and then slept on it – sort of. The anxiety hit and I wanted to back out. Again, as I do with many of my volunteer endeavors these days, I attached a ‘rider’ to my own contract almost guaranteeing I had to appear. I called the LGBT Center in Spokane and left a message. Carol, the Director, called me right back and was stunned to find out that I was a true Spokanite, and Eastern Washington Native.
Let me digress to let those of you who did not grow up – or spend a significant amount of time (at least 10years) on the Eastern side of Washington State then you do not earn the title of knowing a damn thing about Eastern WA, including the weather, the politics, the economy, etc. Now if you are a Western Washington friend, yes I have just offended you but those from Eastern Washington are cheering and know what I have said is correct. Eastern vs. Western the long standing debate and whether the state should split with the pan handle of Idaho and become #51 the “Inland Empire”. Enough said.
Oh yes I was talking with Carol from the LGBT Center and she said she often talked of my story but had no idea I was born and raised in Spokane. Carol was more than welcoming and offered to host a Q and A for anyone at the Center on the Saturday of my reunion events – thereby forcing my appearance at at least one of the LC gatherings.
Dani, David, Katie and I all piled into the car on Friday morning, right at 9am so that we could hit Dick’s drive in for a late lunch in Spokane. We stopped in George and the kids seemed confused why we stopped in George, Washington but hopefully it will dawn on them one day – the picture I took of them next to the pathetic bust of our founding father with no plaque for his name. I guess it is assumed if you are in George, Washington the the cement bust of an old man must be George himself.
My body allowed me to drive slightly over half way, thanks to caffeine and my anti-fatigue meds for my MS. I was comfortable allowing Danielle driving on I-90 from George to Dick’s Drive In. I didn’t go to sleep which I so desperately wanted, rather I helped her feel safe with the 18 wheelers and watching her speed in Grant County because they always seem to catch me there. She did wonderfully, we got off I-90, drove past LC went to Dick’s ordered our Whammy’s and Medium Pink Indians and headed to our usually hotel “Inn at the Park” so the Carousel was in walking distance.
After we checked-in, I realize I had only 2 hours before I would see some people for the first time in a quarter of century. People I spent 4 years with, many of them in the same German, Debate, English or Social Studies classes. Except for one person, it was the first time time since 1986, literally graduation night, since I had seen or spoken to them. I wan’t invited to any after graduation parties, I didn’t work with anyone of the LC folks over the summer before college, in fact – none were even headed to the University of Puget Sound with me (albeit one – but I knew him, but doubt Brad knew who I was).
The advent of FaceBook really is the reason, I found it safe to come to Spokane and come to the LC reunion. Those young adults in 1986 now were adults with all their own lives and it was really just time to meet the faces I conversed with on Facebook. But the big issue hung over my head. I felt like I brought a neon sign that said “Lesbian” with me, because I was not “out” in high school.
This is where my Q and A at the LGBT Center and going to my first reunion event intersect. The kids I think sensed my anxiety and quietly got ready, made sure I looked presentable – Danielle even helping with my make-up and Katie with my eyeliner. I opened the door to “Hugo” a retro bowling alley (absolutely perfect) and I was greeted by Jeanne * I won’t use last names so that classmates don’t feel put on the spot*. She gave me a big hug and said “I am so glad you showed up” and I honestly believe she meant it. I saw pictures of Jeanne in our yearbook and she was a busy gal, but I can’t tell you a thing about what she was like in 1986. So I realized right then the neon sign saying “Lesbian” I thought was above my head, turned off. If I didn’t “know” her in 1986 why should I have have any expectation that a single person at the reunion would know “me” either.
I set the kids up with bowling in their glow-in-the-dark shoes and I ordered a lemon drop (sorry Ms. Sharon – no Hendricks at this bar). I sat myself in a location where those who would want to say “hi” could but I also didn’t need to stand. I didn’t know how many knew of my M.S. diagnosis 12 years ago but my blue crutch is usually a big give away that something is up.
As LC folks entered, many I recognized thanks to updated Facebook pics or some who never changed – in a good way – Matt – his booming voice, Monika – a true beauty queen – the twins Laurie and Lisa (and I still can’t tell them apart). Many of the guys were harder for me – especially with less hair (sorry Kirk, Darren and others). It was a relatively small gathering – around 30 grads which for me worked perfect, because I only had to look at a name tags once and I remembered them Facebook or met them for the first time – as was the case with Glenn.
Everyone who spoke with me, all knew about Lisa, our family’s story. Therefore, there was no need for the Lesbian sign. Then Darren joined the party. My first and ONLY boyfriend in High School. Darren and I dated long enough to go to Sadie Hawkins dance in the fall of our freshman year. I have the picture somewhere. It was the ONLY dance in four years of high school I went to and it wasn’t because Darren was a bad date – it was me, dances terrified me (they still do). Darren and I broke up via a note passed between friends I believe. It worked out for the best in the long run – he seems very happy with his husband of 15 years.
As classmates asked me about Lisa or meeting President Obama or the kids, I found it just the same as when I go to any gatherings these days. I am painfully shy, I do my best to be witty to hide the terror I’m feeling. I listened about friends’ kids and lives. Glenn’s time in the military, Monika returning from Singapore watching her older son compete in kite flying or Susan and her jet setting from one side of the state to the other. Matt and his precious Jonah – and Darren and his partner.
If you follow me on Facebook you can see all the pictures Danielle took at the last gathering at Comstock park. What I was not prepared for was that the Q and A at the LGBT Center being the hardest part of the trip. I will do my best to capture my emotion as I “came out” for the first time. Look for that on my equality blog at www.janicelangbehn.com. It’s 2am but I will crank up some Adele and try to get that post done also. But we have a long drive tomorrow, my body is sore from talking the kids to Silverwood and just try to keep up and take pictures of them on the rides.
So thank you to LCHS class of 1986 in no particular order: Matt, Monika, Tasha, Darren, Jeanne, Polly, Laurie, Lisa, Kirk, Darren, Elizabeth, Susan, Devron, Kellie, Kim, Megan, (anyone I forgot, forgive me) spouses, partners, and kids.