More than a week ago, while deeply immersed in my work, an e-mail floated to the surface of my e-mail client that had me make a double take. I thought the e-mail was spam at first, but when I saw the name of the sender I stopped everything I was doing and opened it: it was a letter from a former high school classmate who was trying to contact as many people from our alma mater as he could. Attached to the message was a photo of six of the classmates, dining at a school reunion barbecue and looking older and a little more dog eared.
I write about this because I hadn’t been in touch with any of these people since I graduated in 1978, all except one, and he and I have had a falling out. For me high school here in Japan left a lot to be desired; being a skinny, sometimes overly sensitive guy in a boy’s school, looking like a Mexican or Indian among macho white Americans, Australians, Brits, and hierarchy-minded Japanese, in a school where the entire curriculum was based on an American point of view (though the school, run by Canadian Jesuit brothers, boasted to the world 52 different nations represented… but just imagine: 7 years studying American history, only one year studying world history.. something was quite warped) and where if you didn’t hail from the dominating countries and cultures you ended up being an outcast, one of the Others who sat at separate tables in the lunch room and who received only supporting roles in the distinctly Euro-American biased musicals… all this left me deeply suspicious and critical of white Americans, of elitists who believe that those with less money exist to serve them, and of Christianity.
I say Christianity because of the intolerance the brothers showed for people with different faiths or beliefs (something I could never understand in an international school) and for the rampant molesting that went on around the school, usually of the elementary school boys, including me and my brother, but also of some of the visiting girls who took some science classes and tennis lessons from the brothers. One time, my teacher dismissed the entire class when I raised the question of abortion to a cardinal visiting from Rome. I have never heard anyone, except my brother, mention these awful acts… even today it is a no-no that probably no one will ever acknowledge. I have no idea if the molesting still goes on.
All my high school years I felt something dirty living inside me. I felt I was angry all the time, at a world trying to snuff my spirit out. My escape to America, to the University of Oregon was like a breath of fresh, clean air… the new people I met were nothing like the elitists I had endured back in Japan, and while there were always those people who cannot seem to help but act like infants, the experience of college was liberating. It opened my mind, exposed me to characters who challenged me to grow and find the kernel of strength in myself, and opened an interactive relationship with a place around me that didn’t feel corrosive. I even began to enjoy my body, not feeling that my skinniness and dark complexion made me unattractive or undesirable. Best of all I made a ring of wonderful, supportive, and fun-loving friends, people I will cherish all my life.
Years have passed and, like anyone, I’ve long since grown out of that ungainly high school boy. Or so I thought. When I peered at the e-mail from my former classmate a lot of old memories came flooding back. All the bullying and exclusions and feeling inferior. To have these feelings poke their ugly little heads out from under the hood is troubling, to say the least. I have often wondered if I could face these boys again and hold my ground, without getting all awkward and tongue-tied the way I used to. I thought I had grown into someone more confident, but now I’m not so sure. What is it that triggers all the childhood fears?
Partly to counteract this sense of losing ground, I decided to reply to all the recipients of the e-mail, to hail them and try to overcome so much of the old resentments. Sending the letter made me nervous enough to make my palms sweat, but I did it. I like to try to face old ghosts and make friends with them.
Only one person replied, as flippant as I remember. No one else. And I don’t expect them to. In a way it confirms my high school suspicions. All week I have been asking myself why I would subject myself to further neglect and invisibility. I haven’t needed these people for 26 years. Why would I need them now?