Wednesday night I went to this alumni thing in Coconut Grove that my high school puts on every year the night before Thanksgiving—not a formal capital-R Reunion or anything, like with nametags, just a meet-up at an extraordinarily loud and ridiculous bar where you stand around and feel awkward, just the way you did when you were actually in high school. It’s supposed to be a “young alumni” event, e.g. for people who graduated in the last five years, but this time around there was a special mention of the Class of ’93 since it’s fifteen years since we graduated, and Manya was thinking of maybe going, and then it turned out that through the magic of Facebook a couple other people I knew were going, and so…I went.
Manya and I met at the Gap in CocoWalk and stopped for sushi on the way to the bar. I was wearing a shirt that was embarrassingly inappropriate for a sedate meeting of people who had listened to UB40’s Red Red Wine in their formative years so I was nervous about that and kept wailing about how I needed to keep my jacket on but what if I got hot. Manya was a little concerned about her shoes that made her six feet, fifteen inches tall, and we both wondered if we wanted to go at all. When we got to the bar we were the only people our age there—there were plenty of other alums but they all looked like they were home on their first break from college so we did the only natural and right thing and hid out in the bathroom together to try to quell our urge to go back for more spicy crab rolls.
After twenty minutes of embarrassed standing around and looks askance from the Young Alumni, Aliza and her husband and some other people I sort of recognized showed up and I felt a little more relaxed. I chatted amiably to various people about Wow You Look Great and Those Are Adorable Pictures Of Your Children and Yeah, New Zealand, Crazy Huh? Everyone I spoke to was really nice and friendly and it was interesting to see that I still liked the people I had liked back then. I managed to keep my jacket on without dying of heat and stayed out later than I had anticipated.
On the way home, though, I realized that my social skills have atrophied something awful since I’ve been back here, living away over on the island and spending my time either job searching, filling out visa forms, or embroidering. I feel like I made so many weird little conversational mistakes—like I laughed too much and too long at my own jokes or I was sort of obviously winky and vulgar for no purpose or I misinterpreted when someone was done with a story and interrupted her rudely. I was either too loud or too silent most of the time and just sort of generally off my game. Part of me wants do-overs—I considered mass emailing the alumni list to tell them that really, I am much cooler now–and part of me is thankful for the automatic out of moving back to the other side of the world in a couple of months.
It’s a little weird to be all of a sudden not good at something I’m usually good at. All the jobs I’ve ever had boiled down to me sitting around and talking with other people, figuring out what they needed, understanding what they were really trying to say, sorting out what they wanted. I get paid to be social. My master’s degree has Social in the name. I think about when I was traveling earlier this year and how I met new people every day and had conversations about topics I didn’t even know existed on a regular basis. Not every interaction with every single person was awesome BFF-style, of course, or even always terribly interesting, but in general I felt like I could pretty much talk to anyone who came along and do pretty well—and by “do well” I mean come off as a mostly sentient, mostly sane, mostly a decent person to chat with. Even though I spent quite a lot of time on the South Island trip, especially, feeling pretty lonely and out of it, I see now that I actually went out quite a bit and made some nice friends and had some cool talks and easy, fun times. It’s a little amazing to me that I was able to feel more or less confident in my abilities to get along with other human beings when I was on my own in a different hemisphere than amongst people I shared an adolescence with in my hometown.
I guess it’s just context, and practice, and circumstance, like everything else. I do sort of wonder if I’m going to be able to function at my new job and with my friends in Wellington but I’m trying not to worry about that at the moment; I’m pretty confident that I’ll snap back to fighting weight when I get back. I’ve just decided that this time in Miami hasn’t been about making new friends or having a lot of new experiences, or, you know, having any social skills at all. It’s been about waiting, staying, expecting, hoping. It’s been about my family. It’s been about quiet. It’s been about turning inward and outward at the same time: spending a lot of time inside my head but always looking out to the other side of the world.