After 20 years, I was reunited with my past in Myrtle Beach. As I walked down memory lane through old neighborhoods, places I hung out as a kid, and the scenes of my childhood experiences, so much had changed.
After all these years, I had changed too. And that’s why I was really here.
I was in town for my 20th high school reunion. After reuniting with the places of my past, it was time to reunite with the people of my past.
Moving from South Carolina to California and now traveling around the world, I’ve learned that travel is a lot like a reunion. Like many of my life lessons from travel, this trip back to South Carolina taught me a lot about myself.
Reuniting with old friends
Before the big event on Saturday, I met up with a few people Friday night. Old friends and classmates, Chris, Bernard, Jodi, Matt, and others were hanging out at a bar. So we gathered to catch up and renew our acquaintances.
For me, 20 years had passed since I had seen most of these people. Two months after graduation, I left for good and never really returned. This is the first time I had spent a few days in the Myrtle Beach area in over 19 years.
Drinks were poured, stories were told, photos were taken, Facebook was updated as our lives flashed back and fast forwarded throughout the night. I was surprised at how quickly time passed as an early evening quickly turned into the early morning hours.
On Saturday, the wind and clouds hung around but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the reunion. Dressed in coat, shirt, and pants, I was both anxious and nervous. There were some people I was excited to see, some I was nervous to see, and some I didn’t even recognize.
Isn’t that how reunions always seem to go?
The truth is, Facebook has made class reunions either easier or irrelevant. These days, everyone can get connected and know who’s married, how many kids people have, what they do for a living, and where they live. In some ways, it helps cut through the superficial and go straight to the past or more in depth with the present.
Travel has played a part of my mid life crisis (is this this a guy thing? Do women experience mid life crises too?) Living in California and leaving behind a place I never really visited again, why did I choose to travel across the country to be here?
Honestly I wanted to show people that I wasn’t who I used to be. In talking to older generations about reunions, the 20th seems to be the one where everyone wants to show off and talk about what they are doing with their lives.
Who’s still pretty? Who has aged? Did that person really turn out to be the success everyone thought he or she would be?
For me, I was driven by curiosity, a desire to uncover and heal the past, and show that life experiences, changes, and travel have transformed me.
Successes and failures of a high school graduate
During the awards ceremony that evening, I had an embarrassing but funny conversation with Carrie about an event that happened right after school. After our conversation, I asked her what she thought of me in high school. She told me what a stuck up jerk I was. Rachel said she always liked and respected me. However, with a smile on her face she also said I was “an ass.”
Honestly, they weren’t that far off. In high school, I was a very quiet, shy kid who never had many friends. I wasn’t the smartest kid in high but I studied and worked hard. I always took Honors and AP classes and graduated #2 in my high school class.
So people thought I was stuck up. That’s partly true. I had very high standards for myself and held others to those same standards. However, the other side of that was that I was insecure and felt as if no one ever liked me.
I wasn’t very social, never went to parties, and was probably one of the most innocent, naïve high school guys on earth. I focused on school and baseball, making sure I succeeded in both.
In 6th grade, I had moved from a small town in central South Carolina to Conway. I cried on the drive there because I never wanted to leave. With anger, loneliness, some fond memories, and a deep sense of insecurity, I left Conway after graduating in 1993 and never visited again.
Twenty years later and some of those wounds were still there.
I watched the first girl I ever danced with walk into the room. I said “Hello” to the first girl I ever really dated and cared about. I remembered the stories of the people I knew, saw the faces of those I had crushes on and never told, and thought about the mistakes that I made with close friends that I hurt.
Despite some athletic and academic success, those four years of high school were the worst four years of my life. Since high school, new scars were opened as a result of wounds that never healed. Yet time, a new life, and new people have healed some of that past.
Tonight, I didn’t let that sour taste linger. I was looking ahead and not behind.
As I made my way around the room, I was genuinely excited to see so many people from my past. I didn’t talk much about the past as we shared stories of our lives today. Throughout the night, I am sure there were many “remember when” moments. I wasn’t a part of many of those conversations.
Yet I was excited to talk about my life. I shared my travel stories, talked about my College Football Travel Tour, my adventures in Europe, and my busy travel schedule. However, I wanted to talk about their lives as well.
For me, success wasn’t what I was doing but what I had become.
As the conversations lasted well beyond last call at the reunion, I felt like a different person. That’s why I wanted to come. I hoped people saw that I wasn’t the same person I was in high school.
Whether I was a success, a nerd, had aged or put on a few pounds didn’t matter. I may have talked more tonight than I did in 4 years of high school.
Whether it’s a high school reunion or a travel adventure on the other side of the world, we want to find those connections with people that matter. Late into the evening, I shared more of my story and life lessons with Rachel and her husband Marcus.
As the night ended and people went home, we said our various goodbyes as plans were already being made for a 25th reunion.
I’m not sure if I’ll be back. But looking back at twenty years ago, I am glad I am not the same person that I was.
Why travel is like a high school reunion
As I made my way home around 2 am, I thought about the people I had just seen for the first time in 20 years.
Some had become doctors and professionals. Many had kids and were married. Most looked the same while a few looked very different. Regardless of whether people never left town or they moved far away, we had all gotten a bit older and wiser and now see our grown up world differently.
Travel is a lot like a high school reunion.
Thinking back to that first travel experience, we were young, naive, and excited about the possibilities ahead of us. Years later, we’re a little older, view the world differently, and aren’t the same people we were when we started.
Like those high school friends that remind us how much life has changed, our travel experiences, cultural interactions, and connections become our measuring stick for how we see, live, and view life.
Travel changes us. And like a high school reunion, our travel experiences give us an opportunity to look back and reflect on who we are and how far we’ve come.
Looking back only is fun as long as we are continuously moving ahead. Our past experiences become faded travel memories like stories from our high school years.
A high school reunion gives us that chance to look back while seeing how far we’ve come. Travel allows us to treasure our memories, examiner ourselves, and look ahead to the next adventure.
I am not the same person I was in high school. At my 20th high school reunion, I hope people realized that. Thankfully, travel has played a part in shaping who I am today.
As I awoke Sunday morning, I set out on a new travel adventure ready to surprise a few people in my life. It was time for a going home surprise.
What impact have old friends had in your life? Has your perspective on life and the world changed since you left high school?
This post is a three part series about my surprise visit to South Carolina. Read Part I Reuniting with my past.
Latest posts by Jeremy Branham (see all)
- I am retiring from travel blogging but Budget Travel Adventures continues - July 20, 2013
- A sacrebleu Sacre Coeur sunset - July 12, 2013
- 4th of July, a different side of me, and a world domination summit in Portland - July 10, 2013