Carpool with your childhood best friend. The only one you still talk to on a bi-monthly basis. Go into the dive bar/bowling alley that hasn’t seen this much traffic since last Christmas. The annual bar pilgrimage of 20-somethings, trying to escape their childhood home. The return of the prodigal millennials.
Get to the bar, and immediately see everyone you grew up with. Be as self-conscious now as you were at the 8th grade graduation dance. The same insecurities, the same sheepish mannerisms. Realize your outfit is way too city for a place that hosts a Wednesday bowling league. Contemplate leaving, but realize it would be much worse if you did. Order a Whiskey-Ginger. Wonder if you would look cooler if you could drink whiskey straight.
See your grade school arch-nemesis. The one that took your journal out of your backpack in middle school and read it out loud during morning break. Avoid eye contact for as long as possible, thinking every negative thing you thought about her in grade school. Find yourself being pulled into a hug. Be shocked at how friendly she’s being. Wonder if you’re actually the real jerk, for holding onto those resentments. Be flattered when she tells you you’re funnier than she remembered. Wait, was that an insult? But before you can think about it further, she’ll ask about your job. How your parents are doing. How long you’re home for.
Make small talk with people with whom you spent 12 years of your life but haven’t seen in the past 12 months. Realize that most of them are still heavily invested in each other’s lives. That you are the outsider. That, just because you started a life in a bigger city, in a far-away place, you are being viewed with more interest than your new life really merits.
See the same cliques, but suddenly be included in them in a way you weren’t a decade ago. Try to act cooler than you feel. Definitely don’t tell them how much you miss home, or that you also dread coming back to it every year; that type of internal conflict is too deep for catching-up chat. Ask about their jobs. How their parents are doing. How long everyone is home for.
See That Guy. The one you are still mildly in love with. Try to act cool and nonchalant when he gives you a hug. Be annoyed that he is, if at all possible, even cuter. Be even more annoyed that you’ve regressed to feeling like a pre-pubescent tween with a crush. Feel a pang of jealousy when he mentions his girlfriend. Even though you don’t know this kid anymore. Even though you’ve moved on. Even though, on paper, the guys you date are more successful. Realize that this particular man still has some sort of hold on you, fueled by hours of pubescent fantasies and fumbled teenage moves. Ask about his job. How his parents are doing. How long he’s home for.
Be both relieved and unsatisfied when your childhood best friend wants to leave. Wonder what it means that you still care. Wonder, too, what it means that you have moved on in a way that seemed impossible to you a decade ago. Assure yourself that this night, this reality, doesn’t have bearing on your real life. That you won’t have to feel this anxiety, this exhilaration, or this level of self-awareness for another year. These are the people who know the most about your adolescent life and the least about your current one. Wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Realize it doesn’t matter: it just is.