A few weekends ago, I attended a high school reunion back in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. I had mentioned these plans in an essay that ran just over a month ago, and was later reminded of a very important lesson in not counting my proverbial chickens before they hatch due to a COVID-19 diagnosis following my Las Vegas vacation earlier in the month. Thankfully, the timing and my recovery were such that I was still able to attend. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve been out of high school for as many
years decades since graduation. However, interacting with my former classmates in a truly fun and joyous celebration of our memories of the days of attending our beloved, long-shuttered high school made me reflect on how I’ve grown and changed from the uncertainty of those years into today’s focused, grounded, adult version of myself.
The former Flint Central High School.
A ’69 Chevelle like our featured car is one of two different cars I had chosen to pose next to at random during the photo sessions for my high school senior pictures. Seeing this one at the downtown branch of the U.S. Post Office last month seemed to represent things coming full circle. (The other car was a red Pontiac Fiero.) Long one of my favorite combinations of year, make, model, and body style, one of these Chevelle coupes will probably always make me happy just to see it. Only in a place like Flint, the birthplace of General Motors and onetime manufacturing powerhouse, does it seem like a normal occurrence for classic GM cars in beautiful shape to be out and about during nicer weather and not just during an event. This was also the case when, as a teenager in the early ’90s, I spotted a different ’69 Chevelle from our professional photographer’s car and implored my mom to let me get some snaps next to it.
I was never the popular kid in school, but that really didn’t bother me. Being constantly low-key shamed for my sexual orientation by a largely unchecked and deeply narcissistic parent had the effect of me wanting to retract into my shell and not call attention to myself. Ironically and looking back, I had all the basic, raw ingredients for wide acceptance as an otherwise healthy, unassuming, fun-loving, good-hearted teenager. I’m still genuinely surprised when people tell me they had admired me back then, with them not having known more of the story at the time.
While I had a small, solid group of friends in high school, I had still been gaslighted by an ashamed parent into believing that I was inherently flawed and inferior, and I simply didn’t seek out acceptance and inclusion into large gatherings with my classmates. I didn’t even go to my prom, even with a female friend. (Tameka and I are still close, and she and I recently laughed about how we were supposed to go to prom in a Chevette.) I can’t draw a straight line between these facts and my natural tendency toward introversion, but what’s true today is that I’m gregarious and capable of great extroversion when I want to be, and on my own terms. I wouldn’t trade this comfort in my own skin for anything.
I cherish having attended this recent high school reunion as a fully-realized adult full of self-love, grace, and forgiveness (both received and given), and I will treasure the memories, laughter, reinforcement of long-time connections, and new friendships I made over that weekend. It’s like I could see myself in my mind’s eye during this most recent gathering in clearer focus than at any other point in my life up until recent years, within the context of relating to my peers and having been part of a wonderful and diverse student body. So much of my healing has taken place since making different behavioral choices (no alcohol), hard work with a good therapist, elimination or severe reduction of contact with toxic people, and erecting and maintaining effective personal boundaries.
When I spotted this gorgeous A-body sitting behind that chain link fence at the post office, I was frustrated that I couldn’t photograph its distinctive front end that appears to be canted forward. The idea flashed through my mind for a split second that I might be able to enter the parking lot at the gate and get my shots, but I thought better of it. This Chevelle was parked far away from the other employees’ cars, toward the back of the lot, to protect it from dings and unwanted attention. Access to it was restricted to those who were able to enter this secured area, which was likely limited to only other mail carriers and postal workers. It’s great that its owner chose to drive this Chevelle and not his or her other, workaday ride on that beautiful autumn day, and to put it on display facing the street for others to admire it. Look, but don’t touch.
For much of my life up to a certain point, I had operated under the principle that if anyone paid me some kind of compliment, that I might owe them something in return besides “thank you”. I just wanted to be liked, by anyone… by myself, and I had too often settled for any scraps my family or peers would toss me. It’s not only acceptable, but also healthy and correct to set personal boundaries with others, whether or not you perceive them as being narcissists or possessing any other maladaptive, hurtful personality disorders. I wonder sometimes if good boundaries could have saved my beautiful, empty, old high school building from senseless destruction and vandalism, but security and maintenance both cost money, and Flint didn’t have it. Fences and locks exist for a reason. Think about it this way…
Imagine that years after being treated like an unloved beater car with an otherwise nice configuration, powertrain, and color combination, a ’69 Chevelle like our featured car has been purchased and rescued via a painstaking restoration that involved a lot of hard work. The narcissist who again wants access to you after you eliminate contact is like that former owner who sees the newly shiny Chevelle, still feels possessive of it, senses the challenge in damaging or destroying it in this restored state, and wants the keys to take it for a drive.
There can be only one, sad outcome if you let that person back in, and this is a lesson you can save yourself. It takes discernment, determination, and sometimes sacrifice to maintain your boundaries and keep those people away from your metaphorical car and out of your life. It can mean your very survival. I am glad, humbled, and thankful that I was able to be a warmer, wiser, and more authentic and enlightened version of myself at the reunion to friends both old and new, like the strong, straightforward, vintage “Chevelle” I was always meant to be. To paraphrase the great poet Robert Frost, good fences can, indeed, make good neighbors.
Saturday, October 29, 2022.