On Saturday night, I experienced another adulthood rite of passage, attending my 10 year high school reunion.
Perhaps I'm an anomaly in that my memories of high school are overwhelmingly positive. (Granted, my opinion of the school itself has changed somewhat in the years since.) I had great friends, I did well academically, and I enthusiastically embraced the school's extra-curricular program - if only to get myself out of a few days of school. When I left, Girton Grammar was still quite a small independent school - even with students from all across Regional Victoria, our graduating year 12 class had only 80 students. We were quite close, and despite tight friendship groups within the year level there was almost no-one in I felt I couldn't have a conversation with. As tends to happen in country schools, weekend parties were attended by almost everyone in the year, as well as the year levels above and below, and everyone at the school knew everyone else.
In the ten years since I finished VCE, I've maintained close friendships with a handful of people from school. About half of our graduating class started their tertiary career at The University of Melbourne, so it was almost impossible to walk through the campus without running into someone from home - and from time to time I found this uncomfortable and unwelcome.
Since then though, many of the relationships I formed at school are not as strong as they once were. And how could they be? You make new friends, you get slack, you lose touch... Your plans change, and sometimes moving away from the people you knew helps to get you to where you think you want to go. Thanks to whispers heard second- and third-hand through intersecting social circles, Facebook, and family connections, I had a vague inkling that most of us were still alive, still growing, and still seeing others from our year level.
With this in mind, I was surprised to realise that even ten years later, having not seen quite a few Old Girtonians since graduation, the shared experience of high school is such a strong bond.
Existing alongside these people at this critical point of our lives, when our fledgling adult identities were just beginning to emerge, creates a strange feeling of familiarity - an intangible sense of knowing - even among those I'd always counted as acquaintances rather than friends. Having seen each other almost daily for a six year period accounts for many a shared memory, and reliving some of these memories brought on a sense of belonging I've rarely experienced in the ten years since.
This feeling was quite unexpected, because when I've visited Bendigo in the years since school, I've felt surprisingly little attachment to the place I called home for most of my childhood. I realise now that my attachment isn't to the places, but the people.
Against my instincts, but at the insistence of my best high school friend, I brought along my husband for the night and I felt like he was getting a crash-course in the formation of Lara. It was almost a relief to have him meet and speak to people who knew me long before he did, like things have become clear to him all of a sudden. And perhaps I make a little more sense... (Although I doubt it.)
Since Saturday night, inevitably, the nostalgia has settled in. I still feel disappointed in myself that I didn't maintain close friendships with the people who knew me best, before I even knew myself. But at the same time, I know those friendships will always be there, because the great thing about high school is that you can never forget it, no matter how much you might like to.