On Relationships

Just Like That It Was 10 Years Later


2005 High School Graduation

The day I graduated high school I felt like I was breaking free. To the extent that my friends and I deemed it our civic duty to return our handcuffs to the prison that had been confining us for the last four years. We were free. We could do whatever we wanted. We could get in our car and just go – and we did. We were ready to escape the walls decorated in rebel blue and vibrant red and wreak havoc on the world. And we haven’t stopped since.

Did things turn out exactly as we planned? From birth to 18, I was pretty sure I was headed to Hollywood. Yet, here I am living in L.A.’s cold, bitchy sister and know with all certainty that I’m right where I need to be. No, things didn’t go according to plan. And I did have a plan. But plans change when you least expect it and most need it. Its one of the wonders of the world. It’s called life and it happens all around us, everyday, and there’s no stopping it. Not even for a minute.

However, there are moments when the ritual of life calls on you to give pause and consider where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re headed. It happens every 10 years and it’s called a high school reunion.

It’s alarming how quickly 10 years can pass. So many moments still seem to live right in front of me, but in reality they‘re detailed archives of my past. I didn’t love high school. I was awkward, uncomfortable in my own skin and lost in a place I didn’t want to be. And like Anne Hathaway said in The Princess Diaries, “Just in case I am not enough of a freak already, let’s add a tiara!” To top off my high school experience . . . I was the god damn homecoming queen.  A detail I was incredibly proud of at 18 and shamefully humiliated by at 28. Hindsight, right?

At 18, I was ready to go and get on the road and put some miles under my heels. I wanted to see everything. I wanted to try everything (except swimming in the ocean at night). I was ready to  explore. I wanted to L-I-V-E. Little did I know, life would kick my ass back and forth across the road the majority of the ride. But again, hindsight, right?

I like to think that the more you fall down in life, the better you get at standing back up. And by god, I’m a clumsy girl. So I left home. I walked at times, ran others, there were times when I had to come crawling back to the place that was my home. And here, 10 years later, typing from New York City, I still refer to that small Kentucky town as home.

Home is where your heart is, right? Part of my heart will always live among those empty fields, those winding roads, the countless bonfires, the bottomless red Dixie cups, the classic rock, the laughter and inside jokes, and the flashing lights of cameras like fireflies in the darkness. Part of my heart will forever belong to those things and to all of the people that formed my formative years.

10 years later, I’ve learned a lot about life and growing up. While things don’t always go according to plan, if you have faith and stay strong things will turn out alright. Not what you expected, but sometimes better. Life isn’t always easy. There will be hard times and I hope and pray that you’ve collected some amazing people to get through those moments with the way I have. I didn’t stay close with all of my high school friends. It’s weird the way you lose touch, you ease into it, until you don’t even notice. I figure I stayed close with the people I was supposed to. The ones that needed me the way that I need them. Kindred spirits.

These are the friends who know every mistake you’ve ever made and often remember them with more detail. (Actually I have the best memory out of my friends – too bad for them . . . and I’m a writer.) But the crazy thing about these kindred spirits, or soul mates as I like to call them, is that you love them and they love you despite your flaws, perhaps because of them. They know every single face-reddening-as-your-reading-this-mistake you’ve ever made and they still love you. I hope you have these people in your life too. And I wish for you to never have to endure a game of “Never Have I Ever” with them.

My soul mates and I are worse than that. When we return to one another we revert back into asshole 16 year olds. We make fun of each other. We rate burps. We still sing over the music. We line dance. We purposefully humiliate one another. We laugh until we have a six pack. And in the back of our minds we’re all praying for the dawn to spare us a few more hours. We don’t have each other often, but when we do, we’re all in.

Over the year’s we’ve become each other’s home. No matter where we are, despite the miles of skies spread between us, we all feel a little safer knowing the others are out there. And here we are 10 years later, living lives none of us imagined or maybe hadn’t yet dreamt of.

Our 10 year high school reunion is less than a month away and I have no intention of going. Partly because of time and logistics. It’s my busiest season at work and a trip home just seems implausible. And if I’m being honest, the other part is lack of desire. It’s not that I don’t want to see people, in fact, as a documentarian of life it seems like a rare glimpse at human nature.

You see folks you’ve known and grown with the majority of your life and hear stories of how their particular life choices shaped the road they’re travelling down. That shit fascinates me. I think choices are interesting, they’re the turns and pit-stops on our winding road. They’re what got us to our current destination. And the most promising thought about a high school reunion is you get a front row seat to the confirmation that we as humans are capable of change.

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to prove to ourselves everyday – that we can be better than we were yesterday? What better of a place to prove that than at a high school reunion. Let’s be honest, despite our flaws in the present – we’re all better people than we were at 18. Teenagers are assholes. It’s not completely their fault, they’re little raging bodies of hormones. Hormones that they don’t know what do with. As a teenager, you want to be heard, but you also want to be invisible. You aren’t a kid, but not quite an adult. You think you know what you want, but then again, you really aren’t sure. You’re a walking contradiction. Think back to your teenage years and tell me you aren’t a better person now. It’s compassion. At 18, you haven’t really had enough life experience to learn the meaning or the importance of it.

Life may or may not have turned out as you imagined, but that’s all part of the fun. I’ve had surprises, but I also think I’ve managed to keep control of the wheel. And those rough winds and stormy skies have taught me strength and I’m a better person because of it.

The truth is, I don’t have any desire to go to my high school reunion because I’m not quite ready to confront the girl I used to be. Pieces of her survived , but others were causality’s of the trip. But sometimes when I glance in the rearview mirror, I still see her taking in the ride.

Someday, when I’m ready, I’ll return home and come face-to-face with that girl from my past. I’ll smile knowing that I’m a better person, but I’ll also know that I’m only better because of her. She taught me everything I know. She fell down so I could know how to stand tall. She endured so I could thrive.

Looking back on the stupidity, shameless moments, shallowness and spitefulness that were my teenage years, there’s really not much I would go back and change. I might make a few reroutes, but I’ve liked my journey. Partly because it’s mine, but also because it’s been filled with eventful wrong turns, I met some amazing hitchhikers, and boy do I have some stories. I’ve been On the Road. And each mile keeps getting better.

So, while this homecoming queen’s not quite ready to come home, I do still call it home.

Sending love and good vibes to all of my fellow 2005ers. Check ya later!

And Go Rebels!

Following a five-year stint in New York City, Ashley is now a Los Angeles transplant. Having grown up in rural Kentucky, Ashley is passionate to share self-care techniques used around the world and hopes to make them accessible to folks in rural communities. Ashley believes in gratitude, personal legends, and doing good. Aside from being a business leader in her professional life, Ashley is a novelist and freelance writer.

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