I just RSVPed no to my 20th high school reunion. Any of my reasons in and of themselves are enough to decline the invitation, but I still feel sad about it. Torn, actually.

Since my eye removal, my chronic illness has been kicking my butt thoroughly and unceasingly. Traveling takes tons of energy and under the best of circumstances, I end up exhausted by the end of my trip. Given that my body is not doing great right now, I can’t take the risk of making things worse. I can’t handle worse.

Do you know how much it annoys me that, yet again, my chronic illness is limiting what I do? It’s one thing if I have to miss a musician who performs monthly or even a party with friends I can find other ways to see. When it’s your 20th reunion, there’s no way to do that next month or arrange an alternative gathering. I’m just going to miss it. Period. Maybe I’ll make the next one in ten years isn’t comforting.

Before I had to make the difficult decision that health concerns had to dictate my choice, I was struggling to decide whether or not I wanted to attend. On the one hand, I would like to reconnect with people from my past satisfying my natural curiosity about how they each have changed over the years. A significant portion of those who stood with me on graduation day also came in with their parents on our first day of preschool. We learned our abc’s together, collaborated on projects, worked on the high school paper side by side, debated each other in Forensics, and grew up together. With only a class of about one hundred students, we have a bond forged from shared experience and that connection draws me toward Upstate New York this Memorial Day weekend.

On the other hand, school was hard for me. I started kindergarten in the fall of 1977 which was the first year federal law required schools to allow disabled kids to attend regular classes if their parents so chose. And, well, my parents so chose. Adamantly. Actually, they had to fight for it to happen. This meant the school was not experienced with having a visibly disabled child, my classmates were not used to visible physical difference, and parents were not equipped to handle it either. Disability was a shameful thing back then and nobody talked about it directly. AS I look back on it, I can see exactly why school was so hard for me. I have a lot of empathy for my classmates as well because they were thrown into a situation without anyone providing explanations or support. By the time we were all old enough to talk about it, there were years of silence that tied our tongues.

I want to make something clear. With the notable exception of 2 kids in junior high, I was not actively teased or ridiculed. My problems stemmed from not being included. My friends were few and my socializing for the most part limited to school activities. What lack of understanding created in preschool was magnified by the time we dawned our caps and gowns. Add into the mix my horrible self-image shaped by reconstructive surgery experiences and the snowball effect of a lack of social skills and you get a formula for isolation and benevolent ignoring.

Today, I still have problems in large groups and quietly sitting by myself is commonplace at parties. Rarely do I feel as though I belong in a group. My difference, and people’s lack of understanding of it, creates barriers few wish to climb.

In light of past and present experiences, I am not certain what reunion would be like. I have had a rather unsettling six months and my emotions are a bit tattered. If I went to my reunion and wound up sitting by myself, I’d be pretty upset. Okay, really upset. I realize the reverse could just as easily happen, but the uncertainty makes me hesitant to take the risk. I’m not equipped to deal with some of the possible outcomes.

Did I mention that everyone I graduated with was used to me being able to see some and now I’m totally blind? Oh, yeah, and there’s the little matter of a chronic illness, a prosthetic eye I have yet to pick up from the ocularist, and the fact that I’d be attending stag while most people are bringing spouses. It was a daunting prospect to consider when I thought I would be feeling more or less myself. Right now, with my body struggling to keep it together, I can’t even imagine it.

Yet I am saddened to the point of tears over missing my reunion. The part of me that never avoids something out of fear is throwing a prolonged temper tantrum. I think this all boils down to a situation where all solutions lack the essential component of making me happy. Oh well. May this be my worst problem in 2010.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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