How a guy named Fred changed my life

Real Relationship Advice

…and he did it retroactively.

If you ask me about my youth, I would regale you with stories of high school anonymity, victimization from bullies, fear and loneliness.  My self-perception was that of the quintessential geek. I kept my head down, made as little eye contact as possible, and hoped to achieve obscurity. I actually believed that this was me. I thought that no one knew me and that I left a negligible social footprint for most of my life.

With a simple greeting, everything that I believed about myself shifted. Recently, I went to my 30th high school reunion.  I had been to my 10th reunion and I loved it. The 10 year was my vendetta reunion. My hair was relatively thick and long with no male pattern baldness. My chest stuck out farther than my stomach. I had a beautiful wife, successful career, and a smile on my face. I will admit that I reveled in the toll that ten years had taken on those that I thought were cruel to me by their shear acts of ignoring me.

This year was very different. A guy named Fred said hi and Fred remembered me. He remembered me, not as a friend, not as an enemy, but as a fellow human being who shared common experiences. It may sound silly to some but the validation of me as a human, even after all of these years, changed the way that I saw others and myself.

I looked around this celebration of veterans in the battle for life and saw my peers as something new, wonderful and beautiful. One was there with his husband and children. Yes, you read the pronoun correctly. I look at this man through my high school eyes, from a time when I feared my own sexual growth, and see someone popular and carefree. My eyes were filtered with jealousy and so I declared him an enemy. Now I look at him and wonder how his life must have been. How many tears of sorrow or joy, has this man shed to become who he is? I find that I want to know this new man, the one that I now see with admiration and respect.

I look at the woman going through some bad times and I know that she will get through it because she is not alone. We are never alone. This above everything is the theme of this article. I look at the man that I have become and I see the world as something to be embraced, not avoided. I look at this lovely woman fighting through her sadness and I want to remind her that she is part of something great. That her sadness is fleeting if she keeps looking for happiness. That the pain is real as is the joy. That this new man that grew from loneliness is there for her.

I look back now and realize that I was not alone. I had friends, acquaintances, and enemies.  Some people liked me, some did not, and others knew that they did not know me. In other words, I was part of humanity. Just because I was part of a world greater than the inner prison of my own making does not change the fact that I was bullied and scarred. I do not want anyone to think that these insights negate my sadness. Nor is this a story of regret. I would not change a thing in my life. I have a magnificent life. I have love. My world is full of beauty. I am successful and happy. This is all grounded in the fact that I am the man that evolved from the boy.  This is not about regrets but about a man looking at himself and realizing that he is part of something greater.

So I thank you, Fred, for showing me that we are not alone. I was never alone. Just because I did not lift my eyes in high school does not mean that there were no people around me.


  • cbanker

    Paul – Your article has really touched me.  As adults we can look back to those high school days and understand the pain we may have gone through.  I’m sure there are people out there who would say that high school was the best time of their life – I’m not one of them. It’s such an awkward time and those awkward moments stay with me even today.  As an adult I have more of an appreciation for the fact that I was not alone and that if I had taken the time to reach out and see other people’s pain it may have helped all of us get through things better.  I agree that the reunion was a life changer – 30 years later I have more high school friends than ever and I’m grateful to say you’re one of them. 🙂

    • LeeReyesFournier

       @cbanker Thank you so much! Thanks to you and your amazing effort, Paul was able to have this experience. 

  • GinoRuffolo

    Paul: you and i WERE friends in HS (you are one of the few that i i still recognie as being legit though we havent spoken in 30yrs), yet, you have spoken words here that I have always kept to myself, hidden behind a facade of ‘fuck them all’.
    at least I admit it.

  • Bob Reyes Haf

    Great historical story

  • CoupleDumb

    historical!?! Three decades isn’t that old. (Ha, can’t say it with a straight face.)

  • ConnieFoggles

    High school was one of the most difficult times in my life just as it is for many others. I’ve never been to a reunion, but after reading this, I hope to attend one. We are never alone!

  • I’m really touched by this post, Paul. I skipped my high school reunion after a rough experience at my 5 year and working too hard for no appreciation on the 10 year. I just wasn’t in the mood and opted to have a nice night at home with my family instead. The next day I woke to pictures on facebook and saw that things hadn’t changed much. The cliques were still there, as were comments from a show-off wannabe bully about how those of us who didn’t attend were losers. I’m sure that that sentiment wasn’t spread throughout the 20 year reunion, but it reaffirmed my choice not to attend.
    Your post makes me wonder, though. I was fairly popular in high school but haven’t kept in touch with anyone from my class beyond the occasional facebook comment. I’m hoping that there were people at our reunion who had similar experiences as you. And hopeful that, should I attend the 25th reunion, I’ll find I have an experience similar to yours. 

    • LeeReyesFournier

       @Julie Meyers Pron Julie, I think I speak for Paul when I say, go. Time has a way of healing things and going to the reunion gives you a new perspective. Paul was not popular in school but now he feels accepted. The people who were assholes before continue. They are the little people. The ones you can connect with are something to be treasured.

  • ErinCLane

    Love this.  Very touching and so very true.

  • LisaDouglas1

    I absolutely and completely adore this to pieces. Sososoooo good.

  • Bob Reyes Haf

    He is an antique.

  • MingleMediaTV_Stephanie

    Great story – I remember my 10th and felt the same way… it was my redemption as I was very restricted by religion and parental protection. It’s funny how we grow and change and in the end are no different from anyone else. 

  • AmandaHenson

    Oy. I love this.  Thank you guys for sharing.  This one hit me right THERE.

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