One of my most cherished pastimes involves flicking my stumpy thumb over Facebook’s carousel of friend suggestions. There’s no nostalgia in this. There’s no longing for the past or remembering better days — quite the opposite. There’s nothing wholesome at all about what I do. The point is to be not wholesome, to wallow in my own hauteur, to dole out my disdain across the beaming faces of the ghosts of my adolescence. That’s what draws me in while I’m sitting on the toilet or finding reasons not to be productive. Facebook calls this that section “People You May Know.” I call it “Reasons I’m Glad To Not Be In High School Anymore.” It’s with great joy that I welcome that gag-inducing row of profiles onto my feed. If I don’t have time to cycle through the menagerie, I make sure to remember a handful of posts surrounding it so I can return at a later time. That’s dedication.
It hasn’t always been this way for me. I didn’t always used to cross my fingers while the app loaded in hopes that that dreary section was waiting for my scalding eye. Heavens no. On the one hand, I didn’t even make a profile until two or three years after I’d graduated. When Facebook presented me with all the people I’d spent a few years trying to forget and suggested, further, that they might be people I’d like to keep in contact with, I nearly hucked my phone at the wall tomahawk-style.
That was back when the wounds were still fresh, when the misdeeds of these blockheads would resurface in my mind without anything to precipitate it. I’d be lying red-eyed in bed and, for no reason at all, I’d think, “Remember that time in Ms. P’s class when So-and-So said you have a beak for a nose? What a cock.” Then the next day, as if by magic, I’d open up Facebook and there the troglodyte would be, grinning at me with his sizable teeth, his arm around some bimbo with obtrusive breasts.
“I have a feeling you might really like this guy,” the Facebook algorithm seemed to suggest. “He seems to be right up your alley.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t just seeing their faces and remembering the innumerable grievances I had with these people that bothered me so much. If that was all it came down to, I probably would have swiped past the carousel of faces as absently as I scrolled past ads for ultra-absorbent baby diapers. What need had I for anything whose existence was inextricably connected with containing the greatest possible amount of poop? My disdain for the floating heads had less to do with how little I wanted to see them and more to do with how, even after high school had come and gone, I still envied them. I wanted to be the handsome one. I wanted to have a profile picture that portrayed me as the life of the party. I wanted to have my pasty arm around some bosomy bimbo.
Sometimes, if I was feeling especially masochistic, I’d press my thumb on their snide mug for some extra reconnaissance.
“So, he’s studying zoology up north, is he? Oh, look at all those pictures of him and his college buddies in their bathing suits from their springtime trip to Cancun. What’s this? Over a thousand friends? My, that’s a lot of people who like him. Perhaps he never poured chocolate pudding into their backpacks when they weren’t looking.”
These things I observed from the solitude of my parents’ basement, where my time was spent in equal parts proving geometry theorems or imitating the noises my cat could make. On the weekends my high school adversaries attended parties and social events with their ever-expanding friends circle. I turned on video games and ground up weed by myself. That was the way of the world, I’d learned. Some people got the big, juicy cut of pie, and the rest of us were to make do with seeds and stems.
Somewhere along the way I stopped paying so much attention to that little slideshow of faces. My mother might have called that maturing, but it was more likely that I’d found newer peeves to shower my angst upon, like the incompetents at the end of the block who refused to shovel snow from their stretch of the sidewalk or the zealots at the light rail who apparently lost sleep at night because I hadn’t yet accepted Jesus into my heart. Maybe that’s all maturing is — the capacity to be annoyed by slighter and slighter things. Any way you cut it, keeping up to date on who was leading a preferable life to my own became stale and tiresome. So much so that I hardly noticed it when the boys who questioned my sexuality and the girls who routinely snubbed my advances began to intermarry and put little idiot buns into their impulsive, sooty ovens.
A few years rolled by. I found a girlfriend. We moved across the country twice. We got a dog. We launched and aborted two businesses before we moved back to Colorado, back into the same basement where I’d first discovered my penchant for stalking the people I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t until about eight months ago that I brought my old hobby back. It happened the way you might stumble across a cherished childhood board game while cleaning the clutter out of the attic.
“Oh yeah,” you say, “I remember this old thing. How I used to spend hours playing this silly game!”
So it was for me on a soggy Spring morning. I coaxed myself from bed and snatched my phone from the ottoman I used as a nightstand. It’s my habit to poke around the internet first thing in the morning while I occupy the toilet. As a general rule I try to avoid the Facebook minefield until I’ve had my second cup of coffee, but on this rare morning I had a notification from the blue square that I’d been invited to an event.
“Probably someone inviting me to feed the homeless or to join a protest they’re staging at the foot of the capitol building to raise awareness for children with unibrows,” I thought. “Surely nothing I’d be interested in attending.”
And I wasn’t all wrong. It was indeed something I would not attend. More than that, it was something I made an audible scoff at having been invited to.
“TEN YEAR REUNION — SEE YOU THERE!!”
The exuberance! All caps — no humility. Who on earth is excited to see all the people that they’ve spent a decade intentionally not keeping in contact with? That’s how I felt about it. I still have friends from high school, but I don’t need a reunion as a reason to see them. I do that in my free time. The only people I’d see at the reunion were the people I couldn’t wait to get away from in the first place. And now here was someone inviting me to spend an evening around them, people who would probably only remember me as the kid they regularly cheated off of in math class, or the guy whose sacred berries were exposed to scores of adolescent onlookers after some greasy-headed neanderthal pulled down his pants as a prank.
“It’s been ten years already. Man, where does the time go?!” That’s how the event description began. It went on to describe in almost desperate terms the time and place of the venue, some kind of bar or something, and what a fabulous time it would be for everyone who was able to show up. “Come down and see what your former classmates have been doing with their lives!” At the bottom of the page was the list of everyone who had already RSVP’d, and I, recalling my once treasured pastime, decided to drop in to see what kind of torturous morsels I could glean.
Oh, momentous morn!
There was a swelling in my chest as I’d never before felt. I jumped from profile to profile while the toilet seat cut the blood flow to my legs, gloomy wall after gloomy wall, each one drearier than the last. Here was one who had mocked me for being a vegetarian. His profile picture, a recent selfie he’d taken in a gym mirror, bore the caption “Gettin’ swooolllllleeee.” His empty eyes, dead grin, and conspicuously inflated chest betrayed his despairing loneliness; his vanity had ruined every semblance of romance that he’d chanced upon. There, the ostentatious leader-of-the-bitches who poked fun at girls with curly hair and glasses, and who looked down her nose at boys like me who were seldom invited to parties except perhaps as a joke. She was a single mother now, corpulent, and convinced that her sense of entitlement had nothing to do whatsoever with her inability to “find a good man.” Next, the pompous imbecile who bragged of his sexual escapades as though they were merit badges or awards, things that made him superior to anyone who had yet to experience a drunken orgy or gang bang. He was divorced already, and the bags under his eyes ran counter to his insistence that he was dealing with it just fine. Currently a high school English teacher, I expect to see him in the coming years on television, his dejected face floating beside a news anchor who will inform us viewers that he’d been arrested in an underage sex scandal.
“Hey, I sold that guy weed for a little while,” I’d tell my wife. “I wonder if he still listens to that same awful reggae music.”
One by one I slogged through the pile of plump, aging faces, each one feigning contentment more than the last, each one hoping they’d kept up with the Jones’s enough to somehow still be relevant, pretending to like their jobs, participating in meaningless marriages, bearing children as a symbol of status rather than a symbol of love and of devotion. Each one broadcasting their flimsy facade for all the world to see and, hopefully, to praise.
I had been on the toilet so long that my toes were turning purple. There was a knock.
“Baby,” my girlfriend said through the bathroom door, “I can’t make coffee because your mom is using the kitchen and I don’t want to get in her way. Also, I need to go to the bathroom. Are you almost done?”
“Okay, baby,” I said. “Just a second and I’ll be out.”
I cycled through a few more profiles before I pulled my pants up and flushed.
“Happy ten year reunion, everyone,” I thought. “See you all again at twenty.”