Ah, the frosty last stretch of the year is upon us, guys. That special time of the year when you travel home for the holidays to see the very people you consciously and definitively chose to leave. Thanks to an overabundance of family time, a trip (OK, several) to the bar is always necessary. (Let's face it, there are only so many political conversations or love-life inquiries a person can take before they explode with the fury of a thousand dying suns.) If you're from a small town, that necessary trip to the bar will mean you'll run into your entire high school class. Honestly, the need to lubricate and blur the edges around prolonged family time and multiple high school friend run-ins has to be main reason why alcohol is a thing. I'm sure of it.
Sometimes that trip to ~that one bar where you know everyone will be~ (a movie cliche that I actually feel like holds up in real life pretty well) is a real time-saver: You get to see multiple people in a short amount of time; it's a great way to cut down on numerous cab rides all over town; and a great way to make sure you won't accidentally hurt anyone's feelings. Of course, you're also at the mercy of cold, cruel chance — you really have no way of knowing who you'll run into when you hand the bouncer your ID and step across the boozy threshold.
And like high school itself, those unexpected run-ins with ex-classmates, ex-lovers, and ex-friends can also be uncomfortable or even downright painful. They can also be wonderful, rejuvenating and fantastically hilarious. Every trip down memory lane comes with speed bumps, delightful scenic routes, and ideally, many drinks. Here are the people you're most likely to see.
The Party Guy Who Never Left
Seeing this person isn't a surprise run-in by any means: Their ass has likely been permanently imprinted on one of the bar stools. More than likely, they'll already be hammered by the time you see them. They never left your small town after graduation, and mostly don't have anything better to do than put their paychecks towards shots of over-priced bourbon.
If you stop and have a conversation, it might be awkward and you might not be able to understand everything they're saying. Try and be kind anyway. Don't brag and parade around your semi-sober life, your recent adventures, or all of the positive choices you've made since high school (let's be honest, you've made plenty of bad choices too). They might be the drunkard in this situation, but if you make them feel like garbage because of it, you're just the pretentious jerk, and that's way worse than being a drunk.
Your Ex-Best Friend
This is the moment when you duck behind someone, make your way to the bar and order a double. Maybe something happened in-between junior and senior year, or after graduation. Either way, the "something" was bad, and it severed your friendship in the clean and dramatic way that can only usually happen when you're a teenager and view relationships in such black-and-white terms.
You'll feel a small twinge of pain, quickly masked by anger. But, of course, a part of you will be sad that the girl you used to spend sleepovers with, dancing to "Chumbawamba" and watching Will and Grace, is someone you no longer know.
The Person You Lost Your Virginity With
If you're like me, an unending parade of hormones and impatience ruled your adolescent mind, and chances are you lost your virginity in high school. Hopefully it was to someone who was kind, considerate, and respectful, so that when you run into them it isn't a horrible experience. If so, then this encounter will just be funny and slightly weird. Maybe, after enough doubles, you'll be able to laugh about your shared sexual encounter and how brief it was. Maybe you'll make out. Maybe you'll carry out an unspoken but very real need to prove to one another how much better you are in bed now, all these years later. WHO KNOWS, GUYS, THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.*
*the bar is your incubator of nostalgia-fueled poor choices
The Used-To-Be Popular Kid
They peaked in high school and they don't want anyone else to forget it. Chances are, they haven't done anything of substance since being crowned Prom King or Queen, so they'll wax nostalgic about the "good old days" and how wonderful it was to be beloved by all. And even though you're well aware of their now obvious downfalls, a part of you still feels inferior around them. Regardless of their now painfully mediocre existence, you'll feel like you're right back in high school, comparing yourself to them in ways that are unhealthy and unfair.
Or maybe they'll have turned into totally amazing people who have an incredible sense of perspective over the complete lunacy that was high-school social hierarchy, and you'll get drunk together and you'll feel your lingering adolescent insecurity baggage get a bit lighter. Either way, you'll probably realize that they have a couple of wrinkles now and were human all along, and that'll feel nice.
The Long-Lost Friend
You two were inseparable until graduation happened and you both went off to different colleges. Time moved you two apart and while you promised forever, distance did its dirty work and you two just don't talk to one another very much anymore. But when you see them, it's like no time has passed at all. You talk like you just spoke the day before, catching up and laughing and feeling right at home in the warmth of a forever friendship that surpasses and survives all your adult-like responsibilities. This encounter is the best, makes you feel like you're young and dumb again, and rejuvenates your faith in relationships in general. Some friendships don't need to be tended to every day. Some can stand strong all on their own, have the true ability to last forever, and make going back home simply wonderful.
They used to scold you and hand out detentions, and now they're talking to you like they're your equal. Adulthood is weird, man.
If you can get over the initial awkwardness and see your former teacher as an actual human being, this interaction can be eye-opening. You realize that they were never the enemy that adolescence and circumstance convinced you they were. No, they were just over-worked, underpaid, and extremely patient, considering you were (probably) a little a**hole. So take the time to listen to them. Ask them how they're doing, what they're up to besides teaching, and how their family is. Before you know it, you'll realize that teachers do have (pretty cool) lives outside of the school they spend way too much time at.
The Extremely Successful Show Off
Remember that pretentious a**hole I urged you not to be? Yeah, well, there will be at least one of those at the bar too. Perhaps they weren't very popular in high school, or were made fun of for trivial and cruel reasons (like reading or having a decent IQ, which are truly awful social crimes in high school). Either way, they've done big things since high school and they want to tell the entire bar about it: They have a fantastic job and they make six figures and they have a stunning condo in an important and well-known city like New York or Los Angeles, aka, the only two places that make you feel justified in puffing your chest when you go home for Thanksgiving. They have an investment portfolio and an extensive wardrobe and a lawyer on retainer, because why not? They want everyone to not only be jealous, but to hate themselves for not being as successful and established as they are.
Sure, some of it is warranted and hey, there's nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments. But there's a fine line and this individual crosses it on purpose. Let them drink with you and the rest of the squad — they'll probably pay for the drinks.
The Annoying Person Who Had Kids
Now, I'm not talking about everyone from high school who has procreated since you saw them last. Most of them are fine. Maybe you have kids. It's all chill. But some of them are the absolute worst. You know the kind: They're so enamored with their child or children (which is cute) and center their worlds around them (admirable, sure) to the point that they're completely and totally incapable of talking about anything else. Normal rules of socially accepted etiquette were thrown out with their child's first diaper, so after they've shown you the 13th picture of their kid eating spaghetti you're looking for the exit sign. You know what? I'm allowed to say this is horrible and unacceptable because I am a parent, and I know it's perfectly possible to be a parent, and also socialize without it turning into a boring-ass slideshow of your kid's life. So there. Leave these people and go back to the side of the bar where McProudOfHimself is buying everyone shots.
The One Who Got Away
They were the subject of the majority of your diary entries and the painful definition of "crush." Even if you're now married or in a wonderfully healthy relationship, they still get to you. Some people have that ability. They just slide underneath your skin and stay there, a palpable sliver of possibility that pains you every time you see them.
Maybe you two couldn't get the timing right or maybe they were the one who taught you about heartbreak. Either way, they give you all the feels. If it won't leave you with an expensive bar tab and a nasty hangover, go talk to them. If self-preservation insists you stay on the opposite end of the bar and as far away from them as possible, definitely do that instead.
Your Mom (Or Your Friend's Mom)
We're adults now, just like our parents and our friends' parents, so when we're out doing adult things, parents will be there. It's a fascinating moment, when you realize that you're a grownup. Especially if that realization happens when you're back home and surrounded by the people you went to high school with. You're caught in this odd space-time continuum, where the past and the present and the future all co-exist in a swirl of emotionally jarring and hilariously awkward situations.
So while it's kind of weird — the ability to now have fun with your parents or your friends' parents — it's the reward you get for making it through your adolescence. You don't have to hate them or their rules anymore. In fact, now that you can see the bigger picture, chances are you're thankful for them and everything they did for you. Enjoy this newfound friendship, order them a drink and tell them you're sorry for being such an angsty, pain in the ass teenager.
Images: Paramount Pictures; Giphy(10)