Last week was my ten-year high school reunion and the only thing that was more shocking than the fact that a whole decade had passed by was how much I've changed since then. If I went back in time and showed up in front of 17-year old Aaron and told him "Hey! I'm you in 10 years." I wouldn't have believed him. Why? Well, picture me now and strip away the long hair, the black clothing, the fashion styling career, any sense of fashion in general, most of the confidence, most of my attitude, add insecurity, add a ton of being quiet and shy, and you'll have high school Aaron.
I paid the meter for my parked car outside Viewhouse downtown, adjusted the sleeves on my leather jacket and fixed my hair before crossing the street. If I was walking into this reunion, I was doing so in style. Not because of any specific vendetta or to prove something to people but to take pride in who I am. I think back to times when I was too afraid to stand up for myself or really didn't feel like I had much to be proud of and can only shake my head. Like so many others in middle school and high school, being a timid, non-athletic, really not good at any of the stereotypical guy stuff, plus-size male made me an easy target for harsh words and intimidation. In a way, I can be thankful, because on one hand, I didn't experience bullying to the cruel degree that others do. On the other hand, I also wouldn't have the thick skin I have today had it not been for those times where I dreaded facing certain people and the relief I felt when they weren't present. I've forgiven and let go since then, which allowed me to learn to stand up for myself and for others, as well.
"Please remind me of your name," A fellow classmate said when I was looking over the name tag stickers. Did I say Aaron, which is actually my middle name but it's what my parents have called me all my life and what I decided to go with "artistically" after jumping into fashion styling, or Hector, which is my first name and what I went by in high school/college but nowhere else. "Aaron, but I went by Hector in high school," I replied. I'd repeat the same thing about four more times to others before finally giving up and writing Hector in black sharpie on my name tag. "Oh! I remember you," she said before pointing me to the sheet where we were supposed to write high school memories. "Hector!" Another familiar face called and I recognized a girl named Samantha who would attend the same youth group I did. "I'm digging the rockstar vibe with the leather jacket and the long hair," she said. "Thank you!" I replied and we began to reminisce about being a high school senior and who, if anyone, we still kept in touch with.
"Let's mingle and see who else is here, it'll be less intimidating together," I said and grabbed my drink before we approached different circles of the class of 2007. Face after face, some familiar, some not at all, conversations were made with the top question being "What do you do?" and answers like realtor, electrician, dental assistant, caretaker were given. "I'm a fashion stylist," I'd reply and see faces light up. "That's so cool!" some would say. Call me naive, but I've been so focused on pursuing my passion that I hadn't realized how cool it looks to others. I'm just doing me!
Hours later, the sun had set and Viewhouse was getting filled with other Denver people who were partying on a Friday night. "I have to go but it was so good seeing you," I made my rounds and gave hugs to people that were part of a different era, a different me. I fixed my collar as I made it to my car and wondered what I would look like for the next high school reunion. It's scary to think about, but it also motivates me to keep pursuing my dreams even harder. I looked at my rearview mirror as I prepared to drive home, happy that I showed up but I also took a second to appreciate myself and to appreciate the journey my life has been so far. Life is too short to live in fear, in doubt, or to resist going after the things you want. So push aside all those negative feelings and be proud of who you are. I am.
Photos by Noah Berg