How quickly life paths diverge

This past weekend I went to the grocery store with my college friend and current roommate Grokmoo. It was the same grocery store I used to go to with my parents every weekend over a decade ago when we lived in the area. I hadn’t been back since until this weekend, and it was exactly as I remembered it. It seems kind of silly to feel nostalgic about a grocery store, but there it was.

As I was idly walking through the fresh fruit aisle, pondering whether I wanted some apples, I happened to catch a glimpse across the store of a girl I knew from high school. It was one of those fleeting glances followed by instant recognition — I was sure it was her. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time in high school looking at her in French class (more on that later).

She didn’t appear to recognize me, so I just observed from afar. I don’t know if she even would’ve recognized me one year out of high school; high school is just full of asymmetric relationships where a few popular people are known by everyone, but not vice-versa. I was blanking on her name, so I didn’t think going up and saying hi would be a good idea (of course, I remembered her full name as soon I got home). As I kept on crossing paths with her in the grocery store, a realization slowly dawned on me — our life paths have diverged a lot since high school.

She was one of the popular girls in the school. I distinctly remember on one occasion when she won a school-wide give-away simply because she had some friends interning in the office and they managed to fix it for her. Oh, and she was very hot, though, sadly, she doesn’t look quite as good now. My friend remarked that she had “a really nice rack” (ladies, don’t attack the messenger). But I’d still say she peaked in high school.

I couldn’t help help staring at her in the supermarket because she was with a tough-looking African-American man a decade her senior and three young children. Judging by the way they interacted, I would say those were their kids. This was definitely the strangest part of seeing her. After high school, I went on to college then got a good job. I’m nowhere near settled down on anything in particular. But she must’ve gotten with this much older man right out of high school and immediately started having babies. Here she is, the same age as me — 23 — but the things she’s worrying about in life are completely different.

And she didn’t look happy; that’s what really left me feeling cold. If she at least seemed happy I would be able to get over it, but she didn’t. The only time I heard the man speak to her was when she was inadvertently backing into another customer, and he said, kind of gruffly, “Get out the way”. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge their whole life together from one minor incident at a grocery store, but I have nothing else to go on. She was being submissive and he was being rude, dismissive, and controlling, while the three kids just kind of played with each other a couple dozen feet away without getting in anyone’s way. I just wonder how it could have ended up this way; she was such a different person in high school, which must now feel like decades ago to her. I had a silly, fleeting thought that perhaps things could’ve ended up differently — but such thoughts are naught but fantasy.

I haven’t gone to a high school reunion yet, but doing so will likely be a huge shock. People my age, who I only knew as immature high schoolers, are going to be married with kids. That’s a shock. Neither I nor any of my close friends have even gotten anywhere close to anything like that, but expand the circle a bit, and there it is: real life staring me in the face.

Maybe I shouldn’t go to that supermarket anymore.

10 Responses to “How quickly life paths diverge”

  1. lee Says:

    I moved back to the town I went to 1-9th grade to go to college after living elsewhere. One day on the bus, I saw a girl I recognized from Junior High. I could not help but recognize her, she is the homeliest woman I have ever seen, kinda a Margaret Hamilton without the glamor and with bad acne. When I approached her in Junior High School hoping to make friends, she was as sour and mean as she was physically unattractive. I would see her around a lot, always alone, and often glowering. A few times I had occasion to speak with her, she was just as unpleasant as the first. Nor was I the only one I saw treated so. It seemed to be her standard mode of interaction.

    I first saw her, after my return, riding the bus. She was just as homely as ever, but she was hugely pregnant and with someone, and most amazingly of all, they both were visibly happy! The guy was obviously enchanted with her and seemed to be trying to make sure she was as comfortable as she could be. She seemed quite taken with him, laughing at his jokes and making cow eyes at him. She would have been about 19, and judging from them being on the bus and the clothes that they were wearing, they did not have much money. I saw them several times over the next few years, and always, they seemed very happy, and she was not gratuitously nasty to various strangers she interacted with.

    I always wondered what brought on the change. I am sure it was the same person, I heard him call her by name.

  2. Erin Says:

    Are you talking about Synder’s, the grocery store?

  3. William (green) Says:

    Snyder’s is a grocery store? I thought it was just a bakery.

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    Nah, the Safeway in Silver Spring.

  5. Erin Says:

    No it’s a grocery store- my mom used to take me with her every Sunday morning after Sunday school. The staff there was so friendly and nice, she missed shopping there after we moved so much she would drive 40 minutes just to buy food.

  6. Knacker Says:

    Yeah, people do things. I don’t know why this surprises you.

    Not everyone’s a computer nerd for whom there was never any danger of having a litter and ending up in a shanty.

  7. William (green) Says:

    I don’t see how being a computer nerd makes you fiscally invincible. Want to let me in on the secret?

  8. KTC Says:

    So true. But I think you’ll get over that after a little bit. When you last known these people, at least you know what they’re like (things do change obviously), and you know what they look like etc., and knew how at least some of them could be settling down and having kids soon. Now try finding a bunch of primary school friends who you haven’t seen or spoken to for more than a decade, and seeing them obviously as a complete stranger. THAT is strange.

  9. Knacker Says:

    Reread what I said. I wasn’t making a statement about computer nerds in general, just using “computer nerd” to describe the original poster.

  10. Cyde Weys Says:

    Knacker, while I understand your point, I also feel like it kind of trivializes the deeper point that was being made here. Yes, most people don’t have kids immediately upon graduating high school (not around here anyway), but there’s still something to be learned by pondering those who do and then reflecting on how wildly divergent those lives will be for the full six decades afterwards. The computer nerd part isn’t particularly relevant.