I was chatting with a friend on messenger last night. She is yet another addition to the growing list of people I have reconnected with from High School via FB. She is also on a shorter list; people who I have become close friends with that I thought didn’t know I existed in HS. Nancy and I have become great friends through our chats. We talk at least 3 nights per week about our lives now and flashing back to HS. The problem is that I don’t remember being friends with her in HS. I knew her, but don’t remember her ever giving me the time of day. She vividly recalls memories of us, of my offbeat sense of humor and comical antics. I don’t remember any of it. Until last night, I hadn’t brought myself to tell her that. I reluctantly told her that I don’t remember most of it, that I have largely blocked HS out of my mind, that I was an emotional mess and very mixed up. She said, “I never would have guessed that.” I was stunned. How could she not know? I thought everybody knew!
My memories of High School are as pleasant to me as Church in the 80’s is to former Altar Boys in Boston. It makes my ass hurt. I remember HS as a blur of being bullied, cliques, being nonexistent to the fairer sex, having very few friends, an average student, a sullen misfit who longed for school holidays and vacations. I hated getting out of bed in the morning, I truly dreaded going to school. So why do so many people remember me as a fun, independent kid?
The only explanation is that I got it wrong. I clearly didn’t maximize my opportunities. I didn’t see what other people saw. I have accepted my life for what it is and I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t want a do-over, High School was hard enough the first time. But I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I were able to correct some critical errors I made in my younger, foolish years.
I carried the weight of HS well into adulthood. I declined invitations to my 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th HS Reunions. When I declined the 25th, I was asked by the coordinator to give a little quote about what I had been doing. I wrote,
“For years I tried to find myself, then I realized I was me all along.”
I was surprised at how fast I came up with that, it just flowed off the tongue. I stored it for later. Maybe it was a sign that I was beginning to let it go. Inspired by my new clarity, I dug a little deeper and found myself finally able to ask the big question, Is it possible that it was me and not everyone else? That is one of those questions that, even if asked of yourself, is a pretty big Matzo ball if you’re not ready for it. But Bingo, it was me. My entire HS experience sucked because I let it. So what did I learn?
Fight back. Against your situation, against your bullies, against your fears. I was a passive kid. I was an artist, a reader, a lover of music. I didn’t get mad, I retreated to my safe world of drawing album covers and reading books. Had I just once pushed, shoved or punched one of my tormentors I would have at least been left alone. Bullies want it easy. If you make them work for it they back off.
Stick with sports. When I think of it, I dropped off of the baseball team before tryouts were over because of the shit I took from some of the kids. But I was a pretty good baseball player. Now I’ll never know. I dropped out of Soccer because I was being made fun of by guys that I hated. They made fun of my cleats, they were cheap because we didn’t have much money. Instead of fighting back, or just ignoring them I quit. I wasn’t a bad player. I ended up running track. Chalk lines can’t mock you and you’re basically competing with yourself.
Embrace what I was good at. I was a good artist. It got me into college. But it wasn’t cool to be an art major. I was in the band. I love music and I was a good Trumpet player. But like art, being in the band wasn’t cool. What my dumbass former self didn’t realize was that I wasn’t cool either. Who am I trying to impress? And who cares about cool?
Try a little harder. After I was stuffed into my locker for the 100th time in 9th grade I was pretty much done. I became shy and withdrawn. It would affect more than my social life, it also affected my academic life. I didn’t participate in class. I began to be called stupid. I began to believe it. With the exception of classes that I really enjoyed I was a C student. Had I really applied myself I may have done a lot better.
Look at people as people, not at the groups they run with. Cliques, the eternal divider. I now know that the best kids in HS were the ones that got along with everybody. There are “jocks” that hung out with the “computer geeks” and there were “band fags” that played sports and there were “burnouts” that partied with the “jocks”. Life shouldn’t have been so compartmentalized. You can be the same person across multiple groups. I want to believe that the Breakfast Club could be real, that those kids somehow leaped an insurmountable hurdle and would walk into school Monday morning as cross-clique friends.
As I said, it was me. I can’t go back. I don’t want to. What’s in the past is in the past. It doesn’t matter now, only the lessons are intact. They served me well raising my children. I was able to give them sage advice through hard experience and I am so happy that their HS experiences were much better than mine. Had they endured what I had, it would have been much harder for me to make peace with my past.
I did attend my 30th reunion. I walked into this one relatively comfortable in my own skin but extremely nervous. Despite having a kidney transplant 8 months earlier I had been working out a lot and I actually looked in half decent shape but inside I still felt like that awkward, gangly teenager that walked down the halls not making eye contact with the same people that I was about to come face to face with. I walked up to the registration table and was greeted by multiple people who I barely recognized. Apparently, the news of my surgery had gotten around and I was a story. I exchanged pleasantries and went inside. The first person I ran into was my longtime friend Marc. My “sitting in the basement listening to music” buddy. I hadn’t talked to him in 28 years. He was genuinely happy to see me. We went inside and hit the bar. I talked to a few people, other than that the same people who didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then as well. But it didn’t matter because the final lesson had occurred to me as I raised a glass with Marc…
It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it’s the quality of the friendships. Less can be more. Quality over quantity. Seeing Marc made the whole reunion worth it. The rest of it was just facing a dragon. I emerged unscathed.