The truth is, most people never outgrow high school; those strange, hormonal, confusing times clearly marked by an unspoken but well-established hierarchy. We look for our tribes, build friendships that last the rest of our lives, and begin forming our character, something that lasts forever but starts in high school. Alas, the other stuff that also thrives within us in high school, the pettiness and grudges, all the hurts and insecurities, they all live on in us way beyond high school and in the “real” world.
Last week, I was driving past my high school, George Washington High, home of the Patriots,– it’s pretty close to my parents’ house, since I used to walk to school. There were kids walking across the street, and I was struck at how confident they looked, how much more mature they seemed than when I was in high school.
Let me establish my truth — I was a Goonie in high school. If you haven’t seen this movie, please do yourself a favor and check it out. I was a nerd, my nose always in a book. I also didn’t need a lot of friends, one or two would do. But honestly, I am still friends with three people I went to high school with, although it helps that one of them is my sister by marriage.
And yet, I remember being so lonely, down to the bones, the kind of loneliness that made me believe that what I was feeling was unique, that no one could possibly understand the depth and breadth of my pain. Of course, that is patently untrue. Actually, I don’t know a single adolescent, be they the most popular jock or wallflower shy captain of the math team who haven’t felt the pangs of acute loneliness.
I was an awkward immigrant child, watching the culture around me, being invisible in the hallways, just trying to imitate the way people walked. The slow strut of the jocks, the bouncing enthusiasm of the drama club, the self-assured shimmy of the popular kids. I trailed them, and tried to match their strides, not because I wanted to belong, but was fascinated by how they moved. I didn’t care about belonging, and didn’t care about wearing clothing and shoes with the right labels. I liked my cloak of invisibility. Still do.
I wasn’t a great student in high school, only doing exceptional work in my English classes. That trait, I carried with me throughout my academic career, doing well in English, while simply passing the other classes I had to pass. High school was my personal Mount Everest — it had to be survived, endured, lived through. College beckoned, with the classes I could actually choose, and with those choices, freedom as I understood it.
Knowing what I know now, if I could go back and do high school again, what would I do different? Well, for one thing …Nah! I absolutely wouldn’t go back.