Here in Houston, the 2011-2012 school year will be starting in a matter of days. Local TV news is treating like the event it is. There are ‘back to school’ stories on every edition and the subject matter rarely changes from year to year. So, now until Day 1, we’ll be inundated with stories from what’s new and different this year to ways idiot Moms and Dads can pack more nutritious lunches for little Peyton or Madison.
It’s been 34 years since I traversed a hallowed high school hall. And I can honestly say I loved my school days…from kindergarten through 8th grade, but I LOATHED high school. My experience was horrible and it was something I never want to relive. And while I haven’t exactly had to relive those days, I’ve had to revisit them a time or two.
You see, part of my curriculum vitae includes being a reporter. One fairly recent incarnation in this position involved an assignment that took me back to high school. I was asked to interview a young pianist with impeccable skills. In fact, his ability to play his instrument of choice , landed him in concert at Carnegie Hall; an extreme honor for any person of any age.
As I walked through the halls of this large, urban edifice o’ education, headed toward the auditorium where the interview was to take place, I was flooded with memories. Namely bad ones. For me, high school was a four-year prison sentence replete with a warden, guards, bad food, handmade shivs in the form of homespun insults and a certain kind of cruelty that can only be fueled by rapidly fluctuating teenage hormones.
And did I mention bad shower sex???
Don’t worry, there wasn’t any. But I do seem to remember that back in a P.E. class during my Junior year, there was a large, looming woman who had a gaze transfixed where it shouldn’t be, along with a steady drool. I believe her name was Ralph.
Anyway, fast forward to present day.
As I walked down seemingly endless hallways, I witnessed a dream come true for any colorful metaphor in need of a writer. I saw kids from every walk of life; kids with every kind of discernible angst. Troubled kids like the Emo ones who can cry and write gut wrenching poetry at the drop of a hat. These are the kids who actually know the lyrics and can sing the aria, “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci, but would never admit it.
I saw the cute, popular girls with perfect skin, teeth and clothes. I saw their exact opposites with bad hair and skin, who cowered behind big shirts and even bigger self-image issues.
It was typical, really. Somethings hadn’t changed. There were the jocks, the stoners, the brainiacs, the easy chicks and the cheerleaders and their style–all idiosyncratic to their high school social strata –which never really waivers that much from generation to generation. The same applies to band kids. Fashion trends might change, but certain truths never will. You can spot a Band Nerd from a million miles away–just as you could 34 years ago. I would know. I spent a few years as one. Something about them gives them away: their smallish, underdeveloped bodies or perhaps it’s the shiny glean of light refracting off their braces. Or maybe it’s the crackling breaks in their voices when glands and Nature play tug of war with a pair of testicles that just don’t know whether to descend or not.
Kids in shorts roamed the halls. I saw acne so bad it could emboss an envelope. Guys with hair down to the middle of their backs. Backpacks everywhere. And very little makeup…more on the Emo kids than on the eyes and cheekbones of the pretty, popular girls or cheerleaders.
Wow, it’s all so different these days.
I got home from work that day and I had something of an emotional death wish–I decided to revisit my high school years. The Internet allows entre to all kinds of worlds, even those buried deep within our psyches.
Below, is a photo of a portion of the high school I attended. It’s Karnes City High School and its image is something I lifted from the header of the KCISD website.
The ferocious three pawed critter that was obviously eating Cheetos before it walked across the header, is a Badger. Our mascot is the Badger and we sport the school colors, orange and black.
That’s a shot of the west side of the Dave Moore Auditorium. It’s changed some since I used to pretend to be anywhere else while singing and dancing on its glossy, hardwood stage. I think it’s air-conditioned now. In fact, the whole school is.
In 1977, it wasn’t.
And that’s not all that’s changed. When I was in school, the girls weren’t allowed to wear pants until 1970…and even then, they had to be dress slacks. We all kind of forced the blue jeans issue and by ’71, it was an all denim world.
The boys had a dress code in terms of their hair length. It couldn’t be below the tops of their ears or the top of the back of their shirt collars. Hey man, we didn’t want hippies at school!!! But we had hippies. The daring ones just put their longish locks behind their ears–most got away with it, too. Our skirts and dresses could be no more than four and half inches ABOVE the middle of our knees. Today, anything goes.
In 1977, it didn’t.
And these days, kids are so coddled. Everything is so ridiculously “self esteem’ oriented. You don’t flunk tests these days; you’re challenged by them. In today’s educational climate, kids are supposed to be emotionally healthy.
In 1977, I wasn’t.
Or was I??
As I walked and walked and walked through that very large, urban school, I thought about all that’s ahead of these kids. Oooooooof. And that’s when I realized that I would NEVER want to be that young again. Late college age–my early to late 20’s??? Oh hell yeah, but my teen years? No thanks. I spent four exhausting years in high school as a chameleon–changing hourly it seems, just to be all things to everyone. I was at any given moment that glistening band student with the metallic mouth…a jock…an actress…a cheerleader…an Emo and a stoner who fought with self-image and anyone else who dared to question an identity of which I never really certain.
Then again, maybe that’s what High School really is all about: one big, complex hat sale in which you get to try on a different chapeau everyday until you find one that fits, that works…that you don’t have to remove unless you want to and yes, it somehow goes with every emotional ensemble you own.
…if only it could have actually been that easy…
I read this once: “Some parts of your life you can do without, but high school isn’t one of them.” Well, I beg to differ. I should have started college after 8th grade. Somehow I think that by doing that, that would have automatically rendered me four years younger, but four years smarter than the 52 years my driver’s license currently implies.
But that wouldn’t have worked, cuz Doogie Howser, I wasn’t.
Let’s face it–even if you loved high school and LOVED your hometown, the reality is you can never really go home again. Sure, you can visit that place you once called home and then mercifully, you can leave it. That option is one of the pay offs for being an adult; what you get for having survived childhood. But I think in the long run, it’s not really about where you’re from, and to be honest, it’s not even about where you’re headed. Nature possesses a million and one monkey wrenches which She’s ready to toss into the mix to short-circuit those plans. Your imperfect past is proof of that. What matters is who you are right now…and where you’re spending that time being you.
And as I age and grow closer to that point where I can look back on my life and see what my youth has occluded, I know that the 18 years spent in my hometown –even the four I spent in high school–helped create who I am today. This is true, for better or worse.
All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself. ~ Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”
And once you’re FINALLY okay with being you; when you’re comfortable in your now collagen-lacking skin, you hit menopause and middle age. For women, we spend ages 47 through maybe 53 or 54 in that sweat lodge we call our bodies. Men spend their middle-aged metamorphosis wearing Scorpio medallions while driving new Corvettes and Harleys and wishing to all that’s holy to recapture a glimpse of their youth and praying that Pfizer will one day go nostalgic and make Viagra in the shape of select Flintstone characters. Our male counterpart can easily lose their hair which now is akin to milk weed petals in a stiff breeze while women start growing hair in the damnedest places.
And all of a sudden, we gain weight; copious amounts of it–seemingly without eating a bite and then, we find our body tolerances change. Wanna know the cruelest reality of all? Ice cream now gives us diarrhea.
There IS strength in numbers. You see, I’m not alone in this venture called aging and I take great comfort in this. In fact, a friend of mine who’s two years older called a few minutes ago. He was taking a shower and while soaping up a fat wrinkle around his stomach, he found 18 cents.