I got an email today regarding my upcoming high school reunion. I’ve basically been dreading this thing for ten years. My parents say, “oh, it’ll be fine, you’ll see that everyone just became more normal, people won’t even remember you, etc.”
But. Neither of my parents, who also went to my high school, were quite so unpopular as I was in high school. I was pretty much as unpopular as you can get without being in the Special Ed classes. I was, as I am now, beautiful, creative and very intelligent. But I was openly sexual (with my boyfriend, who I was with for 6 goddamn years– I was 21 before I had sex with anyone else), which made me a slut and a nymphomaniac. I was openly pantheist, which made me a devil worshipper. Ah, the hyperboles of the ignorant. Walking down the halls each day was like running the gauntlet.
Our high school was organized thusly: a large open indoor space called the Mall, with fork-like tines for each subject, so the Math Hall, English Hall, etc. During one’s free period one could retire to the cafeteria or Mall and do schoolwork and hang out, though it was not an open campus otherwise (you could not– officially– go to the baseball fields and smoke). The Mall, a long rectangular space, was divided into smaller communicative spaces: two kiosks which sold snacks and school supplies and were meeting places for the elite popularity “service” clubs (I didn’t even try to get into these, but they’re where I first learned the term “black ball”–if you ask me it’s a little sick that high school service clubs can black ball people– for heaven’s sake, you’re 16!), benches along the walls, and lockers along the walls as well as a bank of lockers that created a small waist-high hallway between the social spaces and one wall of lockers. It was this final space that, while much like a gauntlet, was the safest place to walk. It was like a gauntlet in that people sat along the lockers with their feet out and their backpacks and books all over the place, and would not get out of my way, because if they did get out of my way then I would not be delayed long enough for them to hurl insults at me about my wayward sexuality or my impending descent into Hell (Blair had the best answer for this– “I don’t believe in Hell”– stumped them).
I didn’t like being in the Mall, and I took as few free-period classes as possible, choosing to do work-study for teachers and take more electives instead of exposing myself to that. Luckily, most of my classes were honors and AP, where students were fairly well-behaved and so focussed on achieving that .0001 difference in GPA between themselves and the person next to them and launching themselves temporarily into the top 10%, and thus into the best college and the best life, that they could not concern themselves with my antics. But such a pressure-filled environment had its own poisons, of course. In those classes, where the same 40 people would inevitably appear, albeit in a sort of rotation (because class sizes were 18 or smaller, often much smaller), every student knew every other student’s class ranking at every point. The ones who were really on top of things would be able to tabulate whether their ranking had increased or fallen depending on what their immediate competition had gotten on a quiz in math class. Because I had, as I still have, an attention span of about 5 seconds for work that I consider “busy work,” I wasn’t the best performer in these classes, thus not a threat to anyone’s class standing, thus could fly somewhat under the radar, although I still pissed people off now and then (I used to get mad that only a few of us would talk in class, for instance, and once gave a diatribe about how everyone else was just using our ideas on their tests and papers and not sharing their own ideas with the class, or perhaps they were just complete morons with nothing to say).
I did have a few friends who I hung out with a lot. Thank god for them. Three were very smart, also in the advanced classes, and two were actors. One was an atheist, one an orthodox Jew; two were gay; one was Asian– in an almost entirely white, almost entirely Protestant, and (outwardly) entirely heterosexual world. Four of us were co-captains of the debate team. It was a small island of misfits.
High school was much better than Junior High in that we didn’t have to take gym, which meant I was never naked in front of anyone and I never had to reinforce that I was terribly unathletic. Moreover, there were more advanced classes and thus more safety from the troglodytes.
Then there was the problem of the Administration. In elementary school, I was the “joy to have in one’s class” girl, straight-A’s, generally a kiss-up, but not cloying. There were teachers with whom I did not get along. In junior high, I stopped being a joy for anyone to have in his or her class, although I did get along very well with a couple of my teachers– my English teachers, my algebra teacher, the drama teacher. However, I did not get along at all well with my Health teacher, who I thought was a really terrible person and a sexist asshole. I’m not sure where I developed the idea of sexism, but it was well-honed by the time I was in ninth grade, and I wrote a letter of complaint to that teacher about the way he treated his female students, which got me sent straight to the school counselor, who told me that another such incident would result in suspension, but that I would be forgiven this time if I offered an apology. So I did: I said, “I am here to offer an apology.” Luckily I never actually had to apologize, so I was able to save my integrity from this terrible man. A similar incident followed, in which I accused some classmates of sexual harassment. It was the early 90s, they were saying nasty things, and I thought I should be able to go to school and get an education without that crap. As you know, as I did not know then, you can’t accuse classmates of sexual harassment in junior high without some serious consequences. The boys were suspended, but I got much more harassment after that, on top of which I was queried whether I “thought I was god,” to which I responded that I might as well be, which in the Southern Baptist community did not go over well.
That was Junior High, but it was only a prelude to high school, where the mere rumor that I was sleeping with my boyfriend while on a debate trip resulted in suspension (I did sleep with him and it was good, too. And do you know what else we did on debate trips?), and a short story I turned into my creative writing class that happened to be about sex resulted in another suspension (although it was about rape, the principal said it was “porn” at which accusation I humbly pointed out that if a high school principal thought that a story about a high school girl getting raped was “porn,” something might be amiss). Luckily, I had a well-defined sense of my own integrity, so these corrections didn’t change the way I saw myself or my actions, but they were still hurtful and disturbing because I felt very misunderstood by the administration. A second stroke of luck was to be found in the integrity of my teachers. When I got suspended, they sent me my assignments and offered listening ears and their own stories of things they’d done that had gotten them in trouble, or that should have gotten them into trouble. At the end of high school, each department gave out awards based on what they thought was a commendable performance of a student for the three years they’d been at the high school. Although I’d never been the student with the highest grades, I received the Social Studies award. The speech leading up to my name was a long praise of intellectual honesty, intelligence, and moral righteousness. Then they said my name. Which probably pissed off a lot of people, and made me cry.
Let’s see… I had 5 friends… I got teased every day… I didn’t make the best grades… I got suspended… prom night was as awful as it always is for everybody… Yup. High School. Why do they make reunions for these things?