Recently, just before the holiday, I met with Julie*, an old friend/acquaintance from high school. She was the first person-to-person contact I’d made with anyone from my high school years since 2008, when my former ‘best friend’ had found Jesus and subsequently deemed my company unsuitable.
We made contact on Facebook, and after Julie moved back into town, we decided to get some take out and gush over my cats for a few hours. It was a pretty average afternoon, but one of those times where, looking back, had a lot of potential for some philosophic feedback (yeah, only I would find philosophy in cats and Chinese food). We obviously caught up on our lives, and my story was, of course, typical: I thrived in college, made my true friends, found my calling, and am currently pursuing said calling.
Julie’s post-high school story is chock-filled with drama, and apparently I haven’t even heard the worst of it. I found her story to be the example of taking a little more time to grow up, but nonetheless, provided a lot to learn from. She married within a year of graduating to a man she’d known for years online. They moved to the other end of the country, and by the time I was throwing my cap in the air for my college graduation, their marriage was falling apart, and she moved back home to await the divorce proceedings. She is going back to college and still deciding what to use her degree for.
After our pleasant afternoon of Chinese and catching-up, and driving home after dropping Julie off at her house (only down the street from mine), it occurred to me that while I expected to be practically meeting a stranger, it almost seemed like no time had passed at all. I spent more time than I should thinking to myself later, and a few things came to me I wish more people realized:
1- You aren’t the only one who wants to put those years behind you.
American media in particular seems to have this fetish for being young, and it always seems like the high point of experiencing youth is, of course, high school. I guess it’s really easy to romanticize high school, considering it still does embody the core of a young person’s life, while at the same time offering enough maturity to bring change, such as the end of puberty, the beginning of romantic and sexual pursuits, and being ‘adult-like’ without being old.
I find, however, that the media takes high school one step too far in that, from Grease to The Breakfast Club to Superbad and beyond, the high school experience is this be-all-end-all event that should be looked back upon as the best years of one’s life. For the vast majority of America, Danny Zuko never shows up, people don’t dance during detention, and you can’t get away with buying beer with a fake ID naming you ‘McLovin’. Therefore, high school turns into a major disappointment.
Listening to Julie talk about how she doesn’t miss high school any more than I do (and god and goddess knows I wasn’t a social butterfly in those days), lifted my spirits a little. In school, I was forty pounds heavier, didn’t know how to handle my mass of curls, couldn’t socialize worth a damn, and hated just about everyone outside of my immediate circle of companions. Not exactly the “Shermer High Experience.”
Essentially, high school was where I needed to be in order to get to where I wanted to be. Now that I’m where I want to be (gainfully employed in a job I enjoy with real friends waiting for me at night on Facebook), the fact that I didn’t go to my senior prom doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.
2- Silly high school things are even sillier afterwards.
I apologized to Julie at one point. “If there was anything I said or did back then that might have gotten on your nerves—“
Julie cut me off. “Oh no, you didn’t. If you did, it was so insignificant that I forgot it quickly.”
College did a lot for my social skills. Before that, I was probably about as socially clueless as a two year old at the White House Correspondants’ Dinner, as befits one with Aspergers. As such, half the time I couldn’t guess if what I was saying was offensive or not.
Alas, any fights that came of my social mishaps (and believe me, there were plenty), have indeed long since been discarded, and people have moved on. Those fights, at the time, seemed like the end of the world to me. It was a refreshing thing to hear that they were just as silly as they had been four years ago, if not more silly now. High school has a way of blowing small trifles out of proportion. It’s about misjudged priorities and how even the most insignificant choice of words can cause hell to rain down upon the world.
Even more basic, it’s about growing up and maturity. As much as you like to admit it, you aren’t 100% mature in high school.
3- Our perception of time is screwy.
Julie herself didn’t seem to change too much. She was still petite, perky, and so gosh-darn adorable. She was still as nerdy as I was, and had that air of someone who has issues that bug her, but was glad she could forget them for a few hours while we conversed.
It only occurred to me that I was the one who had changed, and that I was the only one who could be the judge of that.
Yes, I learned how to style my hair so that it was tame but still an eye-catcher. I did shed some weight (ignore, temporarily, the fact that most of it was shed via eating disorder). I did learn how to properly socialize and have fun while not losing control of myself. But the true change lied within my growing up. Who I am as an adult is not even relatable to who I was as a sixteen-year-old. As a sixteen year old, I was boy-crazy, obsessed with fitting in but too lazy to do anything about it, and highly, highly defensive. Someone threw a single sarcastic remark my way and I’d beat the living hell out of them.
It’s amazing how four years can simultaneously seem like no time at all and an eternity. Reflecting on my changes, it certainly feels like the latter. But talking to Julie erased that somehow it was as if the last time I saw her four years ago was yesterday.
But then she tells me that one of our friends is married and recently bore her second child, and suddenly those four years multiplies by ten again.
4- Moving on and looking back can make you laugh.
Yes, this is much like #2, only the point differs. Sometimes, looking back makes you cringe with humiliation even when they were no big deal. But not all embarrassing memories are bad.
Julie has a twin brother named Jack* who was also a member of my social circle throughout high school. In spite of the few little affairs I had here and there, and the stupid trysts that turned into painfully melodramatic nothings, I found a certain strength in my enduring crush on him. It lasted for three of the four years of my high school career, and it only got more potent each year. We did have our times alone together, when absolutely nothing happened. I was sure he didn’t like me in ‘that way’ and I was probably right. I was sure he was going out with someone from another school. He was the type to not fault his personal life, and I ended up letting my nerves get the best of me, and I never grew the pair needed to ask him.
Julie updated me on Jack as well that day: he never had a girlfriend after all, and is even still a virgin.
Hearing this made me laugh (not at his virginity, of course, that’s plain rude). But it made me laugh at how my emotions were on such a rollercoaster in high school that the idea that Jack may have eyes for someone else while I was convinced we’d have an apartment together in Greenwich Village one day with four cats and a Corgi further put into perspective how silly things were back then. I had no trouble confessing to Julie my old feelings for her brother, especially considering they are irrelevant now.
Maybe it’s memories such as that that led me to realize…
5- Indeed, some things never change, but only the most worthwhile memories last.
High school sucked. No doubt about it. It was a worthless social nightmare that was blown way out of proportion by both my pubescent mind and the mass media, who kept insisting it was the time of my life. But, talking with Julie and the times we did share, made me realize that even the worst of experiences can yield some happy memories. It’s those rare moments that make you realize that yeah, high school is a miserable time in everyone’s life, but it may not have been suffered through totally in vain. I did learn, which, after all, is what high school is all about, and at the end of the day, I would not be the same person had I gone to bed at the end of middle school and woken up a college freshman.
So I guess I have Elmcrest High* to thank for that. So thanks. I hate you still, but thanks.
And also, thank you to Julie for being my inspiration for these thoughts.
*names have been changed.