Daily Prompt Fifteen Credits If you’re in school, are you enjoying your classes? If you’re out of school, what do you miss about it — or are you glad those days are over?
I have to laugh. I left school last year at age 62. Yeah. I retired from 35 years teaching. What that MEANS is that I spent more than 50 years in school, my life following the wave formation of quarters and semesters.
I always thought I’d hated school. I thought I couldn’t wait to get out. But in 2010 I went to my 40th high school reunion — the first I ‘d attended in 30 years. My 10 year reunion was so surreal (I was hit on by the hottest girl in my class who offered me lines of coke in the ladies room and I’m, you know, straight and, you know, coke is just miserably uncomfortable; I already knew I wanted nothing to do with it…) that I had enough.
In 2010 I went back to the town in which I’d attended high school. Partly the journey was to see an elderly friend whom, I knew, would not last a lot longer in the world (she didn’t). Partly it was to rendezvous with my niece (the elderly woman’s grand-daughter). It just coincided with the reunion, so I went.
Friday I went to an open bar reception (free) and enjoyed seeing people and a few enjoyed seeing me. Sunday, I went to a pizza thing at my actual high school. I couldn’t stop crying. What that building had been, who those people had been, was suddenly clear to me. I’d been surrounded by very smart, creative, and interesting kids. We were “tracked” in school and, for the most part, I was tracked with the smart kids. My classmates grew up to be rocket scientists, successful artists, business owners, all kinds of stellar things. Surprisingly, they remembered me — and mostly I did not remember them. They assembled before me a picture of high school — and of myself in those days — that I had been unable to perceive during those years. Why? My family was completely fucked up. My dad was in the rapid descent at the end of MS. My mom was on Librium and booze and my brother was in the first leg of a life-long downward trajectory. Home was hell; school had been my sanctuary.
I’d been active in high school. I did competitive speaking (because I was afraid of speaking in public). I put together the literary magazine, was in plays. At my reunion a woman who had her yearbook — and who had not had it signed by anyone in our senior year — brought it up to me and said, “X told me you were the editor. Would you sign it for me?” She, too, was assembling particles of her past.
At the end of the event, standing in the cafeteria, thinking of all the dances and the angst of adolescence, and the incredibly kind and smart people around me on that actual day in real life, I just stood there, tears streaming down my face. It was cathartic, cleansing and bizarre. The beautiful little grand-daughters of an old high school friend, little girls who didn’t even know me, saw me crying and came to me and wrapped their arms around my legs. Pretty soon, I was in the embrace of half a dozen or more of my former classmates. It was one of my life’s strangest and sweetest moments.
I don’t know if anyone between the ages of 15 and 18 knows where they are at the time. Those years are part of the forging of identity. I was luckier than I knew at the time to have been in that school at that time with those people.