Not School — People

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.

8 thoughts on “Not School — People

  1. I had a problem with this prompt and I think I realised for the first time how much I disliked school and am now glad to leave it behind me. Meeting up with old girls is always good, but I do it online or perhaps by chance on a visit to england, but school, no I don’t miss it one little bit. Perhaps you are right, it is not the school but the people that were there (sorry, but including a lot of the teachers).

    • I had some wonderful teachers who became friends after I graduated. I was lucky, too, because I was in an experimental program which meant I didn’t have to sit in a classroom all the time. But in many ways, I felt that school held me back. After teaching for a long time, I finally understood the point of the whole thing and I wished I’d taken better advantage of my opportunities. But I was unhappy and scared for reasons that had nothing to do with school. My mind just mushed it all together in a memory of unhappiness and confusion. It was nice to sort it out, finally. But, we’re stuck with our families and we’re not stuck with our high school so it was maybe the only way I could endure what was going on. I’m glad I found out the truth.

  2. How extraordinary, Martha. I haven’t been to any of mine because it all seems light years ago and I just don’t feel a connection to that part of my past at all. One of the things I like about being this age is that a lot of those murky areas of life do seem to be clearing up.

  3. I never spent more than two years in a school as I was growing up, because of a number of strange circumstances. I never really made friends because of the dislocations. The only place I would reune at is college, and I realize that most of my friends were in years ahead of and behind me. What’s the point? You make nostalgia sound fulfilling, but I have a feeling it is not my cup of tea. In 2023, it will be my 50th reunion at college, and that I might attend. Hopefully by then I will have published a book or two and have something to talk about!

    • I had no interest at all in high school, and I never felt nostalgia for it. I maintained no real ties with anyone I went to school with — though a couple kept themselves tied very loosely (to my complete indifference) to me. I didn’t go expecting anything — I went to meet up with some people in my class I’d met on Facebook and hadn’t even KNOWN in school. That’s what made my 40th reunion so astonishing. That poem by Robert Burns about seeing ourselves as others see us? That happened to me at my 40th reunion and it was an experience far out of my expectation. I was touched, and humbled, and healed. So, could be you would be surprised. Anyway, I’m going to my 45th but only because I will be in town and my friend (4 years younger) who dropped out is going with me so she can have the reunion experience. 🙂

  4. This is such a nice post and so well written. I’m glad that you go to your reunions and that you enjoy them. Personally those are nor for me since I’m not very sociable and can’t say that I ever thought school was great. Of course I’m old and I have not idea who is still alive that are in their 70’s. My class had only 18 students. A vey small school in a farming community.

    • I was surprised completely by my 40th reunion (one of two I’ve attended). It was magical in that I soon understood that I NEEDED to be there because it was going to help me put some very deep sorrow behind me. I didn’t want to go; it just coincided with other things I was doing and I happened to be in town. I’m grateful for those experiences. But a class of 18? Yeah. That’s a very small class — like my mom’s. She went to her 50th, though, and enjoyed it.

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