It wasn’t easy for me to get through high school, in fact easy is one of the last adjectives I’d use. I was out of place. A kid from the west side of town, I didn’t fit in with the rest of the richer and far more socially normal students. Being at that high school (a religious one) was the last place I wanted to be, as all my friends were headed to the west side school where I should have gone. My parents had other ideas. They saw the violence and continuing deterioration surrounding the schools in Rockford and they wanted something better for me.
For the first two years I thought my parents hated me. I lost touch with some of my old friends and I struggled to make new ones, because almost everyone at my new school had a history with each other. I took to the shadows my mind created. It wasn’t that the kids at the new school were all directly mean or unwilling to befriend someone new, but most wore masks. They were so guarded about who they actually were, they struggled to be genuine. In the hallways and classes they put on a show for each other. Who could be the most well-dressed, who could be the smartest, and who could show they knew the Bible the best. It was, and still is, one of the most fake things I ever saw. This went on daily for three out of four years, because once senior year came around, no one cared much about putting up a mask anymore.
Unsurprisingly, that was probably my favorite year.
I did make friends with a group of fellow black sheep. We were trouble from the start, and the school principal knew it. Sophomore year I was called down to his office nearly every day during geography class. It got to be such a pattern, my teacher suggested I show up at the office rather than come to class. The principal was convinced I was the center of all the bad things that happened at the school (or at least knew about what happened). I became a magnet for troublemakers and misfits, which was the way I liked it. I preferred to live my high school life as wild as I could – but looking back – this was simply my own mask. It’s how I dealt with feeling like an outsider, I rebelled in every way possible. I took joy in cultivating disgust, hatred, and disagreement, all because I didn’t want to be there or accept the few decent kids who’d actually tried to reach out to me.
When senior year came, kids were less interested in putting up masks and much more interested in getting out of high school, even if some wouldn’t say it. My high school years were interesting enough, but I always felt like I didn’t belong there and the day I walked across the stage to take my diploma holder (it wasn’t actually a diploma, but that’s another story) was the day I finally felt free. That I’d got the freedom that was coming to me. I left the school and the few friends I made during my time behind. Without that place to keep us together, many of those friendships dissolved into the air of my early twenties. Social media keeps a few of us connected now, but I wandered through the wilderness without them for the most part.
Next year is my twentieth high school reunion. I know a lot of the people from our class will be there, and I think I will be worthwhile to go back and see how people have changed. There’s no way around change, life requires it. I wonder if they’ll reflexively grab for their mask, that comfortable blanket they used to carry around the halls and practice field.
Hopefully we’ll all have learned how to be better humans.
Addendum: Thank you all for the interactions on this blog. It’s helped me in ways you might not expect. I haven’t done much writing this past week, but the story is still moving along. The house has and will take precedence until the situation is resolved. It goes on the market in eleven days, and we are headed out today to see another house.