Monday, January 17, 2011

High school time machine

People from my past are popping up with more rapidity lately, due mostly to Facebook’s cheerful but insistent suggestions that I friend people with whom I have or have had the slightest bit of connection.

Like thousands of other people are also, surely, doing, I’ve pulled down my high school yearbook to search for clues as to who these now-gray-headed people are.

Last night I opened my high school yearbook from my sophomore year to find a name I no longer recognized and it was like an instant time machine. I was once again in the classrooms of Wilkes Central High School, pushing my long, straight hair behind one ear, hoping to be noticed and somehow, and in some way, acclaimed, though most of my actions then didn’t warrant any attention whatsoever. I was pulled back into my adolescent angst and unassuredness, feelings I didn’t especially want to revisit.

I know there are people who remember their high school years with fondness, but my hunch is that not many of them are writers, or at least fiction writers. I began to write in those years out of a loneliness that could not be appeased, no matter how many people I sat with at lunchtime, no matter how long I talked to friends on the phone at night. There was still something I needed to say, some part of myself that needed to be explored and recognized and voiced.

I looked at these teenagers and was amazed at how they all evolved, in different ways, into adults with solidified identities, careers, and beliefs, predictable and surprising. (Who would have guessed that my friend, Rhonda, the only girl on the debate team, would end up a cross-country truck driver?)

There was so much social stratification in my high school that it amazes me now, flipping through the yearbook’s pages, how we were able to tell the difference between the townies and the people, like me, who were bused to the town school—we’re all dressed pretty much the same shabby way, in cheap blue jeans or short-shorts. There were no Abercrombie t-shirts to helpfully mark the rich, no $200 sneakers. One clue was that the popular kids appeared on the pages for the Greek service clubs, the homecoming courts, the teams of country club sports like golf—more frequently on the very pages of the yearbook itself.

Everyone tried so hard in my high school to fit in, to not be on the perimeter or, worse, the fringes of the perimeter. Maybe it’s always been like that in high school, in all times and all places, but the urgency of at my high school was constant and intense. I once forgot to put my belt through one of the loops on my pants and was stopped and chastised throughout the day, even by people I didn’t know. From then on, I tried to wear mismatched socks, my belts half-looped, rebelling in my own quiet way.

All this seemed so important then, and so suffocating, yet I hadn’t thought much about it for years. So it was with relief and gladness that I closed the book, took a deep breath, and reentered my present, unfettered life. But the feeling of teenage angst remained with me for hours. That’s pretty powerful—time machine, mood changer, museum, and history book all in one.

(The picture above is photo of an actual page from my sophomore yearbook—the staff of the Talon, our student newspaper, sitting in the portable classroom where we put it together. I am in the top left.)

1 comment:

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Wow -- very good observations on that dance from the fringes. Thanks!