This time of year always makes me think of the joy, relief, and hope of summer vacation. The whole period, school free, with endless possibilities and no expectations. I would, however, end up doing nothing. I’d spend days in the same set of clothes, never changing or showering once, unless I went swimming. Which, once I got a pool, I never did.
The other day I did an inspection behind my old high school, and at 9 in the morning they were hosting a graduation for the nearest middle school. This single event brought back both of my graduations with the utmost clarity. The feelings attached to these memories made me long for a very different time, far from the one I currently reside.
I went to private Christian schools from pre-k to junior high. My mother was a devout Christian and wanted me to have a faith based education, and she was also under the impression that at a private school you got more 1-on-1 with the teachers. Unlike public schools where, supposedly, you were just another body. Having experienced both, I honestly think that’s a giant load of shit. The only difference between the two was that the students at private schools were much more cruel and judgmental.
I graduated from middle school in 2000. I was on the edge of 15 and thoroughly OBSESSED with Star Wars and anything English. (My AOL username was Britainsboy.) This included a ridiculous cheesy, camp show that was aired on Fox Family about a British co-ed pop group called S Club 7. What that stood for, or even meant, was never explained. Not even once. Did that deter me? No. I watched the shit out of it and couldn’t wait until they released their CD. I remember going to the website to listen to the 25 second clips of each track until I got the disc in hand.
The night after my 8th grade graduation, on the way to state line (because I was obsessed with the hotel Buffalo Bills), I listened to the self-title album the entire drive, lip-syncing each song with Drag Queen accuracy; doing my little shoulder dances and discrete choreography.
I was riding this intense high from graduation. For the first time I had been the center of attention and caused an entire auditorium to erupt in laughter, which for me was insanely addictive. Prior to this I had wanted to be an actor, regardless, but this just solidified it.
During our graduation rehearsal the principle of the junior high portion of my school was fixated on the synchronized seating of each row of graduates. We practiced this little routine multiple times because she wanted it done to perfection. (Truly insane.) The night of the event, it comes time for my row to be called. We all stood in unison, received our fake diplomas and returned to the row where we stood waiting to be seated from her gesture. However as I looked down the row I could tell immediately, we were going to fuck this up. Being my pessimistic self I was curious to see this ride out. What I didn’t expect was that as we sat, both people on either side of me would take a seat and force me up to where I was the only one standing. So as I stood there, a lone reed, I looked out at the audience, energetically waved at them with a huge grin, and said “Hi!” The entire church erupted in laughter.
“Nice save,” the principle whispered into the mic.
I was elated. I had never felt so alive.
Granted the entire event was so miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Yet I could not get over the joy I felt. Everyone afterwards came up to me and commented on how funny it was and I never, ever wanted that to end. The following year I wrote about this event and my English teacher was unimpressed. He gave me a C. He was a dick with a tongue piercing.
All during the following summer I stressed about switching over to high school, and a secular one at that. What would my good little Christian heart do?! As I tend to do in bouts of depression I obsessively watched the movie “Never Been Kissed.” Would I end up just like Josie? Would high school be the worst experience of my life?
As it turned out, high school was just school. There were just more people there. I was used to entire class sizes of, at most, 60 kids. So being in a sea of students was true insanity.
For most of freshman year I was a loner. I didn’t make any friends. I mostly stuck to myself, sitting in the library, writing short stories. The term weirdo is a tad overdramatic, but simultaneously perfect for me. One of my stories was a sympathetic tale about a school shooter, and how he could do such atrocious acts in the name of revenge. Like I said, weirdo.
In sophomore year I finally found a group of like-minded weirdos in theater. The incoming freshman were just as lost as I still was, so I took a couple under my wing and we ended up becoming fast friends.
When it came time to graduate I had fucked up my entire Senior year, gradewise, by being rebellious and spending most of my free time with my future husband. I didn’t even know until literally the day before graduation, if I was going to get my diploma. Luckily my government teacher took pity on me and gave me a D. I was ecstatic. At that time, I don’t think I could have handled that kind of failure.
Since then I have learned that a common theme among most is that “barely squeaking by” graduate.
I graduated high school in 2004, and it genuinely is mind-boggling to think that that was 18 fucking years ago. There are literal children who were born the year I graduated who are doing that very same thing this year. Shoot me. I am too old.
One moment I treasure is that my husband, who was 26 at the time, came to my graduation. He met up with my then best gal-pal, and gossiped the whole time while they waited for my name to be called. Little did he know that my friend had chosen a spot right behind my parents and grandmother. He didn’t learn this little fact until the end, after he and her had been talking shit the entire time.
After graduation, he had to go to work (he was as a truck driver at the time), and my family and lone friend grabbed a bite to eat at Denny’s.
Later that evening a friend of mine (who was later incarcerated for sex with a person under the age of 14) brought over a 6 pack of Smirnoff Ice’s and my graduation gift. He had gone to “Things Remembered” and had my teenage moniker, J-Ro, embossed on a steel flask and zippo lighter. I loved it, being the wannabe alcoholic chain-smoker I was.
The whole night was super lackluster. While all the other kids in my year were going to parties, there I was, seated by my parents pool in the dark, imbibing wannabe liquor drinks with a twist top.
Sometimes I feel like I missed out, but then others, I’m glad I lived a sort of sheltered life. I forget that I have the capacity for heavy duty self-destruction. If I had had more opportunity I would have been an absolute train wreck, but the universe had had other plans for me and gave me the people who would keep me on a more subdued path.
It’s strange how we have these “conclusion” moments in our life that feel like the closing of all we had ever known. Even as I think about this evening, shouldn’t the credits have started to roll to some eclectic track? Instead it was merely a transition to something else. Life goes on. We do other things, better ones. We have defining, life altering moments, that completely change the trajectory of our lives. High school is merely an obstacle we must face to get to other things.
The people who obsess over that period of their life, make me sad. That was a fleeting episode in the mini-series of our lives. One in which, at the end, a new crowd of faces moves in, and you’re forgotten.