i have a question...

Saturday, January 20, 2007


More thoughts of high school and childhood. And what it means to have survived 4 years somewhere I didn't belong.

September 2006

For some reason, I’m thinking a lot about my childhood these days. About a childhood that I sometimes look back on with regret because it was overshadowed by adult matters that left me self-reliant at an early age. I remember high school as the epitome of this contradiction. A time when I was supposed to be experimenting with booze and boys, cutting classes, rebelling against my parents but which, in reality, was a time when I took school too seriously because I knew that would be my way to escape.

I didn’t really smoke anything or drink until I was 19 and 21, respectively. In high school, I never crammed and I never cut class. I was mortified to find out that I had gotten a B in an art class once because I thought that meant I’d have no chance at getting to be the valedictorian and I felt that made my entire four years at high school a 1460 day long waste of time. I had entered high school as the “smart girl from New York,” the one who left high school with the same reading and writing skills as she had when she had entered. I knew at the end of my freshman year that I could make it to valedictorian and that B was the one chink in my academic armor. (I ended up making valedictorian, after taking one more honors class than the person who was salutatorian.)

The point is, when my mother and step-father moved us from Brooklyn, NY to Cambria, CA and I left a school of 1100 to attend a school of 400, I knew the first few days that I needed to get out as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Once I had graduated and finally moved away from Cambria, I knew I was off the hook, and I stopped being so rigid with myself. I took classes I wanted to take, and ended up deciding to major in theater, which was the first “rebellious,” independent decision I had ever made. I lived with a male roommate (we shared one room, two beds); I started smoking cigarettes, pot, and drinking (all recreationally, of course). I partied. A lot. Hosted costume balls and spontaneous dance parties in my apartment. Sometimes even sacrificed my homework for a night out with friends. And even cut classes now and then, to catch up on sleep. Or homework that hadn’t gotten done the nights before. It was a time of intense self-awareness and transformation.

Five years after graduating from high school, I try to look back at those years without too much regret. I had to make the best of it at the time because, otherwise, I probably would have killed myself. Or gotten pregnant and really been stuck there. Who knows what might have been if I had actually fallen victim to the closed mindedness of the tiny, white-washed town? But I do know that the way I saw it, as a gateway to what ended up being the most wonderful times of my life, helped me get through each day and not resent four years of my life. I can chalk it up as just a long, torturous transition. And maybe that is actually what high school means to everyone.

But Cambria has a way of swallowing people up. I always called it a black hole, and I knew that if I caved in college at some point and crawled back to Cambria with my tail between my legs, as I saw and heard many of my high school classmates do, I might never leave. And some of those kids still haven’t.

I’m not sure if it was because it was their hometown. Or because the town itself seemed to breed a certain type of non-thinking and unmoving young person. But there seems to be a particular phenomenon of people I knew moving back, after various times at colleges or not, and subsequently never leaving.

I can understand if your hometown is a big city, like San Francisco or New York, that you might move back after college. Or even go to college in the city. And maybe that’s because I did grew up in a big city, and even though I was never really an adult in New York until a year and half ago, I knew that a rural town was not where I belonged. I just don’t understand what opportunities exist for young people in a town of 6000, a town with one streetlight (actually, the second got installed my last year in college), a town where not only do you never pass anyone on the street who isn’t white but you probably know the names of everyone of those white people. And their kids.

Sometimes I imagine the scene at my ten-year high school reunion. I know some of the people there will be fatter and that those who aren’t are the ones who got some plastic surgery, and a lot of people will be married and even more will have kids (since they started in high school or right after). I even know of one of my high school classmates who has come out of the closet. (I somehow doubt she’ll make an appearance at the reunion.) I imagine sitting and drinking with the one or two people I still keep in contact with and judging all the others while I stuff my face with buffet food and congratulate myself on the 10th anniversary of my escape.

No comments: