My nastalgia trip—the one which began with my contemplation of the meaning of death—has led me on an interesting path of discovery in the last six months. One, which I’ll write about later, has to do with Christina. But the other has to do with high school.
I was an asshole in high school. It wasn’t really my fault. I’m not an asshole by nature.
But I was lonely—the kind of lonely which defines some people, a loneliness from which there seems no escape and which colors every other aspect of one’s existence, a loneliness which people who have never experienced it cannot seem to grasp. When you’re that lonely, you spend most of your time fighting for some kind of self-esteem or recognition, anything that keeps you from dissipating into a little spot of gray.
So I did things I hated, and hated things I did, and I was unhappy and depressed and just bided my time until things got better.
They did. I went off to college, and within a month or two the sun shined, and I made real friends and found my place in the world. That is one reason—perhaps the main reason—I have spent the better part of my adult life in college as either a student or a teacher. University life is the ocean that I was meant to swim it.
But back to high school:
I went to a really, really small school. In my graduating class there were eleven of us, as I recall. I could be wrong. I don’t have a yearbook and my memory is faulty. But I remember: Anne, Anna, Lisa, Carla, and some blond girl who just spent the last few months with us, so I can’t remember her name; David, Aldo, Randy and Rusty, and Dan. (If I left anybody out, please correct me.) I went out with Anne for a month or two, dated and then married Carla, and hung around Dan quite a bit. Otherwise most of these people were strangers to me. You’d think we’d have been real tight, being such a small group. But after Anne and I stopped going out, I was embarrassed by the rejection and—in some kind of stereotypical, lonely 17 year-old assholiness—treated her like shit, and she cliqued up with others and I pretty much went into “double life” mode: put on some kind of show to pretend you are some kind of normal person in public, and in private live your REAL life. I don’t recall what kind of show I put on. It was all fake, anyway. The only REAL Jeff was the private Jeff, the one immersed in books and music and biding his time until leaving the island so he could live a real life with people who understood him.
Did I say “island”? I did. Yes, I graduated from high school in Hawaii, just like Barack Obama.
100% of all the people who ever find out I went to high school in Hawaii say the same thing: cool, or wonderful, or wow that must have been great. They cannot see the lonely boy suffering on the weekend, waiting for something REAL to happen in his life. So they don’t seem to understand it when I say that I hated it, that I could care less if I ever visit Hawaii again, that it has beautiful weather but can be potentially very ugly to those who don’t fit in (like 16 year-old haole nerds who have cried themselves numb and have stopped seeing the beauty around them).
But I’m no longer 16, and I’m old enough to stop being embarrassed for who I was, and now I am increasingly curious about those I went to school with. I have, within the last six months, come into contact with four people who knew me back in high school: Penny and her cousin Dan (Hello and love and kisses to both of you!), and Dan from my graduating class (hey, let me know if you ever read this), and Anne (hello and love and kisses to you, too!)
The feeling is quite odd. Can one be redeemed from having been an asshole in high school? Maybe not. Maybe most people who knew me then would prefer to remember me negatively. In the end, all of us have grown up, have become middle-aged decent people who are probably much prouder of their children than of themselves, and understand that life is something that should be celebrated every day. By “all of us”, I mean those I’ve mentioned here. It could be that we’ll find out that someone we went to school with became a mass murderer or something. I hope not, but it could happen.
The point of this post is this: it feels good, even GREAT, to have contact with people from so long ago and not have them say, “Jeff, you were and probably still are an asshole, so leave me the hell alone.”