Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Recently, I posed what I thought was a fairly innocuous question on Facebook: if you could go back to a single day in high school, what would it be, and why? The reaction was, in a word, visceral and totally opposite of what I expected. The majority of responses were that high school was a hellish abyss and that under no circumstances would a single day of it be worth reliving.

Wow. I thought my life sucked then...in fact, being at school was fairly good as long as I could avoid my bullies and the two or three teachers who openly disliked me (NB: most teachers don't appreciate it if you're smarter and/or more sarcastic than they are). It was the going home part that sucked, and of course, my senior year, when my circle of friends changed dramatically.

High school for me was about the people. My sister recently said she felt that I was "socially retarded" in high school because the 'normal' social opportunities weren't really open to me. Say what? She was a freshman my senior year, so she missed the more halcyon years of my social life, i.e., freshman through junior years. I was not popular in the standard sense, but I was well-known. I had friends...but not the kind who had sleepovers or wild parties- and I've never thought that I missed out. I went to the prom three years in a row, attended almost every dance unless I was grounded or sick, and was in several clubs and activities. Until my senior year, I had plans every weekend that I wasn't on the road with the band.

Yes, I was bullied. I've written about it before. Both of my bullies were vicious, particularly the one in my own class. She specialized in social assassination- by the time the field was clear for her to do her worst, though, my social circle had contracted and it was pretty hard to attack me on that basis. The friends I had in our class and those who were younger are people I'd known most of my life and who really weren't into those politics. My sister, however, felt it necessary to defend me to The Clique, since she moved in that circle more than I did- not sure why, since I could've cared less. I'd already been to college. The handwriting was on the wall: in a few months, they would cease to exist in my world. I was over them.

The people who remember you, especially those who remember you fondly, are the ones who should matter. They're probably the ones who have pictures of you in awkward moments, like crossing your eyes or falling on your face in the bleachers on a band trip. They remember the Flock of Seagulls hair and don't judge you for it; they laugh because they know that you also remember their mullets, spike 'do's, legwarmers and knitted neckties, or the time everybody tried to bleach their hair with Sun In and it turned orange. They're the ones who made it bearable when nothing else was...

I don't dismiss or diminish in any way the things that happened to a couple of people who responded. An excellent memory is more of a curse sometimes than a blessing, and servavi occulto... I know many of us had our own private hells, some of which became public over time, with far-reaching, resonant consequences for all within the blast zone. We all wore the mask. We all learned that the public face and the private grief must be kept separate at all times. It hasn't killed us yet- and we carry both the scars and the lessons forward so that those tragedies do not re-manifest in the lives we have made for ourselves.

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