Monday, March 28, 2011
High School Consequential
You've grown, they say; you're older, they say; you're past that, they say - you don't fit anymore...they say.
I say I didn't fit when I got to Templeton Secondary School. Most of the people I met were older, more self-assured, more stylish and more certain than I was. Even my old friends from elementary school had matured in our two months apart, and I wasn't like them anymore either. I suppose, if I'd given it a little more thought, that I might have noticed that nobody else really fit comfortably. All of us had some adjusting to do.
Maybe it was worse for those of us with an elder sibling's name on one of the graduation plaques outside the office wall. It was bad enough to be among the youngest in the school, it was far, far worse to try to live up to the family reputation - particularly if you didn't know that it had one. I reached the point fairly quickly where I didn't mention Alan's name at all. Everyone who remembered him seemed disappointed by meeting me.
The trick, I guess, was just to be myself. The problem was, I no longer had any idea who that self might be. So I stayed in the background, in the shadows, and I watched the people I thought I wanted to be like. I watched, I learned and I copied. Admiration, imitation and emulation - those were the ticket!
I think I knew I'd arrived when the guy with the shiny, pointed Italian shoes kicked me in the crotch. Or maybe it was when the thug in the second floor can was bumming a smoke from me while his buddy was aiming a right fist at the back of my head. I still walked carefully, but I walked just a little taller after that.
I still didn't fit though. I suppose I was bright enough, but I wasn't academic, athletic, tough or suppliant. I didn't belong on the Rugby Team, the Chess Club, the School Band or the Noses-Up-the-Principal's-Backside Committee. The only thing I seemed to do well was irritate teachers, and in time that seemed to inspire a degree of admiration in some of my classmates.
Most of the teachers I was involved with seemed not too interested in their subjects or their students. They were assigned to a place that they didn't want to be and were faced by a population of hostile natives, a bit like the Roman Legions in Britain. They were bringing us culture, education and enlightenment, while we just wanted to keep on painting ourselves with woad and sacrificing virgins to our ancient tribal gods (but enough about the Chess Club). They didn't fit here either, but I wasn't inclined to ameliorate their suffering.
I became a regular fixture outside my classroom doors and the vice-principal's office. In time, I became quite intimate with Vic Lindal's ping-pong paddle and Doug McIntyre's razor stap. I wore my stripes with pride, and I displayed them with a wink and a smile.
One of our guidance counselors kept telling me if I didn't apply myself, I was going to end up working in a warehouse - as if that were the depths of disgrace. So I began to apply myself - I applied myself to cutting PE classes to read John Steinbeck and to ditching Music in favour of writing short (terrible) one-act plays. When a warm, spring day conflicted with a Math class, I would be at New Brighton Park, applying myself to the damp grass and wishing that the pool was open.
For some reason, Lee Taylor, my English teacher liked me, and he invited me to a meeting of his drama club one afternoon when it was too cold for me to play outside. I met the same collection of dinks, wankers and losers there who shared many of my classes, and I also met a tall, dark-haired beauty named Susan. She was hopelessly out of my league, and she seemed like a bit of a snooty little cow. Naturally, I was smitten.
I began to spend more time at school, and I actually tried to behave so that my teachers would let me have time out of their classes for set construction, club meetings and to rehearse my three lines in our upcoming production of Dino. Honestly, I think most of them were pleased to see the back of me and didn't much notice the improvement in my demeanour.
Susan and I spent a lot of time together until she moved to Victoria with her family. Now I found that I was missing classes to work for passage to the Island. My visits to her became fewer and fewer; we wrote each other less and less, and finally, I got the letter that broke my poor, greasy heart.
I didn't exactly graduate from Templeton, but there was a transition and an amicable parting of our ways. My guidance counselor was right about me working in a warehouse - several, in fact, but I don't think he realized how much fun I'd have doing it.
I don't know what I was looking for when I joined an online community called GradFinders. I found several familiar names in the Templeton Secondary School Class of 1972, and I was surprised to find that most of them were interested in how I was doing. I was even more surprised to discover that I actually cared about that. It was a couple of weeks later that I got an email from a lady named Sheral who asked if I remembered her when her name was still Susan.
I don't know if they've changed or it was me, but I do know that the people I went to high school with have grown in my estimation, my regard and my memory. If they or I have any wounds still open from forty years ago, we need to talk about that and to make peace with each other - it's always the right time to make peace. That is all that we owe each other, and it's all that we ever did owe.
When I met Susan, aka Sheral, aka the Tall Lady, aka Susie Fingers again, that's what I told her. She agreed, but then she was always most agreeable. Perhaps the least agreeable thing about her is the way that she keeps reading my blog posts over my shoulder.
The rooms and corridors are big enough for our memories, our dreams, our aspirations and all of our ghosts. I'm glad to be home.