...and it doesn't always end when you graduate. At least it did not for me. I switched schools before my junior year from a tiny private, ultra-conservative Catholic school to a very large public high school. I definitely did not feel that I fit in at the Catholic school. I was much too progressive in my thinking for my teachers (sorry Mr. Weyand), the school's philosophy and probably for the parents of my classmates. I was always questioning things, which I was always taught by my parents was a path to learning. In high school I was already 5'11" and not a skinny-minny, ever. I was probably a size 6 when I was in the 4th grade. I felt awkward about my body and my own sexuality, which was only exacerbated by the ultra conservative teachings. Yes, I was taught that I should not tempt boys by wearing pants or jeans. 'Nuff said.
When I finally got up the nerve to leave that school to go to the big public high school (CHS), I was like a lost soul in the beginning. I was lucky enough to have a few friends from working at the library in town and I knew kids from youth group. I was also fortunate enough to test into the higher track classes. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I am still so glad I was able to be in classes that challenged me, both intellectually and socially. I made friends with some people quickly enough, but I had come from such a strange, dysfunctional "friend" base at the other high school that I am not sure I knew how to be a good friend. Now if you are a former classmate of mine from the 1st high school, you might be offended reading this. But I am not really talking about us, but more the way that the organization and school were shaping us and how things were very unnatural. For example, 11 girls in our sophomore year class? Really hard if everyone starts pairing up as friends and one person (me) lives 30 minutes away. But I digress...
I believe that if I had one more year at CHS the friendships I was in the midst of developing would have become firm friendships, not ones that faded as we went off to college. I was just coming out of my shell when we graduated. I wanted one more year - to join some clubs, get involved in some activities, to learn how to be a better friend, to date.
I went off to Montclair State and decided before I stepped foot on campus for my orientation that I was just going to be the me I wanted to be. I acted as if. When I told college friends that I was shy in high school they were shocked. Most people who know me now don't believe it. I never joined a sorority in college, and maybe I should have at a school like MSU. Being a suitcase school and a commuter student was challenging in terms making of a lot of friends. But I made one amazing friend at orientation, Michelle, and she was the person I was visiting in NC a few weeks back!
But how was I still tortured by those high school years? I am not sure I realized it during college or even shortly thereafter. It has been more of a slow realization through the years that became very clear with the facebook explosion. When I first started to get friend requests from high school friends, I was happy to see some names, and frankly, annoyed to see others. Why did these people, who were not even all that nice to me in school, want to be my "friend?" Why should I let them into my life? I did anyway, mostly because I was curious to see what they were up to. How did life turn out for them?
I have been on facebook for over 3 years now. I joined when I was home on maternity leave waiting to give birth to Lilly. I admit that sometimes it's a time suck...drawing me in for no good reason! But I also had the chance to get to know some of those high school kids all over again. It took me a long time to put aside my own prejudices and thoughts of who I thought people were. The short status updates, links posted, and even comments on my status updates and pictures started to give me pause. I began to see people as regular human beings who have troubles and difficulties of their own. Nobody is living some charmed, perfect life with the perfect spouse, job and children who don't throw tantrums in the middle of Whole Foods.
That in turn was the AHA! moment of realizing that their high school life was not perfect either.
Blaming others for my experiences of being teased and excluded was poisoning my outlook and memories and keeping me from being open to renewing these friendships. If you are still reading this long blog post, please know that not all my memories were bad and I did not feel negatively about everyone. There were probably only a few specific people that left such an impression; it was mostly the general idea of high school that affected me so. And if you were one of the people toward whom I had some lingering negative feelings, please forgive me for my shallowness.
So why am I writing about this now? I just felt it was time. I have been reconnecting with old classmates for awhile now, most via facebook or email. Some have helped me with job stuff, supporting me in my exercise quest, letting me know I was normal for losing my cool with my toddler. I am happier knowing that I can run into someone and rather than feeling fear of "What will they think of me?" I can just ask them how they are doing and be happy for their successes.
And hey, if you live near me or are just passing through, send me a message and we can meet for coffee or a playdate with the kids! If you made it this far, thanks for reading friends!