Tuesday, January 11, 2011
When I was in high school, the seniors were huge. They were tall, yes, but they were also wise and larger than life. I remember them being really something remarkable. After all, when we first arrived in the high school--this being before they built the addition and gave everyone lockers that you could open without using the combination but by using, instead, a well-aimed punch--they had their own section of the school that anyone who was not a senior or a senior's significant other could not go into.
The year my class--the class of '99--arrived in our high school, the senior's lockers were solid. They were probably the same lockers they'd put in when they built the school, which means they were made of actual substantial things like metal and more metal. Whatever the new lockers were, they weren't anything special, and they certainly weren't set off by themselves in a glorious elevated alcove like the seniors' were. My freshman self sighed dreamily every time she passed that alcove and had to look up to see the seniors who seemed so tall and world-weary. They'd seen some shit, you could tell, and they had been rewarded with those lockers and late arrival privileges.
It seemed like the only way to live.
I was thinking about this tonight as I sat in the gymnasium of a rural Maine high school--the one the TLK attended--watching a basketball game The Lady-Killer's brother was playing in. It was a weird experience. I was sitting in the middle of a hundred sixteen year-olds and watching a bunch of varsity high schoolers play ball and all I could keep thinking was, Who the fuck are these people? These are the seniors? They're children! They're babies! They're skinny, sickly-looking little things!
They were nothing like my seniors. I went to a whole bunch of basketball games when I was in high school, especially as a freshman because that was the year we had an exchange student from Australia and, while he was only cute from certain angles, he had a voice like buttah and he could dunk. Back then, basketball games were a spectacle, and those boys were ten feet tall. They also could grow facial hair and had feet so big it looked like they could share shoes with Ronald McDonald. I should know. Once, in gym class one of the senior basketball players stepped on my sneaker during a game of speedball and it left a permanent black mark that could not be scrubbed away no matter what I tried.
This particular boy, whose name was Mike, was probably well over six feet tall, or at least it seemed that way at the time. He was a bit chubby and slow-moving. He was the super tall guy every basketball team employs to loaf around under the basket at all times, in the hopes that he will simply half-raise his arm and tip a basket in. One of my friends was desperately in love with him, and she spent the entirety of our ninth period gym class following him around the floor during speedball or mat ball or whatever ball we were playing that week. This was fine with me because I was in love with the Australian, who was Mike's best friend. While my friend panted after Mike and actually worked up a sweat during gym by looking like she was participating smartly, I spent the period dodging the speedballs the boys flung deliberately at the girls' heads, and I went to my safe place: an elaborately-concocted future where my friend and I married Mike and the Australian, and we lived happily ever after as next-door neighbors.
But at the high school game tonight I couldn't get over it. I really had no idea what I was watching. These boys looked like what I remembered middle school boys looking like. Even the ones who weren't playing but were clearly at the game to hang out and look cool and were thus not exposing their pale-Maine-wainter-chicken-legs to the entire gym looked like babies. And that's when I realized it: These days, the boys look younger than they did when I was in school and the girls look older.
One of the girls sitting behind me, who was draping herself around one of TLK's best friend's shoulders to piss off her ex-boyfriend who was somewhere in the crowd, had makeup that looked like it had been shellacked on by some makeup artist, pre-Golden Globes. Her eyeliner--which I still cannot manage--was impeccable. She didn't have a hair out of place. Her outfit was skin-tight and stolen from the pages of Seventeen.
I hated her. I couldn't help it. I thought nasty, shitty things about her in my head. And then I realized I was insane and made myself smile at her to make it seem that I wasn't some cranky old broad that had accidentally wandered into the student section and would leave shortly, after she'd soiled her diaper and needed to be changed.
After I smiled and turned back around I said this prayer: Dear God, thank you for letting me go to high school in the 90s. Thank you for letting me grow up in a decade where we did not look like that.
I've never been one to look back on my high school years with rage or despair; I've never walked back into the school after graduating and uttered, "Man, this place fucking sucks!" I know now and knew then how lucky I was: I went to a good school. I did not get caught up in anything bad or illicit. I had a sweet, smart group of friends. We were good girls. Yes, there were shitty times and days when I absolutely refused to get out of bed and go to school because high school was hard, but it was not bad. Not bad at all.
I grew up riding out the wave of grunge. I wore my father's jeans and old sweaters to school. We rolled the sleeves of our t-shirts up and permed our hair. We had ratty old flannel shirts ala Angela Chase. We wrote notes and then folded them elaborately. We sat in the bleachers and watched our big, tough seniors dunk basketballs and then, later, watched from the parking lot as they threw their duffle bags into the backseats of their cars and drove home. We waited for our parents to picks us up.
It was a gorgeous life, and looking back on it now, I think it was extremely romantic. It was a real Time. It was a time unlike this one, maybe, because it was the last of something, things were about to change, people were already getting a little kooked off the impending 2000s, and nothing was going to be much the same anymore after that. We felt it. The class below us always argued they were better because they were the class of 2000. They were the first of the century! But this is what we thought of that: So what? That's not something to boast. The first of something can almost always be improved upon; the last of something usually goes out with a bang.
I don't mean to generalize and use the old things were just simpler back then argument. In some ways they were, and some ways they weren't. But I am glad for a lot of the more simpler things: the notes written in study hall and passed between classes instead of the instant gossip grapevine of text messaging; the absence of social networks; the clothes that didn't cling to our body; the boys who looked grown-up and gallant; sleepovers where we had fashion shows and played Girl Talk or Mall Madness.
If anything, I think it was a quieter time, where kids were forced more to hack it out on their own. I spent a lot of alone time in my room, figuring things out about myself. Do kids do that anymore? Do they sit in their room, without looking at a computer, a television, a cell phone, an iPod? Do they have time to sit still and listen and think, This is me, right now. This is me and no one else.
I'm sure some do, but not many and not often. And when I sat amongst those high schoolers or recently-graduated high schoolers at the game, I was filled with a certain kind of panic as I imagined myself in their world, in their school at that moment. What would I love? Who would I love? Who would I be?
But I didn't want to know. I wasn't jealous of them and their slick 2011 lives. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my life, when and where I came from. And, also, as one of the boys on the court broke away with the ball and galloped toward the basket, I was seeing the Australian exchange student, his overly-gelled red hair, his long legs scissoring toward the key. I saw him lift, hover, float in the air above that basket before descending upon it and shoving the ball through the hoop as the entire gymnasium of our high school erupted in screams and everyone--not a single person glancing at a cell phone or iPod--leapt into the air because they knew they had just been the part of something holy.