I Wanna Go Home–to High School

Lately I’ve been homesick–for high school.

I’m not one of those “summer of ’69, those were the best days of my life” types whose flower bloomed when they were seventeen and who’s been wilting ever since. High school was an emotionally messy, facially pimply, gossip and insecurity-ridden angst-filled existence. But it was also a period full of promise.

When I was in high school, I thought 25 was old. I thought I would have a career (in the theatah, of course!), a husband, and maybe even a kid by now (ha ha ha ha ha). I felt like the only thing separating me from my dreams was time and a university degree. I guess I assumed the rest would just arrive in due course as time went by. What I failed to understand then was that time does bring our futures into our lives, but that we don’t make that step from here to there without choices along the way, and sacrifices. The fulfillment of one dream may mean the compromise of another. You don’t just wake up one day and BANG! your future  arrives. You get to where you’re going through the decisions you make.

In high school, the only decision with long-term consequences I really had to make was where to go to university. It wasn’t much of a contest–I went to the U of A because I wanted to audition for their theatre program in the future and they gave me money (and even that wasn’t long term because I transferred after first year).  Other than that, I didn’t need to decide anything. Love? That wasn’t a decision. I just knew I had to be with so-and-so because he was The One (update from 2012: he wasn’t). Friends? I’ve had the same bestie since kindergarten. Career? I had a part-time job, it was okay and then I quit but that’s alright because my parents were feeding and housing me.

Done and done. All of the pesky decisions regarding survival and building a future out of the way, I had plenty of time to obsess over my clothes and go to parties and have crushes and heartbreaks and decide that no one understood what a sensitive intelligent soul I was (I just couldn’t wait for university where my brilliance would surely be discovered and celebrated).

My journey from high school has been a good one. For the most part, I’ve had a great time, with great people alongside me every step of the way. I’ve learned so much–about me, about the world, about all kinds of crazy things I never dreamed existed. I’ve travelled, I’ve been in and out of love, I’ve lost some things and found new ones and here I am, doing just fine, though definitely an adult for real now with some adult choices to make about my life’s direction.

Things are pretty good.

But when I was in high school, friendships didn’t need to be maintained–there were only 23 people in my graduating class so by Grade 12 we had put our junior high pettiness aside and become a family. We had each other, without even trying.

When I was in high school, no one I knew had died yet.

When I was in high school, our potential was unlimited because of our ignorance about the way the world worked.

When I was in high school, tomorrow was a dream so tonight was Party Time.

When I was in high school, we were all invincible and there were no choices that had lasting consequences one way or another (or so we thought).

If today was April 13, 2004, the ditches at home would still be full of run-off water and snow would still exist in front of the north sides of buildings.

I would be training for track and field.

My class would be studying Hamlet and we’d be dressing up in silly costumes to read the parts.

Most of the girls would have their dresses for graduation already hanging in their closets (mine was ivory–I still have it).

The 23 of us would be engaged in the easy comradery that comes of having known each other most of our lives and from knowing that we’d be graduating soon–we were all forging ahead together for one last push towards the Unknown. There is almost a patriotism that binds the graduating class of a small rural town to each other and to the community. Respect and pride would be felt in all facets of our lives.

We would all be together, on the verge of our dreams, before the pits and rocks would become visible. We’d be suspended in a beautiful moment of optimism.

We’ve all experienced loss since we’ve been in high school. When we talk to each other now, there’s a weight in our voices and on our shoulders that wasn’t there before. Some of these losses have been felt by all of us, and they pull us together across time and distance. Some of these losses have been private. We are becoming the adults that had sent us on our journeys and wished us so well, whose bright hopes for us masked their concerns about what we would face. We’re growing up–we haven’t been spared it.

If I could capture April 13, 2004 in a bottle, it would be the colour of milky yellow sunshine. It would smell like wet grass. It would sound like easy laughter and taste like a warm clandestine beer. And if I had my way, all 23 of us would be there to see this distillation and shake our heads at our silliness together. All of us.

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