“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
(I’ll come back to Vonnegut, but part of me is still thinking I just let Kurt get some words in there before me since he tends to have a way with thoughts that most cannot express).
*Begin romanticized imagery and language now*
I was a proud 17-year old that fine day on June 6, 2009. My skin was a deep shade of fake brown, my hair made as straight as I could get it, and I looked in that mirror and thought, “It’s over.” Pause. Now, as the tears welled up I went from one version of, “It’s over” to another. It was over. High school was about to be finished. I was sad. I’d never make the morning drive again, hear the bell ring, I’d never experience any of it after that day. But then I remember that moment when I realized, on a different level, “It’s over.” Everything I’ve faked, felt uncomfortable with, struggled through yet triumphed through, everything I’ve hurt, everything that’s hurt me. This is all over. That is one of the feelings I will never forget. Knowing that some of the hardest years were about to be put away and if I wanted to I could lock it all away and recreate it. I could tell my kids I was the prom queen, that I dated lots of cool guys, that I made so many amazing friends. Now I know I’ll probably just tell them that I ruined a play when I was 15, skipped gym class almost every week to go “meet with teachers,” and was most intimidated throughout my four years by my biggest bully: a 70-something year old choir directing nun. But still, I thought that was it. And liberation day only marked the very beginning of a long process of realization and understanding of what exactly went on from 2005-2009.
I’m going to begin at a place with which most of us are eerily familiar: the exterior. If anything makes preteen and teenagehood easier, it’s wearing the right things and looking the right way. Some of us don’t always do this. Okay, some of us have never done this, even when they’ve tried. Alright, let’s not beat around the bush, I was a disgrace. I was just coming out of a summer spent at Shakespeare camp (I’m warning you, when it rains…….) where I experienced my first kick of being fully convinced that I was some sort of free-spirited hippie and had all the rights in the world to wear whatever I damn well pleased. I wasn’t dressing myself in clothing I liked, I was like a statement-making bulletin board–I would continue this for years and years. So, my favorite look included a random ass t-shirt with a belt around the thinnest part of my waist and many beaded necklaces, usually bought at a thrift shop (trend-setting-14-year-old-leah), accompanied by some like patchwork jeans or jorts. And the best news was, I didn’t even enjoy these get-ups. Splendid. THEN, I did something, I did something to my beautifully-fresh, young, freckled face that would define me for the rest of high school and even the beginning of college (until I could at least escape from anyone I’d known during these dark times). I developed the worst trademark for myself. Alright, I’ll tell you, I essentially spackled the holy hell out of my naturally pink lips with yellow-y concealer (for men, this is women’s under-eye cover-up makeup). No worries, though, this eventually morphed into a trend of glopped-on light colored-mood ring, opal-y toned lipgloss. I applied it so many times a day that in retrospect I am able to say that it was absolutely obsessive-compulsive. I carried it in my skirt pocket at all times, along with, uh, nothing else, and I sometimes went to the restroom for the sole purpose of applying my lipgloss. Looking back, this is the defining factor for why I now know that I was not okay. A simple overly-regimented lip treatment may not seem like that much, but when I play a matching game with vivid memories of lipgloss mania and significantly negative life events, well, it all seems to play out as one awfully harmonious transformational time in the life of leah.
I remember freshman year, though, as also being one of the most beneficial years of my entire life. Although they may not be so present in my life anymore, I established my first ever real group of friends. This would forever change then entire course of my highschool years. For the first time, I was going to dances and going out on the weekends with friends. Things were looking up, even though I was looking like the makeup aisle at CVS gone wrong mixed with a bad Limited Too ad. Then…………..my friends started dating and I started, um, going to bed at 11 instead of 10. The relationship bug infected most if not all of my friends, but the fact that I seemed incapable of heralding attraction at this point wasn’t the biggest worry of mine. In fact, looking back, I was much more apathetic towards guys and relationships than I gave off. The biggest annoyance and scarlet letter-like mark of loserdom was the fact that I was one of the very last girls to have her first kiss (Ok, this is, in fact, quite the opposite of the scarlet letter, I understand that a little hormonal prude in Urban Outfitters jeans and a flannel shirt who had never dreamed of being kissed was not nearly the same as a guillotine-going adulteress).
While that did eventually happen for me at a whopping sixteen and a half, I’ll always remember the year that followed with mixed feelings. This was the year I lost myself big time. Sure I could say that I was both swarmed in and surrounded by non-ideal relationships, but the truth of the matter was that I was a sad teenage girl who, unlike many, did know what she wanted out of life (and on top of it, had already been through many things people twice her age would never experience) but was too afraid to push everybody out of the way and go get it. There are times when I still wonder what would have been different if I had lived this particular year-a year where I simply went from static to downward sloping- differently. But I lived it in such a way that I followed blindly, I conformed my beliefs and attitudes to those around me, and frankly I rarely vocalized in the way that many know me as being infamous for now. I had also taken a year-long break off from singing, something I’ve only now become comfortable to express my love for and embrace. After a period of time with a nun who, all jokes aside, jolted my confidence, which was already in the tank, into the damn ground. I believed I was both incapable and unsuited and I turned away from a form of expression I loved, and like I said, have only been able to rejuvenate within the last year. Out of that open elective spot where I’d usually be singing, though, came the opportunity to embrace another talent. It was through my creative writing class that I’d meet one of my best and most influential teachers: a spunky young lady who taught me that the metaphysical stuff I was writing was not weird, but was in fact pretty cool. I credit the 50% of my current college major that is writing to her, and honestly, I credit some of my sanity to her as well. Writing was the silent weapon of my self expression, particularly as I was not expressing much of my true self in the vocal sense throughout my entire third year of high school. I tried to write poems about love, family, stories about friends and nature. But what came out instead were some of the best things I’ve ever written and ever will write: several stories about losing loved ones, vague poetic pieces about what it was like for me growing up, poems about the “picasso pieces of my mind,” a screen play about an alternate cyber universe, almost anything escapist, and finally, a final piece that I was supposed to read at the unveiling of the 2008 creative writing class literary magazine. This one was a stream of consciousness reflection about a car accident I had been in just 2 months prior that was still having great impact on me. As I shall breeze by details, it wasn’t so much this reading that was my penultimate test of strength, but it was stopping some friends at the time from blackmailing me via recording my reading. I’ll never forget putting my hand out and telling them “NO.” I don’t care how small it was. I had done it. This had meant something to me.
I came back senior year confused as ever. I felt overripe and overdone, like I was long ready to leave, like nothing made sense, like I made no sense to anyone. But, I was starting to make sense to me. I was starting to grasp the fact that I was damn weird, ready to leave from day one of that last school year, and uncomfortable about past choices I’d made mainly because I had just spent 3 years fairly aware of myself and my desires, but never voicing any of it aloud. And I am one vocal mother effer. I remember focusing really hard on school that year, focusing on getting into schools. I started dressing in ways that I genuinely loved. I loved my style, my hair, my makeup now looked like it belonged on a human being, although there was still a lot of it. My relationships, though, were fizzling out and I hated it. I hated it mostly because I felt it but I tried so strongly to force everything to feel okay. I felt like I was growing up in double time, and I felt like everyone else was not. On the bright side, I felt an inexplicably strong pull toward a university that I visited on a whim, a place where I’d go one to meet a partner for life and 3 to 5 outstanding lifelong friends. I had no idea what was in store for me, yet I had an idea that there was something that was next to come. I had “This can’t be it” syndrome. And I felt confused and angry and wished I had spent my last 4 years differently. But I didn’t. But you know what? At least those 4 years of unassured angst and insecurity were over and done with by age 18. Most don’t get that lucky.
So I stood on that day of graduation and honestly, I was sad, yes. But, most of me took a deep breath and thought, “I got through that.” I remember being so thankful for experiences, friendships, classes, teachers, but I was happy to be finished with that old skin, a hard shell that just wouldn’t crack until I left my mom and sister crying on August 23, 2009 and stood in front of a university chapel where I’d play an ice breaker in a circle that literally beheld some of the best gifts I’d ever known and gifts I had never known: a few people who helped me be me and who loved me. And you know what Vonnegut, I’m getting closer and closer to that day when I will wake up and realize my high school class is running the country, but let’s rest assured that the other members of the graduating class of 2009 will be waking up to know that the one running the country, as least in a not-so-executive-branch kind of way, is me. And on June 6, 2009, I thought to myself for the first time ever, “I got through that. I can do things. I can do big things.”
So no, I’ve chosen not to use my men in black mind erasing tool to disregard all thoughts of anything high school because 1) they don’t sell those on ebay and 2) even if I had them, I’d still keep these memories. I’d even keep the one of me slipping on a wet floor and crashing into the wall of the cafeteria in front of the seniors freshman year, or the missed cue during opening night of the play sophomore year, or the intense embarrassment in realizing my first kiss was a well-played set up of events because some young ladies don’t realize that it is in fact not normal to make the boy wait 1 month to kiss you after you’ve initially started dating, I’d even keep the worst ones, the fights, the tears, the last time I ever talked to her and her and her. I’m not letting these memories go away. They are such a critical part of me and let’s face it, they’re the ones that’ll matter most to the four years I will always remember as the time wherein I developed most, during four years where it seemed like nothing took place in me at all.
Years later, that is what I am most inspired by: the silenced version of the now very audible me.
peace, love, and ongoing musings about things that are forever impactful on one’s life,