It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of — oops, that’s Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.” But even the French Revolution can’t compare, at times, to high school’s stress, angst, and terror. Here are 8 things I wish I knew then…
Everyone is insecure. – I once attended a 30th year class reunion and got talking to Bobby (cue sound of heavenly choirs). In high school, he was everything – handsome, athletic and smart. I assumed he sailed through life on gold-plated Nikes. So imagine my shock when Bobby shook his head at the reunion, holding his gin and tonic, saying, “High school was damn hard. I was a mess.”
I almost dropped my Pinot Grigio. What? Were we all screwed-up nut jobs? Maybe some just hid it better than others.
No one is what they seem. “Darlene” was the prettiest girl in our senior class. A cheerleader with long blond hair, she dated the cutest guy (I think it was Bobby). To add to her “gnash the teeth with envy” quotient, she even got good grades. I assumed Darlene had made some special pact with the devil.
Then one day she came to school wearing sunglasses. She kept them on all day. Of course, everyone was speculating why, when news leaked out. Her father had punched her, giving her a black eye. That’s when I had my first lesson that no one’s life is perfect, even those who seem to be.
You’re not weird, you’re different – I spent hours in study hall (and certain classes) doodling and reading. I assumed something was horribly wrong because I needed time to myself. Yes, I liked talking and laughing with other kids, but my sketchpad or paperback always beckoned.
Decades later, I learned that there was a term for odd people like me – introvert. Damn. I wish I knew that when I was 15. It would’ve spared me many afternoons lying on my bed, listening to Janis Ian.
It’s good to join things – Being an introvert is no excuse. Looking back, I wish I had followed every adult’s advice to get involved. I wish I had joined the Drama club (I know, strange for someone shy). I even wish I’d tried out for cheerleading, even though I hated sports. (I did like cute guys).
Although senior year, I summoned up my courage and wrote for the school paper, but wouldn’t use my name! I was afraid of being judged. Sigh.
Rolling your hair on emptied orange juice cans (and sleeping on them) is stupid. Self-acceptance is tough. So is trying to have straight hair when you have curly. Looking back, as girls we spent too much time picking apart every perceived flaw. Now? We’d kill for that skin and hair.
People get nicer with age – Remember those mean guys you avoided in the cafeteria? Years later, at reunions, they’re civilized, polite, even friendly. It feels bizarre. There you are, two adults, discussing real estate and the best organic garden mulch. And you think to yourself…is this the same cretin who used to snap my bra?
Appreciate the great teachers. Most high school classes were forgettable, but there were always instructors who got under the barbed wire. For me, they were English teachers. Some influenced me. Some I never forgot. Looking back, I wish I had met them halfway, worked harder, and helped them with their job. Instead I slouched in my chair, chewed gum and half-listened.
Watch the quiet ones. Many of the nerds became successful, although I’m not sure why. It struck me, at one reunion, how the largest number of doctors and successful entrepreneurs were kids you barely noticed in school.
Another strange trend is how the quiet ones organize the reunions. You’d expect the cool kids to do that. After all, they had the most fun. Wouldn’t they be the most ready to relive those years? But strangely, the cool kids rarely show up. Damn, they’re still cool, even decades later.
Sometimes I think it would be interesting to go back to high school, knowing what I know now.
But maybe, like much of life, we’re meant to go through these growing pains. There are no shortcuts.
Like Dickens wrote of the French Revolution… it was the best and worst of times.
And that, we had to learn on our own.
How were your high school years? What do you wish you knew then, you know now? Comments are loved and if you feel inclined, please share. Thank you!