It was 1986. Freshman year at Old Saybrook High School. I was ready to take on the world and experience…whatever it is that you’re supposed to experience in high school. I had no clue. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time.
When Michelle suggested that we write about what we were like in high school, I panicked. What was I really like in high school? I looked through my high school yearbook for information, some juicy bits to tell you. We had a very small graduating class, only 86 of us-it was a pretty short book. I was voted Most Punk (that was a category?) and Class Actor (go figure!). I was a cheerleader for a few years too. There was a section for class predictions that “foretold” our futures. Mine said that, after dating all the men in North America, I would cross the Atlantic to conquer Europe. Um, think I had a few boyfriends? All this was funny but who was I, really, in those lost teen years? I decided that the best way for me to really find out was to ask my high school friends themselves. Who better to tell you about me than the people who knew me best?
Most people I asked said that I was peppy, full of energy. That I liked to jump around and sing and dance. They used words like “quirky” and “independent”. Variations of “flirty” (ok, very flirty) were thrown in. A few of my friends said that I was not afraid to go against the norm, that I didn’t follow the groups and was a non-conformist.
I was creative and had my own style, setting trends. I was always doing something crazy with my hair. One friend remembered that I shaved a lightening bold in the back of my hair one time. (If you look closely at the top photo you can see a tiny “tail” peeking out over my right shoulder. It was dyed blonde. WTF was I thinking??!) I was slightly mischievous and always trying to be funny. I was outgoing and accepting. I was kindhearted and nice to the new kids. My best friend said, “you were like most kids trying to figure out what was what and who you were, struggling to find a place in the cliques that permeated our high school.”
I look back at how I felt about myself during that time and what my friends’ recollections of me are and realized something. I was always trying to get people to notice me. I was so insecure and felt that I didn’t fit in that I did anything for attention. Just to be seen. Look at me, I’m jumping up and down in the halls. I’m happy, I’m peppy! Let’s be friends! I’ll sing! I’ll dance! I’ll cheer! I’ll brood. I’ll date. A. Lot. I need you to look at me because I need you to make me feel loved and accepted. I spent so much time feeling uncomfortable in my own skin that I never fully settled down and got to know anyone else. Once I found someone to accept me, I’d move on to trying to get someone else to notice me and be my friend because I wanted to like everyone so that, in turn, everyone would like me. But I was afraid that if I let anyone truly in, they would see the real me and reject me. I even took my very best friend for granted and let her slip away too because I couldn’t completely let her in. (Years of therapy bills later I finally figured this out.)
The one place that I could be myself and not worry was when I was with my parents. By the time I was in high school, my brother had already graduated from college and was out of the house. I had my parents all to myself. We didn’t have a typical contentious teen vs. parents relationship. We did everything together. I was their third wheel. (Dear Zoey, Mommy had a little independence issue too.) I truly enjoyed being with them. In fact, I can remember only one fight–I wanted to go away for a weekend with a boy–and they were right not to let me go.
My folks made me feel safe and accepted. I’m thankful that they were my port in the storm of my youth. That’s the big ah-ha for me when it comes to how I want my daughter to experience high school. I want her to know that no matter what happens, who her friends are or aren’t, that she always has me to come home to. I will let her be herself, no matter if that self is quirky or shy or outgoing or nerdy or independent and fierce. I am terrified of what the teen years hold for her but hope she will know that I will always be there to be her safe haven.
Thank you to all my Facebook friends for the input on the real me.